The AFC North is likely one of the extra intriguing divisions heading into the 2022 NFL season, and never simply because Deshaun Watson’s suspension looms over what needs to be a super-competitive group. The Ravens and Bengals will definitely be close to the highest of the AFC, barring any drastic accidents, and the Steelers might shock to contend. After all, Pittsburgh made the playoffs final season with lackluster quarterback play.

The large query might be what number of video games the Browns will play with Watson behind middle, if any. For this preview, we’re assuming Watson is suspended for the season and Jacoby Brissett is the 17-game starter.

I’ll be utilizing my NFL projection mannequin and simulating the NFL season 100,000 instances to take a deep dive into the AFC North and the way possible every workforce is to win the division in addition to make the playoffs within the 2022 season.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Mock’s odds to win the AFC North: 47.7%
  • BetMGM’s odds to win the AFC North: +155 (39.2%)
  • Mock’s odds to make the playoffs: 68.9%
  • BetMGM’s odds to make the playoffs: -165 (62.3%)

If Things Go Right:

Lamar Jackson performs a full season and returns to his 2019 kind, main the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. From a modeling perspective, Jackson might be the toughest quarterback to mission within the NFL due to what number of runs are designed for him. That additionally makes his ceiling one of many highest within the league. Jackson’s essential challenge has been interceptions, and he corrects that drawback this season to place himself within the working for his second MVP award. In 2021, Jackson’s interception price (interceptions per go try) was 3.4%. In his 2019 MVP season, that determine was only one.5%. Jackson performs towards the latter price and leads top-of-the-line offenses within the league by means of a deep playoff run.

The protection stays wholesome. Last season was an absolute catastrophe for this Ravens protection, because it was gutted with accidents earlier than the season even began. The Ravens had been high 5 in EPA/Play per TruMedia in 2019 and 2020 however fell all the best way to twenty fourth final season. Staying wholesome will go a great distance for brand new defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald’s group in 2022. If the Ravens can play as a top-10 protection, they are going to be a troublesome out for any AFC workforce.

Someone not named Mark Andrews or Rashod Bateman produces as a go catcher. The receiver room leaves quite a bit to be desired, however the tight finish room has loads of potential. Andrews is likely one of the finest within the league, and Nick Boyle isn’t a nasty No. 2 choice. Maybe Isaiah Likely lives as much as the preseason hype and makes life simpler for Jackson. Regardless if it’s a TE or a WR, somebody entering into a much bigger function will make this offense top-of-the-line within the league.

If Things Go Wrong:

The receiving corps is so poor that the Ravens can’t succeed by means of the air. It’s no secret that the Ravens plan to have probably the most environment friendly working video games within the NFL, but when no person can create separation outdoors of the highest guys, the field might get slightly extra crowded for the speeding assault. Two go catchers isn’t sufficient to take this offense the place it desires to go, which causes Jackson to drive throws and proceed to have points turning the ball over by means of the air. As a end result, the Ravens once more miss the playoffs.

Ravens Super Bowl Projection:

My mannequin provides the Baltimore Ravens a 5.0% likelihood to win the Super Bowl, Tenth-best within the NFL.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Mock’s odds to win the AFC North: 40.3%
  • BetMGM’s odds to win the AFC North: +180 (35.7%)
  • Mock’s odds to make the playoffs: 63.1%
  • BetMGM’s odds to make the playoffs: -140 (58.3%)

Cincinnati Bengals Win Distribution

If Things Go Right:

Joe Burrow prospers behind a rebuilt offensive line, firmly places himself into the MVP dialog and leads the Bengals to a Super Bowl win. Burrow was improbable in 2021, particularly within the latter half of the season, and if he is ready to enhance on his second season, the Bengals might be on the high of the AFC.

Speaking of the offensive line, the Bengals allowed a sack price of 9.0% final season (per TruMedia) regardless of being a workforce that wasn’t typically blitzed. The offense nonetheless managed to maneuver the ball fairly effectively regardless of the deficiency within the trenches. New additions of Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La’el Collins ought to assist that quantity go down and permit Burrow to seek out Ja’Marr Chase and Co. extra typically.

If Things Go Wrong:

The sack drawback is a Burrow drawback relatively than the offensive line drawback. Burrow loves extending performs; he’s top-of-the-line within the NFL at doing so. But that comes with some concern as he was sacked on the second-highest price within the league however solely pressured round a league common price per TruMedia (33.0% of dropbacks). There is probably going some fault to be placed on Burrow there, and if he once more struggles with “QB sacks” then the Bengals might miss the postseason.

The secondary isn’t as sound because it seems to be on paper. Eli Apple most likely isn’t who you need as your CB2 heading into the season. If he doesn’t win the beginning job, the Bengals might be counting on rookie second-round choose Cam Taylor-Britt, who’s sidelined with a core-muscle harm. If Cincinnati can’t discover a dependable second cornerback, it might discover itself counting on the offense slightly an excessive amount of in 2022.

