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2019 Season Computer Simulation Chat -- RC and XC Discuss the AFC North

Date:
June 4, 2019 6:01 PM
June 9, 2019 7:10 PM

NFL Mock Draft guru Xavier Cromartie and I (RC) recently published a daily series we do about this time every year – a computer simulation of the upcoming NFL season based on our inputs on the talent levels of the rosters, the schedule challenge/interpretations, etc.

Now, we are publishing our annual post-simulation chat about each division in the NFL -- looking at our differences and asking various questions about teams in the division. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we’re far apart.

We’ll be publishing our chat, done via email, division-by-division each day and soon after we’ll be publishing our ‘Top 3’ over/under win total bets with a fictitious $1,000 to spend on the three teams and seeing how we do after the season. We’ve both been ‘over/under’ winners for a couple of years now…you could make money following our ideas. Or just sit back and enjoy the free discussion and debate of ideas.

Please note, we were emailing back and forth. There might/will be typos, grammar things, abbreviations…but they’re limited, and you’ll be able to follow just fine, but note this is the raw transcript of our discussions…


AFC North (RC)

CLE … 10 - 6 = 0.625

PIT … 9 - 7 = 0.563

BAL … 8 - 8 = 0.500

CIN … 3 - 13 = 0.188

AFC-N (XC) W L .PCT

x-PIT … 9 - 7 = 0.563

w-CLE … 9 - 7 = 0.563

BAL … 9 - 7 = 0.563

CIN … 6 - 10 = 0.375

RC: We're in the same ballpark on this division with CLE-PIT-BAL near each other and CIN in the basement. You have the Steelers getting the division win on a tiebreaker over CLE-BAL, I have the Browns a game up to win the division. I thought for sure you were going CLE to win...you had them with a nice year last year (I wouldn't because of Hue). Plus, you didn't like the Steelers last year...another piece of the puzzle you got right. This year, you're solid with the Steelers and good with the Browns...but not much more than you liked them last year. What made the difference for you to have the Steelers regrouping to win the division over everyone's (suddenly) beloved Browns?

XC: It is true that my analysis of the Steelers last season was 100% correct. I thought their defense would drop off, and it did. I thought the offense would be unchanged, and it was. I thought they were a fluke 13-win team in 2017 that would regress to 8-9 wins, and they won 9. This season, it's reversed. I see a small decline in the offense without Antonio Brown, but I feel better about their defense this season. They addressed the need for speed at LB (Devin Bush) and upgraded at CB (Justin Layne). The Steelers have pretty much been a successful organization continuously since the 1970s.

The Cleveland Browns are the mirror opposite as a franchise; they stopped having any success in the 1970s. And they've been especially bad since returning to the league in 1999. They're almost always last in the division. To believe that they'll win the division, you have to believe that things really are different now. But I've always believed in Baker Mayfield. I have him as the #8 QB. My issue with the Browns is that they're not as good as everyone is hyping them to be. They're tied for fifth in odds to win the Super Bowl. I don't think that they've improved much, except for getting Odell Beckham. They have a pair of good RBs, an overrated position. They have a pair of good DEs, another overrated position. Jarvis Landry may be more name than game. Their secondary is concerning. With John Dorsey running things now, you can see that they're built similar to the Chiefs. They should be pretty good, like a 9-win team. I don't see enough to get silly about, though.

RC: Yeah, I think the Browns' Super Bowl odds and the general ‘mania’ has gone nuts. It's mostly passionate Cleveland-based...like why Dallas and Green Bay's Vegas odds are always odd -- the fan bases are having their emotions played on and they're a sucker's bet often.

I would ask this -- the Browns were 7-8-1 last year given the worst head coach in history coaching for a part of it...and they still almost got to .500 with three TD losses in their first 7 games. Would you buy this simple logic -- had the Browns started 2018 season with Baker Mayfield locked in and Freddie Kitchens as head coach with his current staff...do you believe that the Browns would have won the AFC North and been like 10-6? If so, wouldn't it make sense that this 2019 squad is a better team than last year's 'should've been' AFC North winner (OBJ, Hunt, decent draft, Vernon, Richardson, Burnett)? If they were a 9-10 win team capability last year...10+ this year should be reasonable?

