We are drawing closer to the start of the NFL season, as all 32 teams have reported to training camp. There will be so much to anticipate this year, including a new 17 game regular season. Rookies like Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will be fun to watch. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face an insane amount of pressure as they try to repeat as champions. Of course, we will all be watching for this year’s breakout star. As we count down the days to the opening kickoff, let’s preview the divisions. Today, we are looking at the AFC North.
There were lots of surprises in the AFC North in 2020 and it was one of the tightest divisions all year long. The big surprise was how dominant the Pittsburgh Steelers were in the first half of the season, going 11-0 before being upset by the Washington Football Team in their 12th contest.
Slowly and surely, it left the door open for the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens to storm back into contention and make things interesting in the final weeks of the season. Ultimately, the Steelers held on and won the division with a 12-4 record but were eliminated by the Browns in the opening round of the playoffs in shocking fashion.
And then there were the Baltimore Ravens, who had an unusually slow start to the year, but bounced back just in time to make the playoffs. This was a competitive division, and the top three teams have a taste for success and playoff hopes.
Favorite to Win in 2021
Despite winning the division in 2020, the Steelers are listed as the third favorite coming into 2021. They had to let go of many players on the defensive side of the ball and Ben Roethlisberger is 39 entering the season with a long list of injuries in the past. The betting favorite for the AFC North is the Baltimore Ravens followed by the Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens added Sammy Watkins at wide receiver and are hoping that Lamar Jackson can make the next leap in the playoffs while the Browns will continue to sling it on offense and hope that their defense can come up with a few stops. Adding Jadeveon Clowney will boost an already strong pass rush led by All-Pro Myles Garrett.
Offensive Player to Watch: Nick Chubb
There is an argument for guys like Jackson and Baker Mayfield, but Nick Chubb is one of the most exciting players in this division that doesn’t get enough credit. Chubb is nearly impossible to bring down and he was spotted lifting over 500 pounds on the squat rack before training camp. He is coming off a 12-touchdown season in 2020.
Defensive Player to Watch: T.J. Watt
All the attention was on J.J. Watt this offseason and where he would land after the Texans released him, but T.J. may have taken over as the more dominant brother in the league at this point. He racked up 15 sacks and 53 tackles in 2020 and is an imposing force on the defensive side of the ball.
Prediction: Ravens (13-4)
This is going to be another year where the race for first is tight, but I have faith that the Ravens will get off to a hot start as they’ve bolstered their defense and added a few weapons on offense for Lamar Jackson.