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Late for Work 6/8: Every AFC North Team Projected to Have a Winning Record in 2023

S Geno Stone
S Geno Stone

Analytics Expert Projects Every AFC North Team to Have Winning Record in 2023

Competition in the AFC North is always fierce, but the division as a whole might be better than ever this season.

NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund sees all four teams in the division having a winning record.

Frelund projects the Cincinnati Bengals to win 11 games and capture an unprecedented third consecutive AFC North title. She has the Ravens at 9.9 wins and securing a wild-card berth, with the Cleveland Browns (9.3 wins) and Pittsburgh Steelers (9.0 wins) also being in the playoff hunt.

CBS Sports’ Garrett Podell believes the Bengals and Ravens will battle it out for the division crown. He cited the revamped passing game as the main reason why Baltimore can win the AFC North.

"If [Offensive Coordinator Todd] Monken could have top passing offenses with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston, imagine what he could do with [Lamar] Jackson," Podell wrote. "Baltimore's defense will likely remain stout, so if the Ravens new aerial-focused offense can lift Jackson and Baltimore's passing game to new heights, the AFC North will be well within their reach."

A Highly Motivated Patrick Queen and J.K. Dobbins Benefits Ravens

It's uncertain whether running back J.K. Dobbins and inside linebacker Patrick Queen will be with the Ravens for years to come, but one thing is certain: with both players seeking long-term deals, they have plenty of incentive to ball out this season.

That obviously bodes well for the Ravens.

"The team is well served by Dobbins and Queen being highly motivated to produce," Press Box’s Bo Smolka wrote. "While the two players have reason to be frustrated if they expected a long-term extension that has not materialized, they both know that the next big contract — whether in Baltimore or elsewhere — depends on a big 2023 season."

The Ravens opted not to pick up Queen's fifth-year option, which means the 2020 first-round pick is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Queen is coming off his best season, and he and All-Pro Roquan Smith form arguably the top linebacker duo in the league.

General Manager Eric DeCosta has made it clear that he thinks highly of Queen as a player and a person, but the fact that Smith signed a lucrative, long-term extension last season makes it a challenge to extend Queen.

On a side note, if Queen needs even more incentive to have a great season, he got it yesterday when the trailer for Madden24 showed a video game simulation of him being run over by Bills quarterback Josh Allen, the game's coverboy.

As for Dobbins, he has been a huge asset when healthy, but the 2020 second-round pick missed the entire 2021 season and half of last season after suffering multiple torn ligaments in his knee in the 2021 preseason.

Head Coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week that he'd like to have Dobbins on the team beyond this season, but acknowledged that no one knows for sure what's going to happen.

"We want him back, but who knows the future?" Harbaugh said. "… I know J.K. – when he gets back here – will be determined [and] excited. He will work hard, [and] his energy will be high. I know he'll be in great shape, because I know who he is as a person, and I expect great things out of him this year."

Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington Named Prime Candidates for Contract Extensions

Speaking of contract extensions, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec identified interior defensive linemen Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington as two extension candidates.

"The team views both as ascending players and knows it will have to do a thorough rebuild of its defensive line next year if both Madubuike and Washington walk," Zrebiec wrote. "Nose tackle Michael Pierce is also a pending free agent, but the Ravens have an internal replacement for him in 2022 third-round pick Travis Jones."

Madubuike has improved every season since being drafted in the third round in 2020. He set career highs in sacks (5.5), tackles (42), quarterback hits (nine) and tackles for loss (eight) in 2022. Washington, a 2020 fifth-round pick, started nine games last season and is expected to be a full-time starter this year in place of Calais Campbell, who departed in free agency.

"If both Madubuike and Washington continue their career trends in 2023, they are only going to get more expensive," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens haven't hesitated in spending on their interior defensive line in the past. Now would be a good time to do it again."

DeAndre Hopkins Reportedly Set to Visit Titans, But Speculation About Ravens' Interest Continues

The latest news on All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is that he is set to make his first official free agent visit on Sunday with the Tennessee Titans.

Meanwhile, speculation about the Ravens having interest in Hopkins continues. FanDuel's Kay Adams recently discussed the matter on "Up & Adams."

Adams noted that Jackson asked the team if it could acquire Hopkins during contract negotiations, and she also pointed out that Harbaugh has long been a fan of Hopkins as a player.

"We know Lamar wants Hopkins. We know Harbaugh loves him, he has for a decade. Will Eric DeCosta take the swing and do it? Potentially," Adams said. "It'd be crazy if they did it. What a loaded team. What would that do to them with the AFC shuffle and the hierarchy? They're already pretty high up there. Does it put them at the top of the division? Yeah.

"That would be insane if they got DeAndre."

Zrebiec also weighed in on the topic.

"DeCosta plays things close to the vest, so it's always difficult to know what he's up to when it comes to player additions. That's why the fact that there's been no indication that the Ravens are bidding on free-agent wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins doesn't necessarily mean they're not or won't be in the mix," Zrebiec wrote. "But if Hopkins is intent on going to the highest bidder or exceeding or matching [Odell] Beckham's one-year, $15 million deal, as several reports have indicated, it's hard to believe Baltimore is seriously involved."

Ravens Named a Top Landing Spot for Danielle Hunter

It's widely believed the Ravens will add a veteran pass rusher before the start of the season, and now a three-time Pro Bowler could be on the trade block. The Minnesota Vikings have been fielding trade calls for Danielle Hunter, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Pro Football Network's Dallas Robinson named the Ravens as one of the top landing spots for the 28-year-old Hunter, who had 10.5 sacks last season and 71 sacks over seven seasons.

"Baltimore has been willing to trade draft picks for veteran assets in the past," Robinson wrote. "Just last year, the Ravens shipped their second-round selection to the Bears for linebacker Roquan Smith, whom they subsequently made the highest-paid player at his position. Hunter's new deal wouldn't pay him at that level, but Baltimore could work out a reasonable contract to keep him with the Ravens for the next several seasons."

Roquan Smith Is No. 2 in Sports Illustrated's Linebacker Rankings

It was noted in Late for Work last week that Smith did not crack the top five in Pro Football Focus' linebacker rankings. Smith fared better in Sports Illustrated’s Gilberto Manzano’s rankings, coming in at No. 2.

"It didn't take Smith long to establish himself as one of the best players on a talented roster," Manzano wrote. "After being traded by the Bears in November, Smith recorded 86 total tackles in nine games with the Ravens — and the Baltimore defense held opponents to 14.6 points per game with Smith on the field.

"Overall, Smith had a career 2022 season, with 169 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and three interceptions. Smith, 26, also earned his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro selections. Smith's sideline-to-sideline speed, intensity and leadership on and off the field paved the way for him to receive a five-year, $100 million contract extension from the Ravens, making him the highest-paid linebacker in the league."

Quick Hits

  • Justin Tucker was named one of the top 14 players over 30 by The 33rd Team.

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