There is only one team from the AFC North still in the race for the Super Bowl, and they are playing at home this week in Baltimore. The Browns and Steelers, meanwhile, find themselves contemplating major moves that could impact whether they can possibly close the gap with the Ravens over the next few seasons.
Browns slow search for new leading coach
Cleveland finds themselves with the only head coach opening left on the market. Teams like the Panthers, Giants and Cowboys all filled their openings after the initial rush of interviews. Ironically, the Browns find themselves in a similar situation to the Bengals last offseason.
One of the benefits of being the last opening is that you can take your time. Coaches like Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are still available as well as coaches still pursuing a Super Bowl. That could lead to the Browns finding a quality coach, but there are a few things working against Cleveland.
The first thing, while they are still nailing down a head coach, the other teams who have found there guy are filling out the rest of their coaching staff. It doesn’t seem like a big deal until you consider what happened with Cincinnati’s late search for a defensive coordinator that resulted in coaches not having time to properly scout their own team.
The second major thing working against the Browns, the lack of stability. The owners seem to not have any patience, and for a guy leaving a steady job, it is scary to put your neck on the line for a place that could absolutely tank the perception of you as a coach (look at where Hue Jackson is now after being one of the hottest names in coaching).
Overall, there are some benefits to having the field to yourselves, but even a guy like McDaniels has shown he’d rather stay in a good position as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator rather than leave for an uncertain situation. The Browns’ owners did themselves no favors by firing their general manager and head coach after one of their best offseason’s in the past few decades. They have a talented roster, but will a coach be willing to put his reputation on the line for it?
Should Pittsburgh be confident in return to form from Ben Roethlisberger
The biggest factor for the Steelers’ season was them being without Roethlisberger at quarterback. He has repeatedly talked about how he plans on returning, but should Pittsburgh feel comfortable relying on him playing a full season at the level they’ve seen from him in the past?
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette recently ran a poll on how confident fans were in Roethlisberger returning to form. What they found was 82 percent was either somewhat confident or not confident at all. Only 11 percent was very confident, and the remaining seven percent had no opinion. The fans are absolutely right to feel uneasy about banking on Roethlisberger.
The franchise quarterback has missed time in four of the past five seasons. 2018 was the first time since 2014 that he managed to play in all 16 regular season games. He also doesn’t have that awe inspiring supporting cast that included Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to lean on. It doesn’t help that Mason Rudolph and Devin Hodges failed to show enough promise to warrant enough confidence in them carrying the team if Roethlisberger isn’t quite himself.
What the team decides to do this offense could tell us what their own confidence level is in Roethlisberger. We already saw them spend a third round pick on Rudolph in the 2018 draft. Could they spend their second round pick on a quarterback for the future? Or do they try to build up the supporting cast and tray to cash in on Roethlisberger’s final few season.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans: Saturday, Jan. 11th, 8:15 p.m.
The Ravens appear to be the team to beat out of the remaining teams in the playoffs. The Titans are one of the most surprising teams this season. Each team has an offensive player rolling downhill with full momentum. Baltimore has quarterback Lamar Jackson who has made opposing defenses look silly trying to figure out whether to stop him from running or passing. Derrick Henry had 182 rushing yards against the Patriots during Wild Card weekend.
The Ravens having a couple weeks of rest could be the key to dealing with Henry who clearly has been wearing down defenses the past few weeks. He carried the ball 34 times against New England last week. Baltimore also had the fifth best rushing defense during the regular season.
The key to the game could end up being whether the Ravens defense can keep the Titans from grinding the clock, because the Titans absolutely need to limit the amount of time Jackson and Baltimore’s offense has the ball.