2021 NFL DIVISION PREVIEW - AFC NORTH
HANDICAPPING THE NFL
Division Rank - #1 Overall and #1 in the AFC 38-25-3
The AFCN gets our nod as the NFL’s best division based on several facts: Every team has a solid franchise quarterback. (I’m not alone in predicting great things for Cincy’s Joe Burrow.) Baltimore with Lamar Jackson and Cleveland with Baker Mayfield are set for the next decade plus. Pittsburgh with 39 year-old Ben Roethlisberger may be forced to reload after Ben’s 17th season.
After Terry Bradshaw retired in 1982,, it took 22 years and a lot of QB frog kissing until Big Ben fell into Pittsburgh’s lap in the 2004 Draft.
The Steelers never admit to rebuilding and history has rewarded that attitude well. Chuck Noll went to the ’84 AFCCG with Mark Malone as his QB. Bill Cowher lost four AFCCGs and a Super Bowl with QBs named Mark Malone, Neil O’Donnell, and Kordell Stewart.
Pittsburgh’s window is closing just as the Bengals’ is opening.
Things are going to fall right for one or more of these teams in ’21—which teams are the only question.
Best Ownership…Rooney Family – Pittsburgh Steelers
Best GM…Kevin Colbert
Pittsburgh gets the nod in these two categories only because the Rooneys have managed the most successful NFL franchise since the merger—and have had to hire only three coaches in that time.
Steve Bisciotti has molded his Crows into one of the most consistently excellent teams in the league. I bet he's glad he didn't fire John Harbaugh a few years back when the Magpies missed the playoffs three years straight beginning in 2015. Bisciotti opted for stability and it has paid off handsomely
Jimmy Haslam, after a rough start in Cleveland has assembled one of the best new coaching staffs—Kevin Stefanski has turned the Browns into a contender—and has the most talented roster in the division.
Mike Brown needs to hire a real GM or promote Duke Tobin from Director of Player Personnel, but in the last five years the Bengals have done a good job drafting and signing free agents.
On the GM front, the Crow's Eric DeCosta took over for the legendary Ozzie Newsome in 2019 and Cleveland’s Andrew Berry is the youngest GM in football—and they are both doing an unbelievable job. Colbert gets the nod because of his consistency, and his most recent draft might end up with five players who will make an immediate impact.
Best Coach…John Harbaugh – Baltimore Ravens
It kills me to give the most punchable face in America his due, but Mike Tomlin is just one game over .500 in the playoffs and that has to change. The Browns mauled the Steelers in the last year’s Wild Card game —unacceptable.
Best QB…Lamar Jackson – Baltimore Ravens
I thought Jackson was too small and couldn’t take the pounding the NFL gives a running QB every week. I misjudged Jackson’s toughness and football IQ.
He might win his first ring very soon—if Mayfield and Burrow don’t win one first.
AFCN fans have a rare year in front of them; all four teams have viable pathway to potential deep runs in the playoffs
Wild Cards…Pittsburgh Steelers…Cleveland Browns…
And, yes, it is possible the Bengals could be a Wild Card team
Best Super Bowl Futures Bet… Pittsburgh Steelers +4000