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.
Cleveland Browns (7-8) @ Baltimore Ravens(9-6)
December 28, 2014 1:00pm
The Ravens host the Browns, who would like nothing more than to end Baltimore’s season in front of their own fans. Cleveland has little else to play for, as they dress two quarterbacks who have been on the roster for less than a week. The Ravens, on the ropes after letting their offense find their own way to Houston last week, must win and have Kansas City beat San Diego to make the playoffs.
What to watch:
Ravens passing game versus Browns defense: Pierre Desir has emerged as a solid cornerback for the Browns, albeit with a small sample size. With Joe Haden in the mix, do the Ravens have enough weapons to move the ball at will? On any given Sunday, it seems only one Ravens wide receiver shows up to play. It could be another long day for Joe Flacco and the Ravens passing game, especially if Flacco’s offensive line fails to protect him again.
The Ravens’ rushing offense has averaged 62 yards a game over the past two weeks, but takes on the league’s worst run defense. Left tackle, Eugene Monroe has missed both days of practice this week, and Rick Wagner was moved to the Injured Reserve list.
[Quarterback to be named] vs Ravens secondary: The Ravens’ secondary has struggled all season (5 DBs on IR), not only against premier quarterbacks, but also against inexperienced and rookie QBs like Case Keenum, Blake Bortles and Zach Mettenberger. Whether newly signed QB Tyler Thigpen or practice squad signee, Connor Shaw starts, offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan would be remiss not to take his chances in the passing game.
If Baltimore’s pass rush and defensive line can continue their ferocious streak, it may be a long day for Shaw and Thigpen. Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Pernel McPhee and Timmy Jernigan, cornerstones of the front four, have nearly 40 sacks between them.
Look for Shaw and Thigpen to get wide receiver Josh Gordon more involved. Over the last three weeks, Gordon is averaging three receptions for 35 yards a game.
The Ravens’ offense is streaky, but rarely stumbles two weeks in a row. The front 7 single-handedly had the Ravens in a game last Sunday that shouldn’t have been as close as it was. Any offensive production at all gets the Ravens the win, especially with Shaw and Thigpen unfamiliar with the offense, playing on the road, in a must-win game for Baltimore. Ravens 27-16
Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)
December 28, 2014 8:30pm
The Bengals travel to Pittsburgh three weeks after a fourth quarter meltdown in which they surrendered 25 late points to the opportunistic Steelers. This time, the stakes are much higher, with a home playoff game, and a division title, on the line. Can the Bengals play at a high level in a winner takes all, road, prime time game? Will Le’Veon Bell find his groove again and lead the Steelers to the division title?
What to watch:
Le’Veon Bell versus Bengals defense: Though Bell has been ineffective running the ball the last two weeks (40 carries, 110 yards, 2.75 yards/rush), it was during Week 14 against the Bengals when he averaged over 7 yards a carry and over 8 yards a reception en route to a career day (235 total yards, 3 TDs).
Last week against the run-heavy Broncos offense, the Bengals committed to stoping the run, and limited CJ Anderson to a little more than 3 yards a carry. Can they repeat that effort this week?
Cincinnati’s pass defense offered multiple looks and threw Peyton Manning and the Broncos pass offense off. They will need a repeat performance from the secondary and linebackers this week, as they face a gaggle of offensive weapons that can exploit a defense either short or deep.
Bengals offense versus Steelers defense: The secondary continues to be the weak link for the Steelers as the front seven has found its stride recently. Over the past three weeks, the Steelers are giving up an average of 400 yards a game, with 300 yards amassed through the air.
With wide receiver AJ Green fighting through an arm injury and quarterback Andy Dalton fighting the flu, the Bengals may not be able to take advantage of the Steelers’ charitable pass defense. Coupled with Andy Dalton’s erratic play, the Steelers may be catching the Bengals at the right time. Look for the Bengals to lean on Jeremy Hill and the run game, which, collectively, has accounted for an average of 225 yards a game for the past two weeks.
While a 42-21 score makes the entire game seem like a blowout, the week 14 matchup was competitive into the fourth quarter. The Steelers limited the Bengals to their second lowest rush yardage of the season (86 yards, fewest being 79 yards against New England), which will place the game in Dalton’s hands. Add in the Bengals’ tendency to struggle in prime time games, and it looks like a storm brewing for the Bengals. Steelers 26-16
|Ravenous128||Browns @ Ravens||Ravens 24-16|
|Bengals @ Steelers||Steelers 28-21|
|Peatwo||Browns @ Ravens||Ravens 27-20|
|Bengals @ Steelers||Steelers 16-13|
|DOOOMMEEEEDD||Browns @ Ravens||Ravens 27-16|
|Bengals @ Steelers||Steelers 26-16|