I get Cleveland as an AFC North favorite for 2019, a for-sure playoff team...but the Super Bowl hype is a bit much for 2019. But 10+ wins is there...but they have a tougher schedule this year too.

XC: A lot of Americans like to root for the underdog, whereas I'd be content with the same powerhouses winning every year. Mayfield went 7-7. Generally, the Browns beat weak teams and lost to good teams. They probably would have been about the same team, maybe 8-9 wins instead of 7. They were 5-2-1 at home and 2-6 on the road. Mayfield should improve a little this year, but he was fully ready to play as a rookie. The team is better overall. Winning 10 games isn't easy to do though. We have to look at the schedule in detail. They have to play the AFC East (easy) and NFC West (hard). Their own division is also hard every year. They need to win 6-7 at home most likely to have a chance to get to 10 wins. They have two definitely difficult home games against LAR and PIT. Two others that might be tough are SEA and BAL. Every road game is a potential loss. Five that look pretty difficult are @NE, @PIT, @BAL, @DEN, and @ARI. The easier looking three are @NYJ, @SF, and @CIN, but I wouldn't pencil in a win in any of them. To get 10 wins, they could go 6-2 at home and 4-4 on the road, or they could go 7-1 at home and 3-5 on the road. I'm not just going to hand it to them though. I see 9 wins as a reasonable projection and 10 wins as optimistic (but possible).

RC: I'm always wrong on the Ravens, but that means I'm due to be right -- do you see the potential for a great fall here because Lamar Jackson is going to wind up being a trap door the team falls through at some point because he cannot throw his way back from a deficit or orchestrate a 2-minute drill when needed? The Ravens can only go so far with Lamar, but can't go all the way with him...and that's a disadvantage playing the likes of PIT and CLE in division, agree or no?

XC: I agree that the Ravens lack offensive talent, but that was true throughout the Flacco years as well. I don't project on talent alone, because coaches adjust to hide their weak points. Running the ball all the time is an admission of inferior QB talent, but it isn't a concession of defeat. If the Ravens tried to convince themselves that Jackson is a 'real' QB then they'd be in trouble, but they're not going to do that. Without looking it up, I would guess that the Ravens led the league in time of possession last season. The Ravens have been the same team for 20 years. They have 8+ wins most of those years. They should be in the 8-9 win area again. But they're not a serious threat in the AFC. The Chargers devoured their soul in their playoff game.

RC: Four questions/what ifs from the AFC North...

(1) If the Steelers do not make the playoffs, do you think Mike Tomlin is done in Pittsburgh after the season?

(2) Do you think the Ravens are going to try to make LJax more of a passer, or will they mostly let him be good at what he's good at -- running the ball, and running the spread.

(3) Do you think the Browns will win a Super Bowl in the next five years, or will Baker win one...or more in his career, or none?

(4) Better defensive personnel/who would you rather be the D-Coordinator of the next few seasons -- Ravens or Browns? Not experience or coaching or track record, who has the best starting 11 talent in your estimation?

RC: Follow up questions because I'm a Browns > Ravens in talent. Classifying DL, LB, and DBs...in terms of talent, which group is Baltimore better? I would argue DL is hand's down the Browns. Linebacker is the Browns -- Kenny Young and Shane Ray listed as interior starters, yikes. The Ravens have better safeties, but that's the least important part of a defense...especially if you have better CBs, and I'll take Ward-Mitchell over Humphrey-Carr for sure. All that with the bonus of Cleveland is much deeper on defense after the starters. To me, the depth isn't debatable. It's with that I say the Browns have, potentially, the better defense without Hue & friends messing it up. And, again, if that is true...Cleveland way better in every group on offense and better/equal on defense -- it's the Browns division to lose.

I guess we also have to say...the Browns have better defensive talent starters/depth than the Steelers too...or at least as good? And then I think the Steelers have the better/more experienced/proven offense than the Browns to give them an edge...to your argument the Steelers over the Browns in 2019, in general. Or Steelers D way better than Browns in your opinion? Not what they did 2017-18, but what talent they have...the potential of what could happen under new management.

