The Atlanta Falcons West Coast Trip is Over, What Did We Learn?

The Atlanta Falcons west coast trip has come to an end, and the team went 1-1 on their trip. Back-to-back west coast games are notoriously tough on east coast teams, but Atlanta showed a lot of resolve. It’s still early in the year, but we’ve learned a lot about the team since their deflating Week 1 loss. I was able to attend both games and came away with a few thoughts after watching the team up close.

Drake London smiling after scoring his 2nd Touchdown of his career.
Photo Credit: Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons

Drake London is the real deal

Whether you think it’s fair or not, top 10 picks in the NFL Draft come with instant impact expectations. Well, Drake London met all of them on this Atlanta Falcons west coast trip. The rookie wide receiver had 50+ yards and a touchdown in each game, finishing with 140 yards for the entire trip. The game looks easy for Drake, and watching him from the stands I can see why. The kid is built like a freak and fits right in with Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson. London was known as a physical WR coming out of USC, and he shows it on this TD against Seattle.

The Defensive culture still hasn’t changed

Dean Pees’s now infamous rant about changing the culture of Atlanta’s defense hasn’t aged well. After a four sack game on opening weekend, the team had a combined total of three over this trip. Furthermore, the defense is giving up 27 points per game, 4.8 yards per rush, and is 27th in passing yards allowed per game at 271.3. There have, of course, been bright spots, like the play of Mykal Walker, but not enough to give fans confidence that change is finally here.

Hello run game, its been a while

The Falcons are running the ball with success at a rate we haven’t seen for some time. The team is averaging 156.7 rushing yards per game on the season, fifth-best in the NFL. The Atlanta Falcons west coast trip revealed what many Falcons fans already believed: Cordarrelle Patterson IS HIM. Hurdling would-be tacklers and trucking their teammates immediately afterwards is how you win the hearts of fans.

It’s not just the highlight plays either. Patterson has done a great job of picking up tough yardage in key down-and-distance situations, like the play below against the Rams. This helped set up the touchdown that ignited the team’s comeback.

This team has resolve

This Atlanta Falcons west coast trip could’ve easily ended in a 0-2 effort. After the first three quarters of the Rams game, it looked like the team was headed for 0-17. I can tell you personally that being in SoFi Stadium when the scoreboard read 28-3 felt like the seven levels of hell. Rams fans took advantage and tormented us fans in the stadium. But then, something amazing happened — the Falcons came back.

What the team showed in the final quarter of that game was something fans needed to see. After an inept start on both sides of the ball, the team started putting together successful plays, giving themselves a chance to win in the final moment. From the stands, the energy on the sideline never wavered and felt like this team truly believed in themselves.

That’s what matters most. It felt like they carried that fight into the Seattle game where they faced an opponent that also wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

Falcons fans, take a bow

It’s not easy being a Falcons fan in any scenario, but being one at an opposing team’s stadium feels like being the clown at a kids party. Jokes are hurled at you constantly, and people genuinely find the idea of cheering for the Dirty Birds hilarious.

There really isn’t much respect for the team outside of Atlanta, but that didn’t stop fans from showing up. Fans represented well and were cheering their hearts out at both games. So often Atlanta fans are forced to take the brunt of the jokes their teams create and still consistently fight. As an attending fan, I have to say this Atlanta Falcons west coast trip was worth the price of admission.

What’s next?

The team is 1-2 and faces a tough Cleveland defense and run game next week. The Falcons are coming off their most complete game of the year, and I expect that momentum to carry over. I’m not sure what the result of the game will be, but I can confidently say they will fight until the final play.

Dolphins vs Bills: Week 3 Preview

Dolphins ATB recaps the Week 2 comeback victory against the Ravens and preview the keys to success, in their Week 3 matchup against the Bills.

Dolphins vs Bills

This Dolphins vs Bills matchup presents Miami with a real chance to make a statement to the rest of the league, even in defeat. If the Dolphins can keep the game close, a strong performance will put the league on notice that they are a legitimate post-season contender.

