FBC 2021 NFL Preview: AFC North

Every division in the AFC feels pretty cut and dry. The Bills in the East. Chiefs in the West. Tennessee in the South. But then there is the AFC North. Every other division is a slap fight at an Arbys at 2am. The North is Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield. It is a full on heavyweight fiiiiiiight. Last year, the traditional powers were met by the unexpected Cleveland Browns arrival into the top tier. Last year, three teams in the division won at least 11 games. To put that in perspective, any of these teams would have clinched the NFC East by Thanksgiving.

The AFC North is a good reason for the entire concept of divisions and conferences in the NFL to be abolished. So everyone that can win as many games as the good teams in the North did last year can get their fair shake in the playoffs, and teams like the entire NFC East can be shot at the sun for their sins against this sport.

Will it happen this way again? Probably not. Attrition in the NFL is a very real thing. Also, at least two teams in this division have regression written all over them. Either way, all eyes should be on this division this season. This is where the big boys play and it’s going to be must watch television all season long. Let’s take a look at the AFC North.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2020 Record: 12-4
Coach: Mike Tomlin
Key Additions: Melvin Ingram
Key Losses: Bud Dupree, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, James Conner

Pittsburgh managed to end last season about as gracefully as me on ice skates. For those that don’t remember, the Steelers started the season 11-0 including a 31 point thrashing of the Browns. Then they lost to walking MRSA infection Alex Smith and Washington to get their first loss, and the team seemed to enjoy it so much, they kept on losing. They want 1-4 to end the season, before getting throttled in the wild card round by the Browns, which is a statement no football fan ever thought would come true. You really have to rethink your options at football when you become the thing that gives hope to Cleveland’s fanbase.

It looks like the Steelers idea of rethinking their options were to lose their entire damn offensive line to free agency, and bringing in cheaper versions of what they had this year. They had to do this because Ben Roethlisberger decided not to retire to a life of living at a Golden Corral and is now back to be the fattest quarterback in the NFL for the fourth year in a row. In order to afford him, cuts were made on the offensive line. That’s an issue because Big Ben is about as mobile as a three legged dressage horse. So now the broken down Dodge Stratus of a quarterback has a dollar store offensive line because of his contract. The Steelers offense is a snake eating itself. Then Roethlisberger deep frying and eating that snake.

They drafted Najee Harris to help their running game which is good. And realizing that their quarterback is nothing more than a Bob’s Big Boy sign, they went out and upgraded the backup position by…oh wait. Nope. They still have terrible quarterback and guy who deserves to get hit by a helmet, Mason Rudolph. No way that will go badly.

Do They Have a Chance to Win a Super Bowl? The Steelers could stay 100% healthy the entire year and still get buzzsawed because of the division they play in. They currently have the most difficult strength of schedule in the NFL and have to play the Ravens and Browns four times total. The only respite they get is the canker sore that is the Bengals. I don’t see this team staying healthy. Their offensive line might also be a turnstile.

Will They At Least be Entertaining? Probably. Every three games or so, Ben Roethlisberger goes off for 500+ yards and becomes appointment Red Zone viewing.

Baltimore Ravens
2020 Record: 11-5

Coach: The Good Harbaugh
Key Additions: Alejandro Villanueva, Kevin Zeitler, Sammy Watkins
Key Losses: Matt Judon, Yannick Ngakoue

So here is the thing…I trust the Ravens front office more than any team since the early 90’s Cowboys decision makers to make the right personnel moves on a season to season basis. I also understand that Lamar Jackson’s unique skill set, in the right hands, can be nearly impossible for a defense to handle. But it is hard to take this team seriously after watching a super cut of Lamar Jackson throwing every pass either behind his receiver or at his receiver’s feet.

The Ravens spent a lot of money on the offensive line this year, and still have their entire three headed monster in the running game with Jackson, JK Dobbins, and Gus Edwards on board. They are always effective at bringing in the right guys that work in their defense scheme to mitigate the losses of Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. But I am having trouble shaking the idea that any team that goes zero safety and stacks the box and literally dares Jackson to beat them through the air will set a blueprint for how to beat the Ravens offense.

