Entering the 2021 NFL season, the AFC North could be one of the most intriguing divisions to watch in the league. With three legitimate threats to come out on top, it will be difficult to predict who has the edge.
The Pittsburgh Steelers last year came out hot out of the gate with an 11-0 start. Despite losing four out of their last five games, they still won the division. In the Wild Card round, they ironically matched up against their division opponent Cleveland Browns.
It was there when they had a very bad end to their season. For years, the Steelers and the rest of the AFC, for the matter, would beat up on Cleveland, which made the loss even more humiliating.
This year, Pittsburgh will look to establish the run with rookie running back Najee Harris out of the University of Alabama. Harris has shown this preseason his ability to not only run through the tackles but pick up blitz protections which will be huge for Big Ben Roethlisberger.
If Pittsburgh does find a way to run the ball consistently well, do not be surprised to see them take home the division crown, especially with Mike Tomlin as their coach.
After hiring Kevin Stefanski last year, the fortunes of the Browns finally changed. He designed a great game plan headlined by his two-head running back tandem in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. With the effectiveness of the run, Baker Mayfield thrived in play-action situations and had the best season thus far in his young career.
Defensively, they were stout as well, headlined by Myles Garrett. In fact, Cleveland gave the Kansas City Chiefs all they could handle last year’s AFC divisional round. If it had not been for Rashard Higgins’ fumble in the end zone, the Browns could have easily won that game.
Going into Stefanski’s second year as the head man will only benefit all their guys on the team, given the fact they have already bought him and know his philosophies as a coach. Given all these factors, they are my pick to win the AFC North this year.
The Baltimore Ravens with Lamar Jackson surprisingly are the oddsmakers’ favorites out of the pack. Yes, they do have arguably the best dual-threat quarterback in the game, which is a reason in itself to have hope. With that being said, I like the Browns roster overall more than I do, compared to the Ravens.
In order to prove that they are the best team in the division, I believe Lamar Jackson is going to have to take a step forward in the passing game. If not, teams will continue to cheat and play for the run.
The only team in the AFC North that is not a contender are the Cincinnati Bengals which is why it is no shock that they have the worst odds to win the division.
With young franchise quarterback Joe Burrow coming off a season-ending ACL surgery, it will be interesting to watch how confident he will be in that knee, especially with a poor offensive line.