Dolphins vs Bills Game Information

  • Date: Sunday, September 25
  • Time: 13:00 ET (18:00 UK Time)
  • Venue: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami FL
  • TV: CBS and Sky Sports NFL
  • Record: Dolphins (2-0) Bills (2-0)

Week 2 Recap

A comeback performance for the ages! For the first time in 711 games, a team was able to overcome a 21-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter. Miami were able to turn adversity into opportunity, following a shaky first half, to pull off a stunning comeback against a very strong Ravens’ side.

Strengths:

  • Offensive productivity on third down
  • Noticeable elevation in Tua’s game in fourth quarter
  • Hill and Waddle = Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Improvements in the run game
  • Alex Ingold’s blocking contributions
  • Goal line run defense

Star Performer- Tua Tagovailoa

Have a day Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa!

Following a rocky first half performance, Tua elevated his game to become only the third Dolphins’ QB to throw for 6 TDs in a game, alongside Dan Marino and Bob Griese.

Tua finished the game 36/50 for 469 yards, 6 TDs and 2 INTs. Tua’s confidence and poise was such that he could have continued to score as and when was required.

In my Week 2 preview article I wrote that  “Tua needs to step up and elevate his game to a level which will allow him to take the game to this Ravens defense, in the event that the game turns into a shootout.” And a shoot-out it was.

Tua’s performance was a notable step towards silencing his biggest critics.  It is often said that the Dolphins win in spite of Tua. Well that was not the case in this game. Tua stepped up and carried the team forward in light of the defense’s early struggles.

I have to admit at half time, I for one was skeptical, with the offense seemingly having no answer to the Ravens who were able to score with ease. In my game day notes at half time, Alec Ingold was the Dolphins’ star performer. Lamar Jackson had an outstanding MVP caliber performance, yet Tua’s remarkable comeback performance was able to overcome the high bar that Jackson set.

Mandatory Credit: Dol-Fan UK Podcast

Honorable mentions:

While Tua had a career game, I would be remiss if I did not honor the superb performances of Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. The speedy tandem of receivers were all over the field and unplayable in the second half, despite Hill suffering from cramps and being doubtful to return to the game.

Excitement is certainly high as to what this Mike McDaniel offense can achieve this season.

Weaknesses:

  • Tua’s impatience- resulting in two unnecessary picks
  • Dolphins’ secondary playing too soft
  • Lack of pass rush

You know the defense is having a bad day when Xavien Howard is beaten time and time again. Howard had a PFF coverage grade of 41.7 against the Ravens allowing 5 receptions for 119 yards on 8 targets. The Dolphins secondary played too far off man, resulting in Howard being exploited against the speedy Bateman.

Buffalo Bills Week 2

The Bills are off to a red hot start in 2022, following wins against the Super Bowl Champions and last year’s #1 seed in the AFC. The Bills were relentless against the Titans putting up 34 unanswered points, with Josh Allen being allowed to rest up during the fourth quarter.

Buffalo are clicking on all fronts following another strong defensive performance in which they held the Titan’s offense to a mere 187 total yards. Tyreek Hill had more yards than the entire Titan’s offense in Week 2.

Dolphins vs Bills- Keys to Success

A battle of two undefeated teams, and staunch divisional rivals. This Dolphins vs Bills game is set up to be a real showdown for two teams with the playoffs firmly in their sights.

Buffalo are the consensus Super Bowl favorites and have dominated Miami in recent years. So what will the Dolphins need to do to stand a chance of going toe to toe with the Bills, who are #1 in scoring offense and #1 in scoring defense?

1. Improvements on Defense

It is safe to say that Buffalo has had their way with Miami in recent years. In 2021, the Dolphins were outscored 61-11, mainly attributable to Miami’s offensive woes.

In the Week 8 matchup, the Dolphins’ defense kept the game within one score until the fourth quarter when Buffalo ran away with the game. However, Tua and this offense are vastly improved and should help the defense by keeping Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense off the field.

