It is with good reason that we so often hear the most important thing in the NFL is to build a roster to win your division. For starters, doing so guarantees you a ticket to the postseason, even if you have a losing record, which in a 17-game season is more likely than before.
But it’s also for the simple fact that it makes up a large portion of your schedule. You have six games out of a 17-game season against your divisional opponents every year, so if you’re not prioritizing putting together a team to beat them, you’re handicapping yourself.
That’s why we often view positions within a divisional perspective, aside from the fact that they will be competing against one another for postseason opportunities. Recently, CBS Sports has begun assembling positional rankings by divisions. Starting with the quarterback position, the AFC North was ranked third—but not because of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
[Lamar] Jackson is arguably the most electrifying player in the entire league. Critique his deep-ball/big-game passing, but few QBs threaten to change the game every time they touch the ball. He does. [Baker] Mayfield has successfully adapted to serve as something of a spunky game manager in Kevin Stefanski’s smooth offense. [Joe] Burrow still has plenty to prove but has the moxie and football IQ to put up numbers and survive any forthcoming staff overhauls. [Ben] Roethlisberger, once the face of the North, is better suited for a Mayfield-type role now that his arm has lost the juice for signature gunslinging, but he’s still capable of a playoff bid.
The only two divisions that placed higher were the AFC West and the NFC West, with the former headlined by Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, the latter boasting Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, and now Matthew Stafford.
While Jackson and Mayfield (and Burrow) are all exciting young players, though, they each still have much to prove. Jackson has never been in an offense in which his arm was being relied upon. The same thing can be said for Mayfield, as both the Ravens and Browns are among the best running teams in the NFL.
Of course, it’s fair to say that Roethlisberger is well past his prime, but the Steelers are hopeful than an emphasis on the running game and a change at offensive coordinator can work to get the best out of him for what is perhaps one final season.
Meanwhile, both the Browns and Ravens are likely to commit long-term to their young quarterbacks as they are in line for extensions this offseason. While it will assure them a baseline of play from the position, it will also fundamentally alter their economic model for the foreseeable future. Welcome to the club.