Red always struggles a bit to remember exactly who is in this division. As a young boy, the Baltimore Colts were in the NFL West conference and for years Red thought Baltimore was somewhere between LA and San Francisco. And to continue on the Baltimore theme, the first time Red actually drove through Baltimore in the 70’s he was convinced it was the worst looking place he had ever seen in his life – and Red had been to Nuevo Laredo.
Cleveland Browns (12-5). The Browns had their best season in this millennium last year. Yet, an 11-5 record was only good enough for a third place finish in this the Light Heavyweight Division of the NFL. Otto Graham sneers at the thought of making the playoffs with a third-place finish. See above. This once proud franchise who was the NFL Champion in the year of Red’s birth (Red will leave you to guess) has been a laughing stock for too long. Knocking off the Stealers in the Wild Card round was nice and there wasn’t much shame in losing to the defending champion Chiefs the next week. Adding a real TE in Austin Hooper will add to the arsenal at the disposal of B. Mayfield who makes a legitimate bid for league MVP – depending on the breaks and a timely snowmageddon. Their reward for a good season – getting to face the Chiefs at Arrowhead in the featured late game on opening Sunday. After that it gets easier for a few games. The make or break point of the season comes in Weeks 12-14 with the anomaly of playing the Ravens – followed by the off week – followed by the Ravens. If the Browns split with the Ravens, they still face a tough closing stretch with the Raiders, Packers and Stealers. If the division is still up for grabs in Week 18 , the Browns have the luxury of facing the likely to be hapless Bengals.
Baltimore Ravens (11-6) “No football matter in Baltimore is more urgent than the state of the Ravens’ offensive line” according to Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun. Hopefully, the unit that takes the field in Las Vegas on the first Monday of the season will include several starters that are currently sidelined because of injuries. Bozeman, Zeitler and Stanley better be ready or else Lamar Jackson’s obsession with winning the Superb Owl (and Jazz Hands! – see above) will be as much of a pipe dream as his ranking last season as the No. 1 talent in the league. Note to LJ: You are now rated No. 24 – the biggest drop of any player. And lest ye forget, the Ravens are the biggest post-season floppers of the past two seasons. The mighty 12 points they put up against the Titans in the Divisional Round against the Titans in 2019 was only exceeded in infamy by the incredible 3 points they managed to score against the Bills in the Divisional Round after wrecking revenge on the Titans in the Wildcard game. In 2019 regular season the Ravens only scored less than 23 points once (a 20-17 win against the Niners). 2020 was much more up and down with 3 games scoring 20 or fewer points and 8 games with more than 30 points on the board. Who know which Ravens team shows up this year. Red sure doesn’t. The targets are in place for LJ with Watkins, Brown and Andrews, but the running game is sketchy. The defense was similarly inconsistent last season. The Ravens are good enough to make the playoffs as a wild card entry, but beyond that . . .
Pittsburgh Stealers (10-7). One discounts the Stealers at one’s peril. Red has made that mistake more than once. But it really seems the window behind the Steel Curtain is closing on the Big Ben era who will be moving on to star in the remake of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams [JB1] (get out of the way Dan Haggerty). And in his own version of 5 Bold Predictions Red offers up this:
- Ben Roethlisberger is old
- Hines Ward is retired.
- Dwayne Haskins sucks.
- Mike Tomlin gets the boot.
- The Steelers miss the playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-11). Red has no ill will towards the hapless NFL franchise in southern Ohio. The Bengals really don’t need any help in that department. They remain in a dogfight with the Lions for the current longest playoff win drought having last had the sweet taste of playoff victory in 1991 (The Lions won a playoff game in 1992). That’s 30 years for the math challenged out there. Red actually does have some shoes that are older than that – a pair of cowboy boots that he purchased at Allens Boots in Austin in 1989. They have been resoled at least twice but Red thinks that those well-crafted canoes just might outlive the Bengals playoff win drought. He will leave them in his last will and testament to Red, Jr. just in case. To understand exactly how pathetic this 30 year streak is – all you have to do is accept the unbelievable fact that the Jaguars won a playoff game in 2018.