Through one-eighth of the NFL season, the AFC North looks a lot like how experts thought it would be season’s end. One team is distinctly ahead of the other three, one is simply better than they were last year for one reason only, and the other two should have a nice race to see who finishes in third place.
We were given a divisional matchup on Thursday night and got to see the other two teams play on separate Sunday afternoon time-slots. It’s time for a quick whip around
Are the Cleveland Browns?
What are they? Not very good, kind of decent, or just unimportant?
Week 1 gave us a clear picture of how far away they are from competing with the Baltimore Ravens. To say they took the NFL by surprise on Thursday is more than a fair statement. Granted, they were favored to win by about a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals, but they played pretty much a perfect offensive game.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt make up what’s easily the league’s best running back duo, but as everyone can tell, this team goes where Baker Mayfield goes. The third-year quarterback had a QBR of 98.0 and was successful on 58% of drop backs, meaning the offense gained positive expected points added on 14 of his 24 plays. It was a performance that required everything to go right, and that was surely the case.
Is it sustainable? No, especially with how we saw Mayfield play against Baltimore. He may not be a complete bust, or anywhere close to that just yet, but his amazing showing against the Bengals was a lot of head coach Kevin Stefanski cooking up the perfect game-plan and just a little of Mayfield doing anything beyond that. A great game is a great game, but we’ll need to see it consistently in order to actually buy into it for real this time.
Except Myles Garrett and those running backs. They’re very much for real.
Steel Curtain nearly gets lifted
Despite his age, noticeable drop in mobility, and just general wear-and-tear, Ben Roethlisberger still makes the Pittsburgh Steelers a legitimate playoff team. They almost snuck into January solely because of their defense, and that unit is showing no signs of regressing.
The Steelers’ defense recorded a pressure on nearly 60% of their snaps against the pass on Sunday against the Denver Broncos. And since starting quarterback Drew Lock exited the game with a shoulder injury, they faced former Bengals quarterback Jeff Driskel for most of the day. If you argue that Driskel was the better quarterback on the field, you might just win that debate, but Roethlisberger, his defense, and James Conner did enough to nullify a second-half comeback attempt from Driskel and the Broncos.
A 2-0 start would’ve been the expectation when the two opponents have been the New York Giants and the Broncos being captained by Driskel. Still, the Steelers’ defense looks like it’ll run through any offensive line that is unfortunate enough to go against them and Big Ben’s demise doesn’t appear to be upon us quite yet.
Baltimore polishes its crown
Fun fact: in their first two games, the Baltimore Ravens have taken just 41 snaps when their win probability is less than 80%. That explains why their point differential is a mere 49 points.
The Ravens beat the Houston Texans on the road without Lamar Jackson playing particularly great. And that’s saying something considering he had a completion percentage 11.2% higher than expectation at 78.3% and was successful on 48% of his drop backs.
Jackson played well enough considering Baltimore’s defense prevented Deshaun Watson from taking over. A fumble recovery returned for a touchdown by L.J. Fort was later followed by an incredible diving interception by Marcus Peters. When the Ravens couldn’t take the ball away, they still managed to keep Watson and the Texans out of the end zone when it mattered. The Texans’ first two drives of the second half featured a total of 26 plays, and both ended in measly field goals.
It’s a scary thought that the Ravens can remain dominant even when Jackson isn’t his usual spectacular self. He only passed the ball seven times in the second half because when the offense can generate 0.26 EPA per play on the ground in the form of 230 yards rushing, why wouldn’t you? Gus Edwards, Mark Ingram II and rookie J.K. Dobbins were all too much for the Texans to handle.
The Ravens in general just might be too much for any team that can’t keep up offensively. It’s why they’re still the undisputed kings of the AFC North.