Breaking down the AFC North: the biggest surprises, stories, and what’s next – Cleveland Browns blog

November 6, 2021

The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers form one of only two divisions in the NFL that do not have a team below .500 this season, meaning the AFC North crown race it will probably come to the end.

After eight weeks, Baltimore (5-2) leads the way with Cincinnati (5-3), Pittsburgh (4-3) and Cleveland (4-4) on their heels. The Ravens are 47.4% favorites to win the division, followed by the Bengals (27.3%), Steelers (14.1%) and Browns (11.1%).

The Browns have been the news-makers in the division this week, resigning wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after his father posted a video on Instagram highlighting times when quarterback Baker Mayfield didn’t throw the ball to Beckham or It failed it when it was open. Beckham’s release was granted on Friday and he will receive waivers next week.

We asked Baltimore Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley, Cincinnati Bengals reporter Ben Baby, Pittsburgh Steelers reporter Brooke Pryor, and Cleveland Browns reporter Jake Trotter to review the season so far and also look ahead.

Biggest surprise

Hensley: Pass downfield from quarterback Lamar Jackson. The hope was that Jackson would take the next step in his development as a passer. Instead, it has been a leap. Jackson has completed 14 passes of 20 yards or more in seven games, nearly equaling his total for all of last season (17). Since Baltimore isn’t getting much of its patched backfield, the Ravens are going to rely on Jackson’s arm more than ever to win the division.

Baby: Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s play. The fifth overall pick has exceeded all rookie expectations and is one of the most explosive receivers in the NFL. He and quarterback Joe Burrow have the second-highest total yards of any quarterback wide receiver tandem, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Chase has 786 receiving yards, good for third in the NFL.

Pryor: The Steelers defense has been good, not great. Partly due to the circumstances of the game, the passing run has not been as consistent (Pittsburgh is tied for sixth in the league with 19 sacks) and the defense is not generating turnovers at the same rate as in previous seasons. The Steelers have just two interceptions, tied for second-worst in the NFL, and six total recoveries. As a group, however, they haven’t been in full force, with defensive end Stephon Tuitt on injured reserve after roster cuts. The closest they came was an impressive Week 1 win at Buffalo, but the following week, nose tackle Tyson Alualu fell with a broken ankle.

Trotter: The Baker Mayfield-Odell Beckham Jr. partnership has ended. It shouldn’t be too surprising that the two of them still haven’t been able to put it together this season. But that it came to a head midseason, with the Browns cutting Beckham on Friday, is impressive. Cleveland’s once-so-promising season is spiraling.

The biggest story to see

Hensley: Ravens pass defense. Baltimore ranks last in the NFL against passing after becoming the third team in NFL history to allow three 400-yard passes in the first seven games of a season. This is a proud defense with a lot of tradition. Let’s see if the Ravens can regroup as they take on players like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, and Burrow.

Baby: Can the Bengals really make a run for a division title? If Cincinnati beats Cleveland in Week 9, the Bengals will have won their first three divisional games for the first time since 2015, the last time they made the playoffs. However, Cincinnati will not have it easy. The Bengals are projected to be the losers in their last four games (in Denver, vs. Baltimore, vs. Kansas City, in Cleveland) according to ESPN analysis.

Pryor: With a new coordinator, a rookie running back, and a revised offensive line, the offense was always going to be a work in progress, especially early on. But how he continues to develop is something that needs to be monitored for the rest of the season. The Steelers played their most balanced soccer against the Browns, building on an identity that began to form against the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball 35 times, while Najee Harris loaded it 26. Harris is a true leading running back, but the Steelers need to keep an eye on his durability, as well as that of the 39-year-old quarterback, with an extra game. in the schedule. Roethlisberger isn’t playing like he used to, but if the Steelers can maintain a balanced attack and the line limits shots to Roethlisberger, the offense will follow its trend in the right direction.

Trotter: How Mayfield responds without Beckham. Last year, following Beckham’s season-ending knee injury, Mayfield immediately exploded, ranking third in the NFL in QBR from week 7 to 15 while guiding the Browns to their first playoff appearance. since 2002. Can Mayfield topped the drama to produce an encore? It won’t be easy, especially with that sick left shoulder that won’t pitch.

Most important remaining game

Hensley: Week 16 in the Bengals. This has the makings of the game for the AFC North title. The Ravens will be highly motivated after feeling embarrassed on Oct. 24, when Cincinnati defeated Baltimore 41-17, the worst margin of defeat in the Lamar Jackson era. The last time Baltimore was swept by Cincinnati was in 2015.

Baby: Week 16 against Baltimore. The Ravens will seek revenge after being dismantled at home in Week 7. Cincinnati will need a repeat performance to beat them again. Depending on how things turn out for the rest of the season, the winner of that Bengals-Ravens game could have the upper hand in the AFC North title race.

Pryor: Given the open race in both the AFC and AFC North, it’s more about fundamental games than singular game. After failing down the stretch a year ago, the Steelers have to finish strong in their season-ending four-game gantlet against Tennessee in Kansas City against Cleveland in Baltimore to have any hope of making the playoffs. . .

Trotter: It could well be this weekend in Cincinnati. The Browns’ response amid the OBJ turmoil bodes what the rest of the season could hold. Cleveland’s season is already on the brink, after three losses in the last four games. Another divisional loss would almost put Cleveland’s playoff hopes on life support.