Welcome to the AFC North predictions page!
Each week, one of our AFC North feature writers will list their picks for that week and be forced to explain why they voted as they did. Keep in mind that these picks are for entertainment purposes only, and in no way should be used to influence gambling or illegal activity, unless you’re smart enough to recognize that we know more than you because we publish things.
Cincinnati Bengals (5-3-1) @ New Orleans Saints (4-5)
November 16, 2014 1:00pm, CBS
Oy vey. The Bengals, after being embarrassed at home last week by the surging Browns, are looking to reestablish themselves as a power in the AFC, but they’ll have to weather a tough, supremely-loud (yes, I’m looking at you, Seattle) home field advantage enjoyed by the NFC South-leading Saints…not that it’s exactly a position of prominence these days.
What to watch:
Bengals defense: Stopping Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a tall order, as no quarterback in the NFL possesses the pocket awareness and lateral mobility that Brees does. He’s exceptionally accurate despite a somewhat pedestrian group of wideouts (sans all-world tight end Jimmy Graham). The Bengals will be forced to play in a nickel base for most of the game, which will leave them vulnerable to the Saints resurgent – and underappreciated – running game, currently spearheaded by bruiserback Mark Ingram. As the Bengals’ run defense has been questionable at best with the absence of linebacker Vontaze Burfict, things don’t look to improve this week without a concerted overall defensive effort.
Who else? Andy Dalton: Quarterback Andy Dalton must rebound from arguably his lowest career point to not only resurrect the Bengals’ playoff hopes, but keep his starting job, as there have been recent rumblings that backup quarterback Jason Campbell stands ready to step in if Dalton continues to falter. Fortunately for Dalton, top wideout A.J. Green has tallied another week of recovery from his toe injury and should be at full speed, and the Saints defense has been shaky overall this season, forcing the Saints to score many points to eke out their wins.
The Bengals have trouble contending with the noise and the uptempo offensive barrage the Saints will throw at them. Saints 35-21
Houston Texans (4-5) @ Cleveland Browns (6-3)
November 16, 2014 1:00pm, CBS
The offensively-challenged Texans come limping into Cleveland with a new starting quarterback and a lot to prove, while the Browns look to continue their feel-good sensations from last weeks’ divisional tromping of the Bengals.
What to watch:
Ryan Mallett: Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett will be making his first NFL start after being buried on the depth chart by original drafter New England. Given the ferocity the Browns defense showed last week, this might not be the ideal scenario for him to do so, as he’ll have to have an excellent day from his offensive line to keep edge rushers Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger out of the offensive backfield. Expect a lot of screens and short, high-percentage passes from Mallett, coupled with a heavier workload for oft-injured running back Arian Foster.
Browns offensive line: The Browns will have to find a way to contain this years’ probable defensive MVP, defensive end J.J. Watt, and while his matchup against left tackle Joe Thomas is sure to be an epic one, the Texans will undoubtedly move Watt all over the line to create mismatches. Of note is the status of Texans linebacker/defensive end and #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who may actually play after missing significant time with a knee injury. If Clowney plays at close to full strength, he could disrupt things significantly. Expect the Browns to run the ball often to keep Clowney and Watt off-balance, and to keep the offensive line moving forward.
The Texans simply don’t have a reliable option at the game’s most important position. Browns 28-17
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) @ Tennessee Titans (2-7)
November 17, 2014 8:30pm, ESPN
The Steelers are hoping to buck their trend of losing to inferior competition on the road against the young Titans and rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
What to watch:
Steelers pass rush: The Steelers barely sniffed Jets quarterback Michael Vick last week, so it is imperative that they unleash their blitz packages to harass rookie Mettenberger into making mistakes. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s success against rookie quarterbacks is well-documented and must continue if the Steelers hope to leave Tennessee with a victory. Look for linebackers James Harrison and Jason Worilds to continually apply pressure to Titans tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Oher, who is enduring his worst season as a pro.
Steelers running game: Reestablishing the ground game will be key for the Steelers, who need to get starting back Le’Veon Bell back on track after a dismal outing last Sunday. Taking their cues from film study of the Jets, the Titans will most likely blitz quarterback Ben Roethlisberger often and will overload the edges, which should open up plenty of opportunities for Bell and fellow running back LeGarrette Blount. Expect some change-of-pace chances for rookie slashback Dri Archer as well, if only to keep the Titans defensive front honest.
While the Steelers are developing a reputation for underperforming in unlikely situations, this seems to be an ideal scenario for them to squelch it and re-emerge as a contender. Steelers 27-21
|Ravenous128||Bengals @ Saints||Saints, 35-21|
|Texans @ Browns||Browns, 28-17|
|Steelers @ Titans||Steelers 27-21|
|Peatwo||Bengals @ Saints||Saints, 27-17|
|Texans @ Browns||Browns, 24-20|
|Steelers @ Titans||Steelers, 24-23|
|DOOOMMEEEEDD||Bengals @ Saints||TBD|
|Texans @ Browns||TBD|
|Steelers @ Titans||TBD|