If the Dolphins are to stand a chance in this game, their defense must improve and that starts with the pass rush. Jaelan Phillips and Jerome Baker have been incredibly quiet to start the season.

Strong performances from these two will not only limit the time that Allen has to sit in the pocket, but also take away his ability to escape the pocket and run with the ball.

2.  A Confident Tua

Tua is his own biggest critic, which is hard to believe given the amount of critics that he has. He was the first to admit that his first half performance was not up to standard, often trying to force plays when things were not clicking offensively.

However, in the second half against the Ravens, Tua played with more confidence than he ever has in his career and it showed. A confident Tua who plays with poise and consistency will be key to victory on Sunday.

“I want his confidence to outweigh his perfectionism, or whatever that word would be, so that he can continue along his journey, but also be a little more present in reality.”

Coach Mike McDaniel

Tua slowed down his game was able to focus his fundamentals and the individual play in question to deliver in key moments. I urge all Dolphins fans to watch the film breakdown below.

3. Discipline

While discipline is a key to victory in just about every game, Buffalo’s ability to punish on extended drives will be detrimental to any hopes that the Dolphins have in starting the season 3-0.

Special teams’ mistakes, forced interceptions and penalties almost resulted in Miami contributing to their own downfall in Week 2. Make no mistake, they will need to be at their very best to beat this Buffalo side.

Injury Concerns

Buffalo’s victory against the Titans did not come without a cost. With Tre’Davious White remaining on IR, the Bills secondary is badly beaten up. Both starting safeties, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer sat out of practice on Thursday.

Both Hill and Waddle will look to take full advantage of this on Sunday. Meanwhile, look for Gabe Davis to potentially return after just missing out in Week 2.

Miami are not without their own injury concerns. Terron Armstead (toe) did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday. Let us hope that this is just Miami being cautious with the highly experienced veteran not needing as many practice reps to be game ready.

The Dolphins also appear to have caught a break in their secondary. Despite not practicing on Wednesday, Xavien Howard returned to practice on Thursday and looks likely to play on Sunday. His involvement will be key to keeping the Dolphins in this game.

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Over/Under: Best prop bets for Miami Dolphins vs Baltimore Ravens

The Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens are running back their matchup from last season. Here is a betters guide brought to you by Prizepicks

Mandatory Credit: Baltimore Ravens

The Miami Dolphins are traveling up north to face the Baltimore Ravens. While most of us will be tuned in to see the result of the game, there are other reasons to turn this game on: fantasy games, betting, and prop bets.

The reality of the situation is that gambling and fantasy football are very much part of the game. There will be countless fans watching this game with a vested interest from their pockets. Who’s going over? Who’s going under? These are the important questions to ask in 2022.

Sports betting is surging in the United States and there is nowhere it has more power than in the NFL. Many people will be placing bets this weekend. Here are some of the most fascinating player prop bets for Dolphins vs Ravens. All odds are presented by PrizePicks

Dolphins vs Ravens Best Prop Bets

Tua Tagovailoa Passing yards: Over 230.5 

Tua Tagovailoa went for 270 yards in his first game under new head coach Mike McDaniel. However, there was quite a bit of meat left on the bone. Tagovailoa typically has fewer passing yards against the Patriots, leaving some optimism for his statistical output.

The Ravens will also put up considerably more points than New England, and Miami will likely have to push the ball downfield more than they did on Sunday. Even if you take away the yards after the catch on Jaylen Waddle’s touchdown, Tagovailoa was right at 230 yards. 

Tyreek Hill receiving yards: Over 70.5 

Tyreek Hill was all over the field in his Miami Dolphins debut. While Hill and Tagovailoa were unable to connect on any big splash plays downfield, he still ended the day with 94 yards. Based on what this offense looked like in the preseason and in Week 1, it is reasonable to presume that Hill will have the opportunity to hit his over every week.

The volume will always be there, and his after-the-catch ability lends itself to stockpiling yards in chunks — even if there is a game where he doesn’t hit a home run. Tyreek Hill amassing at least 71 yards on Sunday is one of the safer bets of the weekend. 

