The NFL is changing right in front of our faces. Young coaches and young quarterbacks that play well above their expected means seem to be the norm right now. Patrick Mahomes is coming off one of the better performances out of a quarterback this season, and still lost 40-43 against the Patriots this past Sunday Night. I had to double-take a few times throughout this game to make sure I wasn’t watching Big XII football. It would be putting it kindly to call both the Pats' and Chiefs' secondaries Swiss Cheese. They’re 10 times worse. Make that 20 times worse. More along the lines of a muenster cheese that’s been fermenting in a dumpster filled with Indian food for three weeks. Absolutely horrid stuff.
Anyways, back to the AFC North. This division as a whole (excluding the Browns, sort of) has played exactly the kind of football NFL fans love for the past five years. The Steelers and Bengals displayed that this past Sunday in the Steelers' 28-21 win over the Bengals. It was a classic game of “out-physical” the guy across from you, and hope it leads to points.
The Ravens and Browns played the exact style of football two weeks ago, in the Browns last-second overtime win 12-9. These are teams that duke it out at the line of scrimmage and play pissed off. If I had to freeze my ass off in any of these cities I’d probably be pissed too. The remainder of these AFC North matchups should be top-of-the-line football down the stretch. If you’re into run, run, pass and hard-nosed defense. You know, the real “grassroots” style of football, the working man’s football. Then these teams should not be missed throughout the course of the 2018 NFL season.
This Bengals team essentially tries to beat the Steelers by bullying them every time they play. Not with schematics, not with comprehensive game planning, but picking on the Steelers until they break. Now this strategy hasn’t exactly boded well for Marvin Lewis, who's a career 8-24 against the Steelers and a shocking 2-15 against them at home. P.S…. It really isn’t that shocking. Lewis does the same thing year after year with this team against the Steelers. Bully them and lay big hits until it gets to their heads. Literally.
It might not win games, but it’s one hell of an entertaining product and folks; I’m certainly here for it. Most of us remember when Vontaze Burfict hit Antonio Brown in the head three years ago in the Bengals classic playoff loss against the Steelers. Well evidently, you can’t teach a dog new tricks, and you can’t teach Vontaze not to kill Antonio Brown. This classic "Burfict" play caused Antonio Brown to leave the field for a few plays after being shaken up.
Burfict hit Brown in the head once again this past Sunday, but was not penalized. This did not ultimately lose the game for the Bengals like three years ago, but is still indicative of what’s to come for this team in the future. There’s a difference between smash mouth football, and being reckless. Burfict does not seem to get that, and Marvin Lewis seems well past the point of potentially enlightening him. This Bengals team will be fun to watch over the next couple of months and will probably sneak into the playoffs. But, it looks like the same old problems will continue to haunt them once they get there.
Both the Steelers and the Patriots seem to develop these annual growing pains each year, but only one of them actually gets results. Ben Roethlisberger has looked great on paper this year, other than his performance against the Ravens. But he still has those throws that make you scratch your head, and wonder if that motorcycle accident several years ago did permanent damage to the little voice in Ben’s head. “Ben he’s open, he’s open, and it’s six the other way.”
To take shots at a potential serious brain injury that may have taken place outside of the safe venue that is the game of football might be a little harsh. Given the injuries that Big Ben has sustained just by playing the game, let alone diving into what he does away from football...
But it's these kinds of throws late in big games that will keep the Steelers from winning the division.
Plus, the lack of that Le’Veon Bell guy. James Conner has looked great this year,and is fifth in the league in rushing with 453 yards, and had an impressive 111 yards rushing in the Steelers win on Sunday. But Bell is a generational talent and probably the most dynamic player in all of football. So, despite what James Conner does this season, Bell is still clearly more capable and versatile overall.
This Ravens team has the making of all of the classic Ravens squads that have made deep runs in the playoffs in the past. Physical at the line of scrimmage, and studs at every level of the defense. They shutout the Titans 21-0 on the road, and set a franchise record for sacks in a game with 11 this past week. The Titans offensive line is anchored by All-Pro Taylor Lewan at left tackle and 2016 All-Pro Jack Conklin at right tackle. Just to put it in perspective how mean and talented this Ravens defense is, they racked up more sacks on Sunday than the 49ers, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Falcons, Giants, Patriots, Raiders, and Redskins have all season. 2015 fourth round pick out of Kentucky, Za’Darius Smith, led the team with 3 sacks.
Jimmy Smith is a top 10 Corner in this league when he’s healthy. Eric Weddle might be the best safety in all of football at 33 years old. Three-time pro bowler C.J. Mosley is playing at the top of his game, and I haven’t even mentioned the leadership of stud 36-year old Terrell Suggs who already has 4.5 sacks on the year. This Ravens team has all the makings of their previous 2012 and 2000 Super Bowl teams. Ozzie Newsome finds value in later rounds, and builds his defenses at every level. That is exactly what this year’s Ravens team looks like, and be prepared to watch them make a run at the Super Bowl with Joe Flacco’s more recent consistent play.
Ah the Cleveland Browns with the ugliest record in all of football at 2-3-1, and nearly being 1-3-2 after the conversion of a horrendous looking field goal against the Ravens at the last second two weeks ago. But, hey a win is a win and even if it "knuckle balls" through, it's still a big time win against a divisional opponent.
Despite winning in ugly fashion, the Browns beat a highly competitive Ravens team. Cementing them as a legitimate threat in the AFC North for the remainder of the season. Then… they came back down to earth and realized they were the Browns. Losing embarrassingly, on both sides of the football this past Sunday, 38-14 at home against the Chargers. There is no question this Browns team has talent. Myles Garrett is living up to the hype with 5 sacks on the season, and Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert have looked great at linebacker this year. But there still are question marks as far as discipline goes with this team.
There have been multiple times this season where players like Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway look disinterested in running their routes. Landry is the only experienced player in the receivers' room, and at age 25, he's not that experienced. He seems to still be figuring out how to stretch the field and create more separation downfield, but the Browns simultaneously are looking for him to step into a leadership role. I think the Browns overpaid for Landry this offseason, and Baker Mayfield is paying the price for this lack of a solidified receiving corps. Granted, Mayfield looked bad against the Chargers and Ravens, but the effort from his receivers isn’t doing him any favors. Nor is there rush defense, which gave up 246 yards on the ground this past week. They have been hurt on the ground all season, and “frosted tips” Gregg Williams needs to get that sorted out for this team to go five hundred on the season.