Please, someone, tell me what to make of the AFC North. Are all of these teams good? None of them? Just patently mediocre (like much of the league)?
I can't figure it out on my own.
But this much is certain – none of these teams seems capable of running away with this division, and it might only get more bonkers from here as we head into a stretch where the Ravens, Browns, Bengals and Steelers truly begin to meet with greater regularity. In this topsy-turvy division, sometimes not playing at all is the best thing possible. Because in Week 10, the Bengals (5-4) – who limped into their bye off two straight humbling defeats – fared better than anyone else, as the Ravens (6-3) were throttled by the woeful Dolphins, the Browns (5-5) yielded 45 straight points in a humiliating defeat at New England and the Steelers (5-3-1) somehow conspired with the winless Lions to complete a 70-minute football atrocity that resulted in a 16-16 tie.
We know at least one of these teams is going to the postseason, but are we convinced that two or more are? How can it be that whenever it appears an opportunity is there for one of these teams to step forward, and make a real statement, no one does? If nothing else, Week 10 was another reminder about how bonkers this league can be, and it's clear that serious flaws remain for all these teams as we enter the playoff push.
The Ravens allowed the 30th-ranked defense to blitz them with abandon on pretty much every second and third down, they made no adjustments, their defense continued to surrender big play after big play and they were suffocated 22-10 on Thursday night in the lowest output of the Lamar Jackson era. But we were only getting started. The AFC North had more follies to come.
The Browns looked great on their opening drive, roaring behind the run game for a 7-0 lead. Then the beatdown began. The Patriots doubled Baker Mayfield's tight ends and he started turning the ball over. New England put together four 90-yard scoring drives (including a 99-yarder) and systematically dismantled the Browns on both sides of the ball. This looked like a bad high school game with how one-sided the output was.
The Patriots led 24-7 at the half, outgained Cleveland 247-91, held the ball for 19-and-a-half of the final 25 minutes of that half, and blanked the Browns on third downs. Mayfield was knocked out of yet another game, posting a rating of 56.3 in the process, Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones left in garbage time with a nearly perfect rating (142.1) and they were outgained 452-217. Finding a way to get Mayfield through this season might be difficult at best, and this team has been unable to build any momentum this season.
And the Steelers wrapped up play in the division this weekend with perhaps the most bizarre outcome of all. Mason Rudolph was an abject failure filling in for Ben Roethlisberger with the future Hall of Fame on the COVID-19 list, and even though Lions QB Jared Goff was even worse, the Steelers couldn't muster a way to score one more point than the sad-sack Lions in Pittsburgh. With their constant turnovers and lack of discipline, the Steelers were quite lucky not to lose. Rudolph managed to thrown for 4.8 yards per attempt, his accuracy and decision-making were suspect and the vaunted Steelers defense allowed Detroit to roll up 229 yards rushing, including one scoring drive of nothing but five running plays (for 85 yards) and one incomplete pass, including a 42-yard TD by a converted safety.
Yeah, it really was that bad in the AFC North.
And it makes the jumbled-up AFC even more difficult to figure out as we approach Thanksgiving. If nothing else, I wouldn't write the Bengals off just yet, and I wouldn't be in a hurry to crown any of these teams.
Josh McDaniels back on head coach radar
Expect to hear a lot about Josh McDaniels next month when the head coaching carousel starts to churn. He is doing elite stuff bringing Mac Jones along as a passer, and the scope of the Patriots' offense has expanded exponentially since September.
Nothing gets owners hot and bothered like bringing a rookie quarterback along, and we all know McDaniels has had opportunities to leave New England in the past. In a year in which there aren't many hot new names percolating, I expect McDaniels will have ample interest. The Patriots, who have reconfigured their offensive line on the fly, now have a balanced attack and Jones doesn't rattle easy.
After a slow start, the Patriots have won four in a row and five of seven and are playing better at home again and won't be an easy out from here on out. They have a playoff-caliber defense and the run game is humming. Look out.
More Week 10 notes
- The Mike White hype was fun, but Sunday against the Bills was ugly. Tipped balls, picked off passes, and too much heat from a Buffalo defense that might be the best in the NFL. After four picks, you can rest assured that top pick Zach Wilson will be back out there as soon as his knee allows, for better or worse.
- Speaking of better, Dak Prescott was markedly improved in Week 10, after clearly not being himself coming back from a calf injury. That offense was hitting on all fronts from the onset and Atlanta was pretty much expunged in the second quarter.
- Hard to figure that the first overall pick in the NFL Draft could complete three of 14 passes in a half of football for 36 yards, but that's what happened for Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars on Sunday. Despite that, the Colts' somehow let Jacksonville stick around in a game that was far closer than it should have been.
- Welcome back to the NFL, Cam Newton. Not sure anyone saw his fast start and immediate impact for the Panthers coming, but that team was certainly more fun and interesting with him on the field than it has been in a long time without him.
- In a season in which everyone else seems to be finding ways to lose to a lesser team at least every few weeks, the Titans continue to stand out. They have been fairly flawless since an early loss to the Jets, and oozed guts and poise in holding off the Saints on Sunday. Mike Vrabel might be the NFL Coach of the Year.
- The 1 p.m. ET window once again featured some truly lopsided ball games. Of the seven early kickoffs, four were total blowouts (Cowboys 43-3 over Falcons; Patriots 45-7 over Browns; Bills 45-17 over Jets).