The AFC North was one tough division in 2020 with three teams winning at least 11 games! It looks strong again in 2021, although repeating last seasons win total might be a stretch. Cleveland and Baltimore look like battling it out for the division this year, and their head to head games could decide the division winner.
Cleveland has added no less than six free agents to what was an already formidable defense. This is headed by John Johnson who is coming off of a tremendous season for the LA Rams. Jadeveon Clowney also adds a bit of rotation at DE and overall this side looks better than last year.
The Ravens lost a couple of key defenders in free agency but were deep enough to absorb this. We like what they have done on the offensive side and if Lamar Jackson should thrive with this supporting cast.
Pittsburgh started like an express train last year before falling off the proverbial cliff. The lack of a decent running game was a big part of this and they addressed that in the draft. There will be question marks against Big Ben at QB and there is no real depth behind him. This could be their undoing again.
Finally, we have the Cincinnati Bengals who should improve despite losing some big names in free agency. Joe Burrow will be fit again and he will have his favourite college WR to throw to. Whether that will be enough to make them competitive is debatable though.
AFC North Predicted Finish.
1st Cleveland Browns
The Browns look to have one of the best squads in the NFL with depth all over the roster. They had plenty of cap space which they used shrewdly in free agency and they also drafted well. As mentioned above they have upped an already formidable pass rush and now their secondary is stacked too. The depth is exemplified as First-round draft pick CB Greg Newsome II & second-rounder Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will start as backups.
The offense has a power running game led by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is also capable of carrying some of the load. Add to this a receiving corp comprising Odel Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry and now Rashard Higgins and we can see Baker Mayfield putting up big numbers.
Their schedule is brutal with road games at the Chiefs, Chargers, Patriots & Packers. Still, if you are going to win a Superbowl you need to beat the best. We can see them making a deep playoff run in 2021.
2nd Baltimore Ravens
Is this the year when Lamar Jackson shows the world that he can win games through the air? There is no doubt he is currently the best rushing QB in the league, however, his passing stats are still nothing to write home about. His passing stats deteriorated markedly last year and he turned the ball over 14 times and he was a little less effective on the ground too. So the Front Office have gone out and added some additional talent on offense.
The right side of the OL has been reinforced with the additions of Kevin Zeitler & Alejandro Villanueva and they also drafted a bit of depth. His starting receiving corp is as good as any and they have solid running backs. This is his fourth year and there is really no excuse for below par passing with what he has around him.
They have lost a bit on defense, but they had depth there and drafted OLB Odafe Oweh who looks good enough to start if needed.
They have a pretty tough schedule especially from December onwards. Here they face potential playoff teams in five of their last six games. Despite that we expect Jackson to revel in all this talent and they are almost certain to make the playoffs.
3rd Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers bounced out of the traps in 2020 but faded badly in December. This was almost entirely due to their lack of a running game, something they have addressed in the draft. They were plumb last in rushing last year and they will hope Najee Harris addresses this. He looks like a potential star, however, he needs blockers ahead of him and that is where we think the Steelers will fain in 2021.
Their O-line was not great in 2020 and now it’s missing Maurkice Pouncey, Matt Feiler & Alejandro Villanueva! They did nothing of note to strengthen this in free agency and although they did draft a couple of players in the later rounds neither looks ready to start.
Ben Roethlisberger is still their QB so whatever they will win games, however, we think overall they have regressed slightly while the Browns & Ravens have gotten stronger. That said they could sneak the 7th seed.
4th Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are not a terrible team, they are just in a very strong division. That said we expect them to be better than last year and they could pull off a few surprise wins. Joe Burrow will be fit again and he has plenty of talent in his receiving corp. Plus Star running back Joe Mixon will be back. He missed 10 games last year but was on course for 1000+ yards. If the defense can come up with stops then they could do ok. However, we think they will need another season to compete.
AFC North Final Wins Total
Cleveland Browns 12-5
Baltimore Ravens 11-6
Pittsburgh Steelers 9-8
Cincinnati Bengals 5-12
So there you have it our predictions for the AFC North which again could be the strongest overall division in the NFL. This doesn’t guarantee a Superbowl slot though!
While you are here why not check out our other NFC South Posts or have a go at some of our NFL Quizzes. Go on everyone loves a Quiz, don’t they?