XC: I rank the performance ability of the AFC North defenses as (1) Ravens, (2) Steelers, (3) Browns, (4) Bengals. There's no doubt that the Browns have superior edge rushers, but I'm not thrilled about anything else. I don't know where you saw that Shane Ray is a starting ILB for the Ravens. It's going to be Patrick Onwuasor and probably Kenny Young. I like Joe Schobert and Sione Takitaki for the Browns, but Christian Kirksey is a liability when he's out there. Cornerback is the position that makes the difference. I treat each team's top three CBs as starters. Anyone ignoring the value of the slot is living in the Dark Ages. You can have all the Terrance Mitchell you want; he's trash. Marlon Humphrey is a high-end CB. Brandon Carr is hanging in there. They kept Jimmy Smith and he could bounce back. Anthony Averett and Tavon Young are solid small guys.

I'm not sure how you drew the conclusion that safeties are the least valuable part of a defense, but it makes no sense. From what I've read, you're basing it on the fact that no one was banging down the door to sign washed-up garbage free agent safeties like Morgan Burnett and Kenny Vaccaro (while there have been plentiful young high-quality safeties coming out of the last few drafts). You don't see what a safety like Derwin James can do for a defense? James spent 20% of his snaps as a pure CB (i.e., this number doesn't count any of his snaps as a coverage safety). A safety who can cover the slot is probably the most valuable position on a defense. The nose tackle and strongside linebacker positions have become almost obsolete in favor of slot CBs and CB/S hybrids. But let's say that a guy is a pure box safety like Adrian Phillips. He has to be at least as valuable as a linebacker, doesn't he? Did you see how valuable he was in the playoff game against the Ravens? He was dominant both in coverage and against the run. Earl Thomas is still one of the top safeties in the league for the Ravens, so that matters quite a bit.

RC: I think safeties are the least important because if they were important teams wouldn't let them go as freely as they do. Pay them as little as they do (on average). Safety is where failed or aging CBs can go work some final years as well. Dallas would have chased Earl Thomas in 2018 or 2019...and the Ravens don’t just let Weddle walk as easily. Obviously, you don't want bad safeties, and you do want great safety talent, for sure...I'm just saying of all the defensive positions that's the least valuable/one that matters. You can get by with average safeties better than if you have average cover corners and/or average-weak pass rush.

I think the outside corners are supreme value and the slot has now become right up there top 3-4 positionally with pass rush DE and 4-3 DT. Mitchell can be so-so, but I take the CLE group because Ward is a a shutdown and I don't think Humphrey or anyone else on there is (Jimmy Smith past his prime). when you have a shutdown corner, a true, big-time one...everything changes for the defense. The Browns possess the top shutdown corner in the AFC North, I believe. If Mitchell/Greedy can be plausible to go-with Ward, it's great. Ward as a no-fly zone allows CLE to adjust needed help/focus to the other side, in theory. Some teams pull that off, some don't (like Arians last few years in Arizona for example with P.Peterson).  

I think Cleveland's defense clicking is where they can go from an 8-9 win team, to a 9-10-11 win team -- and not just blind hope, but that they have the horses and depth to do it but just need stable coaching (which will see if that is true, but I'll take this staff over the prior one across the board by a million miles). I think the Browns are the sleeping giant in the AFC with the talent they have 1-53...it's just up to the coaching not to muck it up -- but then they'll still lose to NE in the playoffs at some point if they do catch a wave.

XC: I don't know where people get the idea that Mike Tomlin is going anywhere. The Steelers have had three head coaches over the last 50 years. Mike Tomlin has never had a losing record in 12 seasons. He's going to be the coach for a long time.

Why would the Ravens change who they've been for the last 20 years? Why would they intentionally expose their QB's weakness? They've already demonstrated how they're going to use Jackson. They want him to throw 20 passes per game max while taking 15 carries.

Mayfield is good enough to win a Super Bowl. It depends on whether the Browns give him enough talent to work with. His best window of opportunity should be in about 4-5 years when there should be no more Brady, Brees, Rivers, Ben, and Rodgers. The top QBs in the 'post-legendary' era should be Mayfield, Mahomes, Goff, Luck, Wilson, Murray, and Trevor Lawrence.

The Ravens have a stronger defense as a group than the Browns. People think of 3-4 big names on the Browns' defense and forget that the rest of them are trash. The Ravens are pretty solid in the secondary and don't have any serious weak points anywhere. I value good DBs. Denzel Ward is pretty good but I'm not a real fan of Greedy Williams. The rest of the Browns' DBs are ordinary players.