Lamar Jackson rush attempts: Over 7.5

The Ravens were severely frustrated by Miami’s defense in their matchup last season. It has become a point of conversation this week, with both sides bringing it up. In last year’s game, Jackson rushed nine times.

That number may have been higher with more designed runs if the Ravens had not been trailing for the entire second half. The weakness of Miami’s defense is their linebackers, and it would behoove Baltimore to attack them with designed Jackson runs.

Ravens vs Jets Week 1 Review

The Ravens travel to New York to battle the Jets in the season opener. Find out what happened as Around the Block breaks down the important action!

Photo Credit: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens kicked off the 2022 season with a trip to New York against the Jets. The stories around this game and the Ravens themselves abounded. Would the Lamar Jackson contract situation distract the team? Would the numerous starters out for Baltimore affect the team? Could this be Joe Flacco’s big revenge game? There were many questions but they could only be answered by playing the game. Follow along as we break down this Week 1 matchup of the Ravens vs Jets.

Ravens vs Jets Recap: First Half

FIRST QUARTER

Things got started the right way for Gang Green, as the first play went for 19 yards by running back Michael Carter on the outside edge. However, the Ravens would put pressure on Flacco on back-to-back plays, including forcing an intentional grounding to bring up the game’s first fourth down.

The Ravens didn’t fair much better on their first offensive drive. After a handful of short yardage gains, Kenyan Drake got stuffed on 3rd and 2, forcing the Ravens to punt. Rookie punter Jordan Stout booted a nice punt to put the Jets on their own 11.

The following Jets possession would create a spark for the Ravens. A deep pass by Flacco would be picked off by Baltimore’s big offseason acquisition, safety Marcus Williams, who would take the ball back to the New York 14.

Despite the positional advantage, the Ravens were unable to capitalize. Receiver Demarcus Robinson would shake a Jets defender for a gain of eight yards on 2nd down, but that’s as much offense as could be mustered by the Ravens. An incomplete pass on 3rd down would force the Ravens to take a field goal. One Justin Tucker attempt later and Baltimore would have the first lead of the game, 3-0, with 3:16 left in the 1st quarter.

SECOND QUARTER

The start of the 2nd quarter began with a pass to receiver Rashod Bateman that was dislodged by a Jets defender, forcing the Ravens to punt. The ensuing drive by the Jets looked promising for New York. The Jets would drive all the way to the Baltimore 27 before Greg Zuerlein missed a 45 yard field goal to keep the Ravens lead at 3-0.

Following a New York punt, Jackson would take a deep shot to Robinson that would fall incomplete. However, Robinson would draw a pass interference call that would move the Ravens up to the New York 30. The next play would see Jackson launch a 25-yard pass into the endzone to receiver Devin Duvernay for the first touchdown of the game. A Tucker extra point would give the Ravens a 10-0 lead with 3:45 left in the first half.

The Jets wouldn’t go quietly into the half. A 22-yard run by Michael Carter would put the Jets on Baltimore’s 48-yard line. The Jets would get down to Baltimore’s 28-yard line before a forced fumble on tight end Tyler Conklin, recovered by the Jets, would halt yet another promising drive. Greg Zuerlein would boot a 45-yard field goal to cut into Baltimore’s lead right before the half, 10-3.

“I feel like it was just us feeling it out, out there. We didn’t play in preseason. I didn’t play in six games last year. Not much really.” Jackson said of his play in the first half and the offense’s slow start during the post-game press conference. “We got back in the swing of things and came out better in the second half and started putting points on the board.”

Ravens vs Jets Recap: Second Half

THIRD QUARTER

Getting the ball to start the second half, the Ravens hoped to conjure up more offense than in the first. A shifty eight-yard run by Jackson on 3rd down would give the Ravens a first down. That would be as far as the offense would go. A run for no gain and two incomplete passes brought up a quick 4th down. A 65-yard punt by Stout would negate any hopes the Jets had of getting great field position.

