Posts about AFC North

Ravens win big over Steelers; previewing Sunday’s games

9-12

The Ravens have been in a non-stop spotlight for several days now. The cameras, the reporters and the unwanted attention stemmed from Monday, and i’m sure that I don’t need to talk about why. But interestingly enough, none of the attention that the pro football team in Baltimore has received involves football. Only in the sense that the “How will the Ravens respond?” questions became endless. Theories and predictions about whether or not this would be a bad thing were hot topics in most sports circles. Pointless in my opinion. It was going to be Baltimore, and them only, who would ultimately decide how they would perform after a circus-like week. The Ravens put distractions aside last night and with their rout over the Steelers, they let everyone know that football is the only thing on their minds. After losing their opening game to the Bengals, the Ravens were in need of a division win and they got one last night, controlling the game in the second half and putting a Steelers’ comeback out of reach. Joe Flacco had a couple of touchdown passes to TE Owen Daniels (pictured above) and the rest was left to the foot of kicker Justin Tucker. Baltimore didn’t jump off the page with lots of spectacular plays (Steve Smith had a couple) but they didn’t make any mistakes. That’s something the Steelers can’t say, who doomed three drives with costly turnovers. Just as Ben Roethlisberger was mounting another drive, either he or one of his teammates turned the ball over. Now both teams are 1-1 and looking up at Cincinnati. Baltimore has the upper hand right now but I have a feeling these two teams will be battling pretty close to each other for most of the season.

So what’s in store for Sunday? Plenty of interesting games and things to watch out for. What sticks out at me is that there are several good teams who have a good chance of starting their season off with two losses. The Patriots are in Minnesota this weekend, and I could very much see the Vikings taking that game after how good they looked last weekend. But was it more that the Rams are bad? That’s the thing about week 2: there’s no need to overreact to a week 1 peformance. Still, the Vikings-Patriots game should be a good one. The Saints are Cleveland as Drew Brees and co try and bounce back. And for the Browns, the Johnny Football watch continues. The Chargers are getting the Seahawks at home, should be a nice battle for both teams. The Packers are getting the Jets and all signs point to a massive game from Green Bay, who are on 10 days rest and very eager to get their first win. The day ends with the Bears in San Francisco in what should be a pretty great game. It’s impossible to tell how good the 49ers are after going against my Cowboys and their defense. But the game of the day goes to, well, there are two games that stand out to me. I really want to pay attention to the Falcons in Cincinnati and the Lions in Carolina. Particularly, two good offenses (Det and Atl) against two good defenses (Cin and Car) as all these teams will try and make a statement on Sunday. Game to avoid on Sunday? Without a doubt, the Jaguars in Washington.

If betting were legal here where I live, I’d take the Packers (-8.5) against the Jets and the Falcons (+5.5) against the Bengals.

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2014 NFL season preview: AFC North

9-3

A division, once dominated by the clashes between the Steelers and Ravens, now belongs to the Bengals and their one-and-done status in the playoffs. Can Cincinnati finally get over that bump they have faced for three straight seasons? The Ravens are the most recent of the teams to see success but multiple on (and off) the field issues have plagued them since their Super Bowl run just two seasons ago. Pittsburgh is usually the model franchise around the league but health and questions about whether or not their defense needs to revamp will determine a lot for them. What about the Browns? Cleveland will always be the butt of jokes when it comes to the AFC North but with some new changes and a fresh head coach, can the Browns make big improvements? Interesting division to try and figure out.

Cincinnati Bengals: Another year for the Bengals and another year where the franchise will be solely judged on how well they do once they reach the playoffs. Barring a drastic injury to one of the big players, Cincinnati will once again end up around 10 or 11 wins and reach the postseason. The only difference this season is that the pressure has mounted in a big way now that quarterback Andy Dalton got his big extension. But can the young QB step his game up? Dalton has a big weapon (AJ Green) and a rising RB (Giovanni Bernard) to help continue his solid performance, but nothing will matter unless he improves his play when it matters most. That’s really what it’s going to come down to for the Bengals this season. Get through the regular season in the similar fashion of years past. I expect them to win the division but it will forgotten if they don’t win at least one playoff game.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers’ season will hinge on a few big factors. First of all, how will the defense adapt to the changes that have been made both this season and last season? Troy Polamalu can’t continue to be the deciding factor this far into his career. The next two factors go hand-in-hand but are separate. How well will the offensive line protect Ben Roethlisberger? Injuries always occur but more specifically, the offensive line of the Steelers seems to lose a man every single weekend. The next factor is who, aside from Antonio Brown and Big Ben, will step up on offense. The running backs (Bell and Blount) dealt with off the field issues not too long ago but seem to have moved past it. Here’s a nice tip for the Steelers: don’t start the season 0-4 if you plan on making the playoffs this season. Adapting to changes will determine how well above .500 this team finishes.

