NFL 2021 – AFC North Preview

Three of the four AFC North teams held significant positions in the standings for the 2020 season. The Browns and Steelers battled in the Wild Card weekend only for the Browns to move to lose to eventual AFC Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. After a disappointing playoff game against the Bills, the Ravens are still not over the hump to get to a championship. Here is the quick preview for the 2021 AFC North Division!

Baltimore Ravens

  • Key Additions: OT Alejandro Villanueva, OT  Kevin Zeitler, RB Gus Edwards, G Kevin Zeitler, DE Derek Wolfe, WR Sammy Watkins
  • Key losses: OT Orlando Brown, DE Yannick Ngakoue, OLB Matthew Judon
  • Starting Quarterback: Lamar Jackson
  • Last season: 11-5

    2021 outlook: It almost seems like its time for the Ravens to make that Super Bowl run happen. But then Patrick Mahomes still is employed by the Chiefs and for a long time. The only thing standing in the way of the Ravens getting a shot in Los Angeles in Feburary 2022 for the championship will be themselves being able to win the big playoff games. This team should be in tact to be a top team season after season with the current core roster still in place. It’s Lamar Jackson‘s time to shine again. He’s 1-3 in the playoffs, has thrown more interceptions in the last two playoffs than touchdowns. Something has to give at the QB position to be better in the playoffs otherwise the Ravens are just another great regular season team only. The division is definitely winnable for them this season however.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Key additions: DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Mike Hilton, DT Larry Ogunjobi, CB Eli Apple, WR Ja’Marr Chase
  • Key losses: DT Geno Atkins, WR A.J. Green, DE Carl Lawson
  • Starting Quarterback: Joe Burrow
  • Last season: 4-11

    2021 outlook: Burrow was 10 games into his Rookie season before a knee injury derailed the rest of the season. Five interceptions in the 10 games put Burrow at 5th best out of Quarterbacks in 2020. If he even kept that pace you could argue that he was on pace similar to what eventual champion Tom Brady did on paper (12 INT). The Bengals let go some long-time talent this offseason but now focus on a new direction. Ja’Marr Chase was taken with the fifth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft this past spring. A former LSU teammate of Joe Burrow and now reunited in the pros. These college matchups are becoming more common but the Bengals are filling holes to move on from Andy Dalton and now A.J. Green. A hefty part of their offseason was building up the defense. Starting to notice a trend here? Some of the young offensive cores have arguably a better defense than offense which is like a safety net for the young QB and his learning curve. The Bengals are still slated to be around a 4-6 win team. Anything more than that is overachieving.

Cleveland Browns

  • Key additions: DT Marvin Wilson, CB Troy Hill, DE Jadeveon Clowney,
  • Key losses: OT Kendall Lamm, DT Larry Ogunjobi, CB Terrance Mitchell
  • Starting Quarterback: Baker Mayfield
  • Last season: 11-5

    2021 outlook: This is an outlook we can say is very bright. The Browns clearly have talent on both sides of the ball and on paper might be the best of the division (depends who you’re talking to). Cleveland has done nothing but trended upwards last season. After their season opener loss to the Ravens last season, they went on a four game win-streak and never looked back. In fact they would win another four games in a row later in the season to finally beat the Steelers in the Wild Card round. Signing Clowney finally and with their current roster makes this defensive line one of the top tiers in the league. Something is working in Cleveland and the offensive core seems set with Baker Mayfield at the helm, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and Nick Chubb as targets and serious threats for any defense in the NFL. The Browns are set up this season on paper to make serious noise as an AFC contender. However, their divsion rival, the Baltimore Ravens could force the Browns into the Wild Card weekend again if the competition stays close this season. Will the Browns take the leap to contenders this season? Let’s find out.

Pittsburg Steelers

  • Key additions: OT Joe Haeg, C BJ Finney, RB Kalen Ballage, QB Dwayne Haskins
  • Key losses: CB Mike Hilton, CB Steven Nelson, OLB Bud Dupree
  • Starting Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger
  • Last season: 12-4

    2021 outlook: There might be a new division leader this season should the Steelers not have some sort of overacheiving part of their season in 2021. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is back on a one-year deal and the Steelers have more key losses than additions to help their case in 2021. The division is obviously much better with Cleveland and Baltimore but it feels like they haven’t gotten up to speed with the arms race in the division. One extra win made the difference between the Steelers having to let a tie breaker decide on who won the division last season. Pittsburg would have won all tie breaker scenarios against the Browns and Ravens but an overacheiving 11-0 start helped that cause. The most the Steelers can hope for is to squeeze out wins against the division rivals. They’ll have games that are winable against Denver, Cincinatti twice, Chicago, and Detroit. However, that’s as far as you could say are sure wins as the rest of the schedule plays out against tough teams like Baltimore, Cleveland, Tennessee, Buffalo, Green Bay, Seattle, and Kansas City.

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