A quick Jets possession followed by a short punt saw the Ravens with the ball at the New York 44 to start their next possession. A handful of chunk plays would put the Ravens in the redzone. On a 3rd and 10, Jackson would find Devin Duvernay yet again for their second scoring connection of the day. Halfway through the 3rd quarter, the Ravens found themselves up 17-3.

The next Ravens possession would be a whirlwind of emotions. Mike Davis would fumble the ball after a nice run for a first down. A lucky bounce would let the Ravens keep possession. The very next play, Lamar would throw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Rashod Bateman. That would give the Ravens a 24-3 lead.

FOURTH QUARTER

Starting the 4th quarter, the Jets conjured up their best drive of the day. A handful of plays that went for 10-plus yards would put the Jets at the Baltimore 22. That would be as far as the drive would go. Safety Chuck Clark would force a fumble on rookie running back Breece Hall, and corner Marlon Humphrey would quickly recover. Unfortunately, the Ravens would be unable to turn the gift into points and punted.

Joe Flacco and the Jets would not go quietly into the night. Converting on 4th down twice, the Jets would drive down to Baltimore’s 6 yard line. Needing a touchdown to have any hope of staying in the game, the Jets lined up for a third 4th down attempt on this drive. This would not be the charm, however, as Flacco’s pass fell incomplete and the possession would switch.

Though the outcome of the game was a forgone conclusion, it wasn’t without its fireworks. Jackson would throw an interception to give the Jets solid field position. Flacco would then again drive the Jets to the Ravens redzone. The Jets would finally cross the goal-line, as Flacco found Tyler Conklin for a late touchdown pass. The ensuing extra point would be no good. Those would be the final points of the game, as the Ravens take a Week 1 victory over the Jets 24-9.

Speaking on Jackson’s play during the Ravens post-game press conference, head coach John Harbaugh had this to say: “Lamar [Jackson] played outstanding. He played a patient, veteran quarterback game. He was in control of everything, he did a great job at the line, handled the clock really well…He played a really veteran, winning quarterback type of a game.”

The Ravens (1-0) have their home opener next week (09-18). They host the Miami Dolphins (1-0) in a pivotal early season tilt.

AFC North Preview: Off-season Recap and Predictions

AFC North Preview

The Big Ben and Joe Flacco days are over in the AFC North now, but it is still one of the closest divisions in the NFL. Four teams with elite superstars believe they can win it this year. Let’s take a look at what each team did this offseason, and what to expect from each AFC North team in our final preview before Sunday’s kickoff.

AFC North Preview

4. Cleveland Browns

Key losses – WR Rashard Higgins, CB M.J. Stewart, FB Andy Janovich, WR Jarvis Landry, TE Austin Hooper, C J.C. Tretter, QB Baker Mayfield, QB Case Keenum, LB Mack Wilson

Key additions – WR Jakeem Grant, QB Jacoby Brissett, QB Deshaun Watson, DT Taven Bryan, P Corey Bojorquez, C Ethan Pocic, WR Amari Cooper, DE Chase Winovich, CB Martin Emerson, LB Alex Wright, WR David Bell, K Cade York

Re-signed – DE Jadeveon Clowney (1-year), S Ronnie Harrison (1-year). RB D’Ernest Johnson (1-year), LB Anthony Walker Jr. (1-year)

Extensions – TE David Njoku (4-years, $56 million), CB Denzel Ward (5-years, $100 million), QB Deshaun Watson (5-years, $230 million)

Needless to say, it was a rough 2021 for the Browns as they finished 8-9. Even so, this off-season could’ve been even worse. They brought in some talent, but also criticism, by trading for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson will be suspended for the first 11 games of the season after receiving a huge contract and that could prove to be detrimental.

After a season ranked 18th in the NFL, the Browns offense could get off to a rough start. Due to Watson’s suspension, they will have Jacoby Brissett starting under center. They have a top-tier offensive line, but Brissett’s inability to be a quality starter will hold the offense back. They brought in receiver Amari Cooper to help, but with Donovan Peoples-Jones as your #2, they will be a bottom-tier group.

