AFC North Will Send 3 Teams to Playoffs: Analyst

T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree sack Baker Mayfield

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Bud Dupree #48 and T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers strip sack Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns during a December 2019 game at Heinz Field.

The 2020 NFL season will be the first with the new, expanded playoff format, featuring seven teams from each conference, per the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It’s a format that would have allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers to make the playoffs four more times in the past ten years, and could conceivably benefit the team once again this year. If nothing else it’s likely to benefit one team from the AFC North, which figures to produce three playoff teams in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus.

Division Winner: Baltimore or Pittsburgh

The way PFF sees it, either the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers will win the AFC North, with one of those teams getting a wild card entry along with the Cleveland Browns.

“The Steelers … could easily win their division, but I’m also buying into the Cleveland bounceback given the team’s offseason,” begins author Sam Monson. “The hype this time a season ago wasn’t baseless—it was just neutralized by the things that went wrong. Almost all of those problems have been addressed this offseason, so the positive things there should flourish.”

As for Baltimore, Monson expects the Ravens to come out on top, not just in their division, but in the entire NFL. “The Ravens have one of the best rosters in football, and I don’t think the league is finding Lamar Jackson’s Kryptonite anytime soon.”

AFC North Preview Podcast

Adding detail to that provided in the article, Monson and PFF NFL Podcast partner Steve Palazzolo also did an in-depth AFC North Preview.

In terms of the Steelers, the duo discussed how they believe QB Ben Roethlisberger has been on the decline for a while now. Never mind that he threw for over five-thousand yards in 2018, PFF had him as the No. 17 rated quarterback that year, claiming that he missed an unusually high number of throws by his own lofty standards, but had Antonio Brown helping to inflate his statistics. “Even if he’s a hundred percent I’m not sure how good he is anymore,” Monson said.

“But even if that’s the same Ben that they get this year it’s going to be so much better than what they got from Duck and Mason Rudolph,” said Palazzolo. “And they have this young receiver corps that could progress,” which is going to make the Steelers dangerous, he added.

As for Monson, he buys into the argument that the Steelers are going to greatly benefit from the continuity they have on offense, defense, and on their coaching staff—arguably the No. 1 team in the NFL in terms of continuity. It’s true, the Steelers only need to integrate rookie second-round pick Chase Claypool at wide receiver and free agent tight end Eric Ebron on offense, and there are even fewer newcomers on the defensive side of the ball.

All in all, Monson and Palazzolo think it’s “not unreasonable” to think the Steelers could win 11 games this season, with eight or nine wins probably the floor, even in a very competitive AFC North division.

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