Also, I think JK Dobbins is okay, but he is getting overdrafted like a real sonuvabitch in fantasy leagues.

Do They Have a Chance to Win a Super Bowl? Good coaching always gives you an opportunity to win, but the Ravens plays in this nightmare division, and i’m not totally convinced that Holywood Brown isn’t going to murder Lamar before this season ends.

Will They At Least be Entertaining? Watching Lamar run is entertaining, but watching their way of playing, which is essentially death by a thousand paper cuts, can wear you down.

Cleveland Browns
2020 Record: 11-5
Coach: Kevin Stefanski
Key Additions: Jadeveon Clowney, John Johnson
Key Losses: Larry Ogunjobi

18 years. 18 years, you have one of her kids, she’s got you for 18 years. That’s also how long it was between playoff appearances by the Browns. In 18 years, you can be born, go to school, and join the armed forces. Or you could watch Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Thad Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Austin Davis, Cody Kessler, Robert Griffin III, DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, Baker Mayfield and Tyrod Taylor start at quarterback for this team between playoff starts. The Brown history of quarterbacks is the Oceans 11 of terrible.

Things finally clicked into place right around the time Odell Beckham went down for the season with an ACL injury. Now Beckham is back and ready to sabotage any opportunity for this team to excel. If a meteor falls on Odell, then the team is primed to continue their well spread out offense with skill at all levels. Nick Chubb is healthy and ready to be a monster. Kareem Hunt, an actual monster is still there to catch 80 balls out of the backfield. If Baker Mayfield can take the next step forward and become a top 10 quarterback in the league, we could see some truly sustained success out of this team. So Mayfield is most likely going to get the plague from a rat living in the stadium and this team will fall into the 5-11 rancor pit they belong in.

On defense, they have world ended Myles Garrett, which gives us an actual opportunity to see someone get maimed on the field. Johnny Johnson is a big pickup at safety, where they had their biggest weakness last year. It’s almost scary to think this team has not reached it’s ceiling, yet.

Do They Have a Chance to Win a Super Bowl? The knee jerk reaction is to say yes. They have a slightly easier schedule in relation to the rest of their division. But come on, this is the Cleveland Browns. They are the Washington Generals of football. Somehow this team is going to go 7-10 some goddamn way.

Will They At Least be Entertaining? Oh there is a high level of entertainment for this team. If the team is good, they will be very good ,and it it’s bad, it will be amazingly bad.

Cincinnati Bengals
2020 Record: 4-11-1
Coach: Zac Taylor
Key Additions: Reilly Reiff, Mike Hilton, Chidobe Awuzie, Trey Hendrickson
Key Losses: AJ Green, William Jackson, Carl Lawson

Poor, sweet Joe Burrow. All he ever wanted was to be a big time quarterback. Then he ended up in flyover state hell. Nobody outside of maybe Anthony Munoz’s family gives a damn about the Bengals. Imagine being Cincinnati and the only thing you have to be proud of is the Boomer Esiason era Bengals and your diarrhea chili on spaghetti. The Reds haven’t done anything in three decades. The city flies under the radar of shittiness because they exist in the same geographical boundaries as Cleveland. But even Cleveland can lean into it’s reputation and at least be notable. Cincinatti is just less popular Indianapolis with worse food.

First round pick Ja’marr Chase is struggling in training camp, which is difficult to do, because everyone looks like the next Jerry Rice in training camp. They lost a number of good players over the offseason and used free agency to sign worse versions of the players they lost in the first place. Burrow has weapons but his offensive line is basically a junior high marching band. The Bengals offensive line couldn’t stop a bachelorette party from getting eight sacks in a game. It’s only a matter of time before Burrow goes full David Carr and sees shadows until he ends up as a backup for the Falcons or something for the next decade.

Do They Have a Chance to Win a Super Bowl? Only if the Ravens, Browns, and Steelers all end up in an Alive situation, and then after that, they would have to get lucky.

Will They At Least be Entertaining? They will be fun. They won’t be good. But they will be fun.

Tomorrow: The AFC South

Click here for AFC East

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