The line will help in the run game though. With the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, they should be a top rushing team again. Harrison Bryant is back to try and prove he can be the long-term starter at tight end. This offense will struggle with Brissett, but should be top-ten with Watson.

The defense ranked third last season in total defense and will look to continue to repeat that success. The line has elite defensive end Myles Garrett, but I’m not sold on the other pieces there. Garrett can bolster them to a top-15 group, maximum. They have a nice linebacker room with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah next to Anthony Walker, who should have a good season this year.

Their secondary is very good, with Denzel Ward being a star at cornerback. Greedy Williams and Greg Newsome II played great in coverage last season and could improve. The safety tandem is solid, even after a rough season last year from John Johnson III. This defense could fall from its ranking last season but should still be top-15.

Prediction

This team would’ve been a playoff contender if it wasn’t for the Watson suspension. Since it happened, I have them finishing 6-11, and 3-3 against the AFC North. A bad start will hinder their chances.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

Key losses – WR James Washington, ILB Joe Schobert, WR Juju Smith-Schuster, QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, OG Trai Turner

Key additions – OG James Daniels, ILB Myles Jack, C Mason Cole, QB Mitchell Trubisky, CB Levi Wallace, WR/ST Gunner Olszewski, S Damontae Kazee, DT Larry Ogunjobi, OL Jesse Davis, LB Malik Reed, QB Kenny Pickett, WR George Pickens, DL Demarvin Leal

Re-signed – CB Ahkello Witherspoon (2-years), S Terrell Edmunds (1-year)

Extensions – WR Diontae Johnson (2-years, $36 million)

Ben Roethlisberger’s last season ended after going 9-7-1, squeaking into the playoffs. They move now to quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett to compete for the job. Head coach Mike Tomlin is back looking to keep his streak alive of not having a losing season. However, it will be tough to do that in a loaded AFC.

Big Ben’s last year was anything but pretty. They finished 23rd in total offense, and they may have gotten worse. Wideout Juju Smith-Schuster left for Kansas City, and we don’t know how good — or not good — Trubisky or Pickett will be. Trubisky is starting week one, but with a bottom-three offensive line, he’ll have a tough time keeping the job.

Najee Harris is looking to improve on his 3.9 yards per carry last season. He showed signs of being a superstar in this league and will need to improve to keep that “future superstar” narrative.

The receiving corps is solid with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. They’re getting help from rookie receiver George Pickens, who has looked good so far. They’ll also have Pat Freiermuth at tight end, and he is looking to prove he can be the long-term option there.

The defense took a step back last season, and I expect them to remain in a similar spot. They ranked 24th in the league, but have one of the best pass rushes in the league. T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward lead the way as some of the NFL’s best at their positions. A top-five line is followed by an improved linebacker room. Bringing in Myles Jack to play alongside Devin Bush could be a real force this season.

The secondary is what hurts the Steelers, and in a pass heavy league, that is not good. Levi Wallace is with Cameron Sutton and Ahkello Witherspoon, which creates a lackluster cornerback group. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds is a great duo at safety, but I’m just not sure they can make up for the cornerbacks.

Prediction

A new quarterback behind a bad offensive line will lead to a bad offense in 2022, and I believe Mike Tomlin’s streak will end. I have the Steelers going 7-10 after finishing 2-4 against the AFC North. The only chance at the playoffs is their defense carrying them.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

Key losses – OT Riley Reiff, TE C.J. Uzomah, OG Quinton Spain

Key additions – OT La’el Collins, C Ted Karras, TE Hayden Hurst, OG Alex Cappa, S Daxton Hill, CB Cam Taylor-Britt, DL Zachary Carter, C Ted Karras

Re-signed – CB Eli Apple (1-year), DT Josh Tupou (1-year), WR Stanley Morgan (2-years), QB Brandon Allen (1-year), Jessie Bates (Franchise Tag), DT B.J. Hill (3-years)

Extensions – HC Zac Taylor (5-years)

The Bengals reached the Super Bowl last season, and head coach Zac Taylor was rewarded with a 5-year extension. Even after last year’s run, they added more talent to their roster. Yet, they are still not looked at as real contenders. They finished 10-7 last season, so we’ll have to see if they can improve on that.