Bengals Super Bowl Projection:

My mannequin provides the Cincinnati Bengals a 4.3% likelihood to win the Super Bowl, which is 14th-best within the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Please be aware that the mannequin’s projections are utilizing Mitchell Trubisky taking part in 60% of the video games, Kenny Pickett taking part in 30%, and Mason Rudolph taking part in 10%.

  • Mock’s odds to win the AFC North: 7.6%
  • BetMGM’s odds to win the AFC North: +900 (10.0%)
  • Mock’s odds to make the playoffs: 17.9%
  • BetMGM’s odds to make the playoffs: +300 (25.0%)

Pittsburgh Steelers Win Distribution

If Things Go Right:

Whoever takes the vast majority of snaps at quarterback, whether or not it’s Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett or Mason Rudolph, proves to be a big improve over Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers are capable of make the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive season. The quarterback competitors is just not near being full, however the bar is just not laborious to clear in comparison with final season’s offensive output. Pittsburgh might lean on the athleticism of Trubisky and Pickett and achieve one thing that has been lacking from this offense for a number of years.

George Pickens continues to construct on his coaching camp hype and fills in properly for the departed JuJu Smith-Schuster. Pickens missed the vast majority of his closing season at Georgia with an ACL tear, however his expertise is simple. Pickens seems to be like a contender for AFC Rookie of the Year, and the Steelers will want all of the playmakers they will get.

The offensive line holds it collectively and permits the Steelers’ proficient ability gamers to make performs. The offensive line doesn’t look good on paper, and taking part in at a median clip could be welcomed by Mike Tomlin and the teaching employees.

The secondary follows the offensive line and performs above its score on paper. Ahkello Witherspoon seems to be to construct on a formidable 2021 season at cornerback however after that, there are plenty of query marks. Minkah Fitzpatrick having a bounce-back season would go a great distance for this protection.

If Things Go Wrong:

The quarterback play is definitely a downgrade from Roethlisberger’s 2021 marketing campaign. It’s simple to see how this might occur contemplating they’ll be protected by a below-average offensive line. To add insult to harm, Pickett seems to be the worst of the three quarterbacks, elevating questions whether or not the Steelers made a mistake with their first-round choose.

The again seven of the protection doesn’t enhance and will get roasted in a division populated by high quality quarterbacks. Devin Bush hasn’t lived up his first-round hype and has been plagued with accidents. Fitzpatrick was much less productive final season on the security place. When wanting on the linebackers and secondary, there are gamers that should show themselves at principally each place.

Steelers Super Bowl Projection:

My mannequin provides the Pittsburgh Steelers a 0.9% likelihood to win the Super Bowl, which is Twenty fifth-best within the NFL.

Cleveland Browns

Please be aware that my mannequin’s projections are utilizing Jacoby Brissett for 100% of video games and Deshaun Watson for 0% of video games.

  • Mock’s odds to win the AFC North: 4.5%
  • BetMGM’s odds to win the AFC North: +325 (23.5%)
  • Mock’s odds to make the playoffs: 11.1%
  • BetMGM’s odds to make the playoffs: Off the Board

Cleveland Browns Win Distribution

If Things Go Right:

Brissett pulls collectively the perfect season of his profession with a great offensive line and a plethora of weapons on his approach to a AFC playoff berth. One factor that Brissett does significantly properly is keep away from turnovers. And that’s most likely what the Browns offense will hope they get from him. Brissett has a profession interception price of simply 1.4%. Compare this to final season’s effort from Baker Mayfield, when the determine was 3.1%. Though Brissett received’t take as many dangers down the sector — solely 9.8% of his passing makes an attempt traveled 20+ yards down the sector whereas Mayfield ranked sixth in 2021 at 14.4% — the Browns will definitely dwell with fewer turnovers and lean on their protection.

Speaking of that protection … the inside line of defense is the one weak hyperlink on the roster, and after rating within the backside 5 in EPA/Play towards the push in 2021 (, they bounce again and have a median season. This permits Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney to get after the quarterback extra typically. The protection must play to its potential as a result of there’ll absolutely be video games the place Brissett and the Browns offense won’t do sufficient to win the sport.

If Things Go Wrong:

The distinction between Watson and Brissett is big, per my mannequin. As talked about above, my mannequin would see the Browns as top-of-the-line groups within the league with Watson behind middle and fall into the underside 10 with Brissett. You’re a distinction of about 3.5 to 4 wins between the 2.

The Browns protection disappoints once more. They have loads of stars — Garrett, Denzel Ward and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah all ranked within the high 11 of their respective positions per PFF grades — and the items in between them aren’t too shabby both. But for some motive, the protection was solely a median unit final yr. My mannequin has them projected as an above-average protection, however they received’t need to underachieve in a division with improved offenses.

Browns Super Bowl Projection:

My mannequin provides the Cleveland Browns a 0.5% likelihood to win the Super Bowl, which is Twenty seventh-best within the NFL.

(Photo: Katie Stratman / USA Today)

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