Half – Season Report. Part 2: The North!

Half – Season Report. Part 2: The North!
Reading Time: 6 minutes.

We’re hurtling through the season, it’ll be thanksgiving before we know it! Scary! We’ve done the teams from the West, now it’s time to head up north and tackle the AFC and NFC North teams!

Check out our review of the AFC and NFC West http://ninetynineyards.com/2020/11/15/half-season-report-part-1-the-west/!

Pittsburgh Steelers 8-0 A+

The Steelers are the only undefeated team in the league. It’s the first time in franchise history they’ve started 8-0. Have a two game lead over nearest division rivals. Both sides of the ball are performing well; Offence averages 29.4 points/game which is 5th, their defence is 4th allowing only 20.1 points/game average. What’s not to like?

In truth, there’s very little not to like about the Steelers so far this year. The offence is guided by QB Ben Roethlisberger who’s rolling back the years. He’s top 10 in touchdowns (10), quarterback rating (101.8) and completion percentage (68.1%). The latter is is on course for a career best. Not bad at the age of 38 and coming off a big elbow injury last season.

Defensively they’re a force, leading the league in both interceptions, 11, and sacks, 32. 9 (nine, yes nine) different Steelers have had an interception so far this year. T.J Watt leads the team with 7 sacks, closely followed by fellow linemen Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt who both have 6.

If you had to pick a hole in the Steelers it would be that they’ve struggled to put teams away. 5 of their 8 wins have been by one score or less. Including last Sundays painful 24-19 victory over the injury plagued 2-5 Cowboys. Close games are fine mid season but may cause costly when they, inevitably, make the playoffs. Can they stay undefeated and keep the no.1 seed in the AFC? -Bryan Dickie

Baltimore Ravens 6-2 B-

It’s been a funny year from the Ravens. Some believe they are as good as last year. Others are yet to be convinced. For me something isn’t clicking. The defence has been lights out, so perhaps the team is more balanced. In reality, the team now seems reliant on the defence, as is customary in Baltimore. The Ravens have allowed the fewest points per game, despite ranking eighth in yardage, proving a bend but don’t break unit.

On offence, the running game is still the best in the league but is way of the performance of last year. While the offence isn’t built around Lamar Jackson throwing the ball, only the Jets, including former Raven Joe Flacco have fewer passing yards/game. Last season, they were 25th.

The hard facts are these. Last season the Raven’s averaged 407.6 yards/game (2nd). This season, they total 347 yards/game (22nd). Having dropped from 33.2 points/game (1st) to 28.4 (7th), the defence is struggling to make up that extra touchdown.

The bigger issue is that the offence goes into their shell when the going gets tough. Against the Chiefs and Steelers they scored 20 and 24 points respectively. Barring a late comeback from the hapless Eagles, which was only a two-point conversion short, the Ravens are yet to be in a close game.

Barring back to back games against the Titans and at the Steelers, we won’t really know much more about the Ravens mettle until the playoffs, where they have folded meekly in the last two seasons. This isn’t the battle-tested team of 2019 that succumbed to rust. The third quarter of the season will tell us most about this team but realistically this is a team in need of a signature close, hard-fought win. -Adam Barton

Cleveland Browns 5-3 B

Remember the Katy Perry song “Hot N Cold”. That catchy little number is a great definition of the Browns season so far. In their 5 wins they’ve scored over 30 points each game, averaging 37.4. The most they’ve scored in their three losses is 7, an average of 6.3. To make matters worse those three defeats came to AFC playoff rivals the Ravens, Steelers and Raiders so could cost them dearly when it comes to potential playoff tiebreakers.

Baker Mayfield has struggled at times this year. He’s averaging less than 190 yards/game, which is a career low.

The Browns have a very “Hot N Cold” schedule remaining with tough games against the Steelers, Ravens and Titans. But also games against the Texans, Eagles, Jags, Giants and Jets remaining, who are a combined 8-33-1. So they should be able to pick up numerous wins, but may fall short of their first playoff appearance since 2002. -Bryan Dickie

Cincinnati Bengals 2-5-1 B

At the halfway point in the season, I’m probably at the same point with the Bengals as I was at the quarter mark. Everything for this team revolves around their number 1 pick QB Joe Burrow. Burrow has lived up to his billing, and I was particularly impressed with how he torched the Titans, despite a slew of back-up linemen in front of him. He also seems to have struck up a good relationship with former Clemson Tiger WR Tee Higgins.

