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The AFC has no shortage of great quarterbacks. When you look around the NFL at the top guys, most of them reside in the conference. In the AFC North, you could make the argument that one team has the very best quarterback in the league. The question is which team is that?
Too Soon To Tell
If we had to pick one guy that’s behind the eight ball it, would be Pittsburgh Steelers’ signal caller Kenny Pickett. The second year player sure has plenty of upside but it will take a while for him to reach the status of the other three. The good thing for the Steelers is he doesn’t have to be the best for them to have ultimate success.
He finished his rookie season with 2,404 passing yards, seven passing touchdowns and nine interceptions. What was eye opening was the fact that Pickett went 7-5 as a starter including four wins in a row to finish the season. His poise and leadership are traits that can’t be taught and it’s obvious his team already follows his lead.
Mike Tomlin certainly thinks he can take the next step this season. “A year ago, he was really focused on surface-level things, assignments, responsibilities and so forth. Now, because of his experience, he probably has a perspective where we can add to his to-do list, and he’s absorbing more of the responsibility that comes with being him,” Tomlin said in a recent interview.
Pickett is the youngest of the bunch but he could be the reason Pittsburgh returns to the playoffs. Could he end up having the best season? Stranger things have happened.
A Return To Top Form?
The last few seasons have been mired in controversy for Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Deshaun Watson. Before all of that, we saw a multiple time Pro-Bowler and a guy who was easily a top-five signal caller in the NFL. After serving his suspension, Watson made six starts last season. He finished throwing for 183.7 yards per game with seven touchdown passes and five interceptions.
After a subpar season by any meaning of the word, Watson looks to rebound this season to lead Cleveland to greater heights. “I’m in a different space,” he said. “Feel really good, comfortable being around the guys, the locker room, the coaching staff, the organization and just the city of Cleveland,” Watson said after a training session on Sunday.
In 2020, Watson finished with 4,823 passing yards with 33 touchdowns and (only) seven interceptions. The Browns are hoping to prove they made the right decision and Watson returns to that version of himself this season.
The Guy Before The Other Guys
Only one guy out of this bunch has been crowned the best player in any season, and that is Lamar Jackson. The former MVP has won that award without playing with a Pro Bowl wide receiver at any point of his career. Last season, he finished with 2,242 passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns, with 764 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
He’s the epitome of a dual threat quarterback but his health has been a major concern the last two seasons. He’s finished with 12 starts the last couple of years and it led to some pretty aggressive contract negotiations by the Baltimore Ravens.
After coming to an agreement, the team can focus on a new season – one in which Jackson has some new weapons in the offense. He was extremely happy with the signing of Odell Beckham Jr. and it’s starting to show in training camp. “He makes my job a lot easier, I’m just happy to see him on the field,” Jackson said. “We got one of the best receivers in the game, I’m just glad he’s here.”
With all of his new targets and new offensive coordinator Todd Monken calling the plays, the Ravens are looking towards nothing less than a Super Bowl run. If Jackson plays the full season, we could be talking about historic numbers for him.
Ice In The Water
The Cincinnati Bengals have won the AFC North division two years in a row and many believe they will win it again this season. The biggest reason is quarterback Joe Burrow, who some believe is the top quarterback in the NFL.
Burrow finished last season with 4,475 passing yards with 35 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The Bengals made it as far as the conference championship game but lost in a defense heavy contest to the Kansas City Chiefs. Burrow and the Bengals have been the biggest thorn in the Chiefs’ dominance over the past few season.
He oozes confidence and it trickles down to everyone on the team. Even after seeing rival quarterback Justin Herbert sign a massive deal, Burrow is prepared to help his team in any way he can. “I’m focused on getting a deal done that’s good for us, good for me and good for the team, good for everybody,” Burrow said.
Burrow and the Bengals are on mission to win the Super Bowl and anything less than that would be unacceptable. Burrow has planted himself as the cream of the crop in the AFC North, but will he remain there after this season?
Four guys looking towards the ultimate goal and only one spot at the top of the division. So who is really the man in the AFC North? We’ve got about six months to find out.