If last night’s game was any indication, the AFC North really does have the potential to be one of the more competitive divisions in football in the coming years, though whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers can find a way to quickly bridge a gap between Ben Roethlisberger and their next franchise quarterback may play a role in that.
Lamar Jackson is already an MVP. Baker Mayfield in Cleveland still has some needed progress left to be made, but is a capable player who will certainly continue to get better—whenever all the pieces around him settle down, including the coaching staff and front office.
And then there’s Joe Burrow, the rookie first-overall pick who has made enough plays over the course of the first two starts of his career to make you wonder if the hype really is merited, because at times he certainly looks like a veteran already.
Though it came in a losing effort, he had both his first 300-yard game and his first touchdown…actually, his first three touchdowns. He attempted an astonishing 61 passes, completing 37 of them, for 316 yards and three scores, going one each to C.J. Uzomah, Mike Thomas, and Tyler Boyd, the last coming with nine seconds to go in what was a two-score game.
On the flip side, Mayfield only had to attempt 23 passes, completing 16 of them, throwing two touchdowns—one to Odell Beckham Jr., the other to running back Kareem Hunt—though he did throw one interception looking for tight end Harrison Bryant in the red zone, William Jackson jumping in front of the pass.
Jackson was whom Beckham beat for his 43-yard touchdown, and were it not for a very blatant pass interference, Mayfield and Beckham would have had him twice. Instead of a second long touchdown, it was a long penalty.
With the running back the Browns have with Nick Chubb and Hunt, Mayfield is not going to have to do as much heavy lifting as Burrow will. Chubb rushed for 124 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns, while Hunt added 86 rushing yards on 10 carries and another touchdowns. They netted 215 rushing yards as a team, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
Taken as a whole, this is probably the most talented collection of quarterbacks that the AFC North has ever seen at one time. Granted, it’s still very early for Burrow. Mayfield still has a lot to prove in his third season. But Roethlisberger and Jackson have already established themselves as the real deal. It’s good for the division—less great for Pittsburgh in particular.