However, unless the Bengals can sort out their offensive line troubles, and improve on their 29th ranked defence, by defensive DVOA metrics, they are going to struggle to progress beyond where they are now. This offseason could be big one for a Bengals organization that is known to operate at the conservative end of the spectrum. -Stuart Taylor

Green Bay Packers 6-2 A-

After a strong 4-0 start to the season, the Packers have showed some fragility in recent weeks with defeats against Tom Brady’s Buccaneers and division rivals Minnesota, enough so to suggest that this may not be the dominating revenge tour for Rodgers following the teams drafting of his projected replacement in the first round of this years draft.

But with no clear and obvious front runner in the NFC, Green Bay still look to be a really strong contender to not only make, but progress in the Playoffs this season and have positioned themselves in a good position to do so.

Davante Adams is one of the top wide receivers in the entire NFL, let alone the NFC, so look for Rodgers to continue to target his favourite wideout with success as we move into the second half of the season – particularly now that we know the rumoured pursuit of a trade for Will Fuller didn’t quite materialise. -Dale Jones

Chicago Bears 5-4 C+

At the quarter point of the season Chicago looked to be shaping up nicely with a 3-1 record, but many predicted that this would be unlikely to last – and despite following that up with another two wins to get to a 5-1 start, it now looks to be the case that these predictions were indeed true for Da Bears.

The team have lost their last three games, crashing back towards the middle of the pack; and look to be really struggling to move the ball effectively on offense. A strong early start from Nick Foles when he came in to replace Mitchell Trubisky looks to have faded, and with Trubisky suffering from shoulder problems, he’s likely to remain the starter at least for now; although another quarterback controversy may emerge upon his return. The main problem however is that either way, neither of these look to be “the guy” at quarterback..

If there’s some hope for Chicago it comes in the form of a second half of the season schedule that looks to be somewhat favourable (games against Detroit, Houston and Jacksonville at the very least will be seen as winnable). This may give the Bears an opportunity to lean upon their strong early start to try and sneak into the playoffs. -Dale Jones

Minnesota Vikings 3-5 C-

After a particularly brutal start to the season, where both fans and reporters alike started wondering whether we might actually see Minnesota picking towards the top of next year’s draft, things look to have started to improve for the Vikings.

The emergence of Justin Jefferson as something of a rookie sensation is going some way to softening the blow from the loss of Stefon Diggs. Add to that the absolute dominance from Dalvin Cook over the last few weeks with back to back 200+ scrimmage yard games and five touchdowns in those two games, firmly cementing his place amongst the top tier of running backs in the league and the Vikings look to be getting back on track. It’s clear that the key to victory for Minnesota is to Let Dalvin Cook.

Even Kirk Cousins looks to have steadied the ship in recent weeks after a tumultuous start to the campaign, and a favourable schedule coming up in the second half of this season means that the focus can now shift from top 5 draft pick to possible playoff consideration. What a difference a few weeks can make! -Dale Jones

Detroit Lions 3-5 C-

What is there to even say about Detroit at this point? Unfortunately for the fans in Motor City, they just don’t seem to be making tangible progress with Matt Patricia in charge. The head coach surely has to be firmly on the hot seat at this point.

The Lions have some real quality on the offensive side of the ball in players like Matt Stafford, Kenny Golladay and TJ Hockensen to name a few, and it is likely to be their offence which will need to carry the team if they have any hope of racking up a few more wins in the second part of the season; particularly as the defence is struggling, and don’t look capable of stopping the run at this point.

Perhaps the most damning stat of all is that the Lions haven’t actually won a divisional game in almost two years. Given that divisional games make up a third of the schedule, this stat needs to change fast if Detroit have any hopes of returning to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season. -Dale Jones

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