More Pundits Jump on Steelers Bandwagon
Whether they simply want to go against the prevailing opinion, or they truly believe the Pittsburgh Steelers are the superior team, a growing number of pundits are picking the Ravens' archrivals to win the AFC North.
In yesterday's Late for Work, we noted that CBS Sports' Pete Prisco placed the Steelers one spot ahead of the Ravens in his power rankings. Last week, Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr predicted Pittsburgh to go 13-3 and win the division by a game over the Ravens.
Now you can add Pro Football Focus CEO and NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth to the growing number of believers in the Steelers in 2020.
"I'm going [with] the Pittsburgh Steelers playing in the Super Bowl, playing the 49ers; 49ers come back and win it," Collinsworth said. "I think [Mike] Tomlin's Coach of the Year."
Meanwhile, on "The Rich Eisen Show," two of Eisen's colleagues picked the Steelers to win the AFC North.
"I like the Steelers because of defense, and I think Ben [Roethlisberger's] going to bounce back and have a really good year," Chris Brockman said. "I think this young kid Diontae Johnson is going to be what JuJu [Smith-Schuster] was for Antonio Brown. And I think James Conner's going to be the bell cow like Mike Tomlin said."
T.J. Jefferson echoed Brockman's sentiments, saying, "That defense is amazing and I think Roethlisberger's on a mission."
While NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund picked the Ravens to win the division, she didn't discount the notion of the Steelers overtaking them.
"I actually think there is a possibility that they surpass the Ravens. You heard what I just said. That's kind of scary," Frelund said. "Defenses and strong run games, that projects to be a winner in this COVID situation where we didn't have any preseason. Nobody's defense has a nice strong start like the Steelers."
Of course, the Ravens still have plenty of pundits predicting a third straight division title, including Eisen and Fox Sports Radio's Colin Cowherd.
"I love the Baltimore Ravens. I think they're going to be even better this year," Eisen said. "I think the Steelers might give them a bit of a run for their money, but I think they win that division."
Cowherd is sticking to his bold prediction that the Ravens will go 16-0.
"There's nothing I don't like about this team," Cowherd said. "I like their work ethic. I love their coach. I like the way the coach and the quarterback embrace each other. And I love that Lamar Jackson's got a total chip on his shoulder."
Market for Marlon Humphrey Set Again With Jalen Ramsey Mega-Deal
Another day, another market-setting deal for a cornerback.
After the Buffalo Bills' Tre'Davious White signed a four-year extension reportedly worth $70 million ($17.5 million average per year) over the weekend to become the league's highest-paid cornerback, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey agreed to a five-year extension reportedly worth $105 million ($21 million average per year) yesterday.
Undoubtedly, those deals will impact Ravens All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who is set to hit the free-agent market in 2022. The team has already exercised the fifth-year option on the 2017 first-round pick and made it clear they want to keep him for years to come.
"Wednesday, they got a glimpse at what Humphrey's contract could look similar to," NBC Sports Washington's Andrew Gillis wrote.
As has been previously noted, the Ravens' plethora of young talent is will present a major challenge for the front office to try to retain them all.
"Now, the Ravens will have to cram Humphrey in under what is likely going to be a damaged salary cap, due to financial restrictions after the COVID-19 pandemic," Gillis wrote. "Because not only do the Ravens have Humphrey to sign, but left tackle Ronnie Stanley is in a contract year, as is edge rusher Matthew Judon. Right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. is eligible to sign a contract extension after the 2020 season, as is tight end Mark Andrews.
"All of those deals, however, will pale in comparison to the massive deal set to come for quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is eligible to start negotiating a deal after the 2020 season. His fifth-year option will extend through the 2022 regular season, meaning he's not due to hit free agency until 2023."
Nate Burleson: Jackson Will Repeat as NFL MVP
Despite putting up one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in NFL history and being named the second-ever unanimous league MVP, Jackson is not the favorite to win the award this year. That would be Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes.
However, there's at least one pundit who fervently believes Jackson will become the first player to win back-to-back MVP awards since Peyton Manning in 2008 and 2009. That would be "Good Morning Football's Nate Burleson.
"I know we all said he's a little too slight. He's not going to be able to take these hits. Wrong," Burleson said. "He can't throw the ball like other quarterbacks. Wrong. We don't know if he can fill in and be a leader, he's a little too quiet. Wrong. We don't know if he can compete with the best of the best. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
"You know what's right about this man? It's the fact he is going to win the MVP back to back like Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning."
Burleson's praise of Jackson has to make Ravens fans swell with pride, but one of the things that makes Jackson so likable is that the only trophy he's thinking about is the Lombardi.
"If we win a Super Bowl, I'll put my [MVP award and Heisman Trophy] up. But I'm not putting stuff up right now," Jackson told our Ryan Mink. "I'm focused on getting a bigger trophy."
Four Ravens Who Could Overachieve in 2020
With 13 players who made the Pro Bowl last year, the Ravens are not lacking for stars. But they also have some under-the-radar players capable of making significant contributions.
Ebony Bird's Jake Lippman identified four Ravens who could overachieve in 2020:
DE Jihad Ward
"His ability to play stand-up and play some outside linebacker will keep his snap count up and allow him to make an impact in sub packages. … Although Ward may not be a starter, look for him to be somebody who makes a large addition because of his versatility. He is also only 26 years old and looking for a breakout fifth season." Stats prediction: 35 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one blocked kick.
TE Nick Boyle
"Boyle is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league and has gradually improved his receiving game, becoming a sure-handed receiver. He also has been a fun open-field runner, although not the fastest, making the occasional hurdle or stiff arm. … With [Hayden] Hurst getting traded to the Atlanta Falcons, there are a lot of targets to go around. I believe Boyle will continue to grow and prove why the Ravens gave him his contract extension." Stats prediction: 45 receptions, 485 yards, four touchdowns.
LG Bradley Bozeman
"Last season. he started all 16 games at left guard, helping pave the way for the best rushing team in the history of the NFL. He was extremely efficient and did not make many mistakes. … As a returning starter on the interior. he will be critical in helping replace the communication loss of [Marshal] Yanda." Stats prediction: Two sacks allowed, two penalties.
WR/RS Chris Moore
"Due to the youth at the [wide receiver] position, I believe [he] will take a step forward from last season. … Moore [didn't make] many mock rosters, but now that he is on the field despite battling injury, expect him to make an impact and fight for his next contract." Stats prediction: 15 receptions, 160 yards, one touchdown.
- PFF's Austin Gayle picked middle linebacker Patrick Queen to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.