Baltimore Ravens: The term “Super Bowl hangover” was said over and over last season with the Ravens. But how accurate of a description was it for Baltimore? Well, the way they start this season is going to give everyone a look at what this team is about. The Ravens revolve around their big-money elite quarterback Joe Flacco, who has been wildly disappointing since signing his big contract. I really like the signing of Steve Smith and their “all in” approach with various other acquisitions. If the passing game can carry the offense under their new coordinator, then the stink coming off their running game won’t be as much of an issue. Once Ray Rice gets back from his suspension (an absurd length) then they continue to figure out what’s going on with the run game. Cautiously optimistic about this Ravens team and I feel that they can compete for the division title.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are the Browns. Every season they seem to catch news for the wrong reasons and this year is no different. Their star receiver Josh Gordon is appealing his season-long suspension and that will hang over the team for pretty much the entire season. Another big moment came when Brian Hoyer was named the starting quarterback with none other Johnny “money dance” Manziel holding the clipboard right behind him. This isn’t the boldest of predictions but don’t worry, Johnny Football will play this season and will eventually be the starter before week 17 rolls around. Just wait until the Browns’ underrated defense isn’t able to bail them out of a below-.500 record and the fans start chanting Manziel’s name over and over. Growing pains for this team but, despite their record, Cleveland will be a solid team this season.

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NFL division/playoff races in tight battle with two weeks left

12-19

It’s getting to the time of the NFL season where the experts begin to use phrases like “crunch time” or that every single game is a “MUST win” even though technically it’s not a must win unless your team will be mathematically out of the postseason. So for many teams (yes, including my Cowboys) what they do these last two weeks will significantly alter their position or lack of position in January. You know, the playoffs in the NFL or when “the real season” begins. First things are first, let’s take a look at the teams that have either clinched their divisions or have a good enough record to clinch a definite spot.

The AFC is a little more simple because the top 3 seeds have clinched the division (Texans, Broncos and Patriots in order) and I don’t see the seeding changing because even though Houston has the toughest schedule, I don’t see them slipping up knowing that both Denver and New England are hot on their heels with two very easy games for each team. Now, the Colts aren’t going to win the AFC South but they have clinched a spot and it’s pretty incredible that this team can go from 1st pick in the entire draft to participating in the postseason in the same year. Something else that’s incredible is that the Ravens, in a complete tailspin, actually clinched a playoff even thought they’ve lost 3 straight games. So it’s up to the Bengals whether they would like to take the division, which could come down to the final game this season but first they’d have to defeat the Steelers this weekend. The Steelers have been up and down since the Big Ben injury but they’ve proven that they can get it done when it matters most and they have the easiest remaining schedule of the three AFC North contenders.

The NFC gets a little more complicated because there are only 2 teams that have clinched their division (Falcons and Packers) and one team that has a spot (49ers) but there are still 6 teams in contention with the NFC East still completely wide open. Teams not named the Eagles in the NFC East are all tied at 8-6 and conventional thinking would have most people leaning toward the Redskins. The Giants do have the easier schedule (at Ravens, Eagles) but they don’t control their own destiny and for that reason alone, they’re the least likely to win the division. My gut feeling is that the NFC East is going to come down to the Redskins-Cowboys games in the final week but it’s also going to depend what happens with Seattle/Minnesota/Chicago for the wildcard. The Bears are in completely disarray and if ever they needed two easy games to save their season, it’s now. Despite a grueling final two games, i’m not going to pick against the Vikings because Adrian Peterson is their RB, enough said.

Let’s all take a minute to thank whatever higher powers you believe in and say thank you that Thursday night games are finally over. I love the NFL but the every single Thursday game was mediocre at best because it was painfully (for the players, literally) obvious that it’s impossible to play at full capacity with only 3 days rest. Thanksgiving is a tradition but every single week, no. Just toss in a random Friday or Saturday games. Speaking of Saturday, this week the Falcons try to move closer to the best record in the NFC as they take on the Lions who are only playing for Megatron’s record breaking performance (only 182 yards being Rice) so keep an eye out for that if you watch the game.

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