The AFC North Off Season Buzz

The AFC North Off Season Buzz
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Sorry for the blurry photo, but this is a rare find with a Lombardi Trophy without a Y chromosome holding it.

We will not have trolling Thursday today (other than what is normal in this place). There has been enough talking about balls and interviews at this point. Plus it has nothing to do with our eliminated AFC North teams. Its time to start talking Super Bowl “L” (or Super Bowl 50 as the NFL execs will be using). How far away is your team from reaching the NFL’s ultimate showdown? Its been a busy week and this piece had to be shelved for a couple of days, but Pro Football Focus (PFF) recently analyzed the rosters of previous Super Bowl teams and compared them to the 30 teams who are not playing in Arizona this Sunday. Since PFF requires payment for most of their data, here is the four letter network’s version. You might be surprised to read that all AFC North teams are in the top 13 in terms of fewest players away from a Super Bowl. You might be even more surprised at the order.

Cleveland Browns:
They are the shocking #7 team out of 30 on this list as the Browns are only five players away from the promise land. Would that make them LESS than two years away? Lets see how the front office handles it first. What stood out to me is that Alex Mack and Joe Haden are on the “average” list, but that would only improve the Browns ranking by one. In addition, with 35 qualifying players amassing 250 snaps, the Browns require 14 players in these categories, while other teams like the Bengals or Cowboys require 11 or 12, respectively.

Baltimore Ravens:
In another surprise, the Ravens hold the #2 spot with 12 players in the elite to good category, and need to reach 14. The question remains is whether adding two players in this category will allow the team to play with more consistency. What stood out in the Ravens rankings were Pernell McPhee’s elite PFF ranking, and Haloti Ngata’s average ranking.

Cincinnati Bengals:
According to the study, the Bengals have the most roster work to do with just four good to elite players. There are some questionable names left out like Geno Adkins, not to mention the Bengals will also be going through some major changes at linebacker. If going by PFF’s rankings, that could be a good thing for the Bengals chances.

Pittsburgh Steelers:
The Steelers are in need of six players to rise up and reach their good to elite potential as they rank 11th in the PFF study. I was surprised to see the elder statesman James Harrison in the “good” category, but he did have a decent year. If he does slip in 2015 or moves on, he could be replaced by the likes of David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert.

My take:

It is an interesting study, and one that gives every player equal impact on a team. It makes no difference whether the good to elite player is a quarterback or a fullback. I’m not sure if I agree with that assessment, but if 40% of the roster is made up of players in the two top categories, individual impact is diminished. Another variable potentially omitted is how players perform in cold weather and under pressure. An “average” player could move into the “good” or “elite” category, or vice versa, which would skew the data. I haven’t analyzed PFF’s data to know whether they accounted for this variable or not, but they did list Peyton Manning as “average”. In addition, special teams standouts are missing. Kickers and dynamic returners have played major roles in whether or not a team makes the Super Bowl (see Patriots and Bears for example). In terms of quarterbacks, kickers, and wide receivers, the AFC North has witnessed this variable first hand.

All in all, its a study that should give AFC North fans hope going into 2015, and that’s all we really need during the off season.

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