RC: More random questions about the AFC North...

(1) Interesting options here -- what head coach gets fired here first? Taylor/Cincy seems obvious...but what if the Steelers go 8-8 or worse...or what if Lamar Jackson blows up in everyone's face here? Or is it a Kitchens-Mayfield explosion?

(2) Who is the most underrated, underappreciated key player in this division? The hidden gem/star?

(3) Will you give it up to me that I saw Sean Davis as a good+ NFL player when you and the world were killing him in pre-2018? Why do the Steelers not move him to CB a la Byron Jones...agree or disagree?

(4) Which happens first -- Mayfield is suspended for something he says or wins the AFC North title?

(5) More passing yards in 2019...Mahomes or Mayfield?

XC: I think that the Bengals hired a young coach with the intention of keeping him there for a long time. The Steelers change coaches less often than anyone, and I'm quite sure that they won't get rid of Mike Tomlin anytime soon. Kitchens is probably going to be successful with Mayfield. And so I'd say John Harbaugh is the most vulnerable. The Ravens haven't done anything since 2012. It might be time to try something new.

I don't know if the 'plebs' realize that the Ravens' Marlon Humphrey is one of the top CBs. He was a first-rounder but he sort of got overshadowed by Marshon Lattimore. The Ravens rely on their defense and he's a huge part of it.

I liked Sean Davis as a CB prospect in the draft. He was legitimately horrible in 2017, but he was playing the wrong position. He was ok in 2018 after they moved him to the other safety spot. He wasn't 'good+.' Yes, he should play CB. He never should have been a safety.

Mayfield might be suspended from further interaction with Colin Cowherd if Mayfield continues to verbally annihilate him, but I doubt that he'll be suspended by the NFL. However I expect Mahomes to throw for more yards out of necessity. The Chiefs have no defense; they need Mahomes to score 35 points every week.

RC: My answers to the random questions about the AFC North...

(1) Interesting options here -- what head coach gets fired here first? Taylor/Cincy seems obvious...but what if the Steelers go 8-8 or worse...or what if Lamar Jackson blows up in everyone's face here? Or is it a Kitchens-Mayfield explosion?

I say, with little confidence, it's either Mike Tomlin (I think a 7-9 or worse season after the Bell-Antonio debacle gets the whole house cleaned for a new decade of a coach...but if they go 9-7+ then Tomlin avoids the full heat) or Zac Taylor...just because he should never have been hired to head coach in the NFL in the first place and the Cincy organization is swirling down the drain. Change will come after 2020.

(2) Who is the most underrated, underappreciated key player in this division? The hidden gem/star?

I'm not a Marlon Humphrey guy, so I'm with the plebs. I think he's OK but not as good as he's billed. I think Denzel Ward/CLE is better and Will Jackson/CIN could be better.

(3) Will you give it up to me that I saw Sean Davis as a good+ NFL player when you and the world were killing him in pre-2018? Why do the Steelers not move him to CB a la Byron Jones...agree or disagree?

CBs command millions and change defenses...good safeties can be had all offseason at a fraction of the price (Earl T., Weddle, etc.) -- with Davis's measurables and Artie Burns failures, how the Steelers don’t try this is beyond me. HE WAS A CORNER IN COLLEGE WITH AMAZING MEASURABLES!!! Thus, a great free safety.

(4) Which happens first -- Mayfield is suspended for something he says or wins the AFC North title?

I think Mayfield wins the AFC North this year, so he should be safe on this bet. But I think he will get a one-game ban within three years for mouthing off -- and I kinda think he wants it to happen. Like when Coach Dale got himself kicked out of a game to let Shooter coach to boost his confidence. Mayfield wants enemies to fight, rally his troops with. They need a common enemy...a reason to go play in Cleveland to fight 'the man'. It's brilliant.

(5) More passing yards in 2019...Mahomes or Mayfield?

I'm going to guess Mayfield because I'll bet Kitchens has no say in Mayfield's offense besides 'go get em' whereas Andy Reid will over coach and get suckered into a run game by defenses hoping he'll not unleash the full power of Mahomes on them (see: his last 8 games in the NFL...see all the games they lost in that stretch). "Please try to beat us with Damien Williams oh offensive guru..." and he obliges.




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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>