The offense is almost identical to last season with quarterback Joe Burrow leading the way. They finished 13th in the NFL last season in total offense after a monster season by Ja’Marr Chase. He is the center of one of the top receiving corps in the league. Burrow and Chase have the highest expectations for a QB-WR duo this season.

The offensive line has improved over the years, and is finally top-ten. They spent big there in free agency, and it should pay off. Three big moves in La’el Collins, Ted Karras, and Alex Cappa will help open up holes for running back Joe Mixon. This offense is going to keep getting better as their guys get more experience.

The Bengals finished 18th in total defense after ranking 26th in passing defense. They should still be solid against the run with great linebackers and defensive line. Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson are looking to build off a strong 2021 as the starting linebackers. The strong season helped lead them to a fifth-ranked finish against the run.

The secondary is much improved with rookie safety Daxton Hill coming in. He will work with and next to an amazing duo of Jessie Bates III and Von Bell. Mike Hilton led the corners, and Chidobe Awuzie showed he can be the #2 in Cincy. Eli Apple has been inconsistent, but provides some help behind Hilton and Awuzie.

Prediction

The national media isn’t sold on the Bengals, and neither am I. However, they will make the playoffs at 11-6, while going 4-2 against the AFC North. It was a surprise to see a Super Bowl run last year, and I would be surprised again this season.

1. Baltimore Ravens

Key losses – WR Marquise Brown, C Bradley Bozeman, CB Tavon Young, LB Chris Board, S Deshon Elliott, WR Sammy Watkins, CB Anthony Averett, P Sam Koch, OLB Jaylon Ferguson, DC Don Martindale

Key additions – S Marcus Williams, OT Morgan Moses, DT Michael Pierce, RB Mike Davis, CB Kyle Fuller, RB Kenyan Drake, S Kyle Hamilton, C Tyler Linderbaum, OLB David Ojabo, DT Travis Jones, P Jordan Stout

Re-signed – FB Patrick Richard (3-years), ILB Josh Bynes (1-year), DE Calais Campbell (2-years), DE Justin Houston (1-year)

Extensions – K Justin Tucker (4-years, $24 million), HC John Harbaugh (3-years)

It was a tough season for the Ravens last year, as they finished 8-9 and last in the AFC North. It felt like injury after injury for them, but now they are back and healthy. They traded away wideout Marquise Brown, as he wasn’t loving his time in Baltimore. With Lamar healthy and ready to go, they are looking to make it back to the playoffs.

Baltimore ranked sixth in total offense last season behind another great rushing attack. Lamar Jackson is looking to return to MVP form after a battle-filled 2021. Their offensive line has the potential to be great with Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses as the starting tackles. This will help the run-heavy Ravens wear down defenses with running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Davis.

The receiver room got weaker with the trade of Brown, but they still have some guys to watch. Rashod Bateman showed flashes of being able to be a #1 WR, but Devin Duvernay and Demarcus Robinson behind him could hold the group back. Tight end Mark Andrews is looking to continue being elite, as he’ll open up the field for Lamar.

The defense struggled last year, ranking 24th in total defense. The secondary should be back to being elite with Marcus Peters coming back from missing all of last season. With one of the best corners in Marlon Humphrey next to him, the cornerbacks are looking like the best group in the league. Marcus Williams joins the safety group alongside rookie Kyle Hamilton to create a scary tandem.

The defensive line is still solid with Calais Campbell and Michael Pierce. I’m waiting for Patrick Queen’s monster season, and it could be this year. The linebacker room is above average with Josh Bynes next to him. This defense is healthy again and should be top-five in the league.

Prediction

I believe people are forgetting how good Lamar Jackson is. They are contenders, when healthy, and we’re going to be reminded about that this season. I have the Ravens finishing 12-5 after going 2-4 against the AFC North.