AFC North Divisional Breakdown Recap for 2022

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It’s the final breakdown! The Fantasy Footballers conclude their Divisional Breakdown series with the  AFC North, diving into this hotly contested division and discussing each team’s fantasy outlooks. It’s as tight as it gets up north, with nearly 62% of their games last year being one-score affairs (CIN-9, PIT-10, CLE-11, BAL-12), and this trend is projected to continue in 2022.

In case you missed it, check out all our previous divisional breakdown recaps here.

Now, let’s get divisional!

Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)

Head Coach: Zac Taylor
Offensive Coordinator: Brian Callahan

Offense

2021 Pace of Play PPG Total Yards Pass Att. Pass Yards Pass TDs Rush Att. Rush Yards Rush TDs
Cincinnati Bengals 27 7 13 20 7 7 19 23 14

Defense

  • DEF Rush Yards – 5th / DEF Pass Yards – 26th / Points Against – 17th

Schedule

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  • First Four Matchups: PIT / @DAL / @NYJ / MIA
  • 2022 Projected Vegas Win Total: 10

Current ADP

It was a thing of beauty watching the Bengals surpass all odds and emerge as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And though they came up short, all signs point to this team being a repeat contender with their young superstar tandem of Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins.

Burrow quieted the naysayers who were worried about his torn ACL late in the 2020 season by leading the NFL in completion percentage (70.4), yards per pass attempt (8.9), and 20+ yard TDs (13). However, he was also the leader in sacks taken (51), having five games with 5+ sacks taken which is the most in a season over the last decade. It doesn’t help matters that the team’s strength of schedule per Warren Sharp will go from the 3rd easiest in 2021 to the 7th hardest in 2022. But what will help is the massive improvements made in their turnstile O-line via new acquisitions G Alex Cappa and T La’el Collins.

This offense should remain white-hot and all of Burrow, Chase, and Higgins should be great additions to your fantasy teams. Even Tyler Boyd should surpass his ADP with the occasional spike weeks, although good luck predicting when those will happen. Joe Mixon should remain a top-10 RB if he can maintain the monstrous workload he had last season (RB3 in carries, RB5 in Red Zone touches, RB4 in TDs), while TE Hayden Hurst is nothing but a streamer who’s only worth consideration in deeper leagues. 

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1)

Head Coach: Mike Tomlin
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Canada

Offense

2021 Pace of Play PPG Total Yards Pass Att. Pass Yards Pass TDs Rush Att. Rush Yards Rush TDs
Pittsburgh Steelers 3 21 23 4 15 16 28 29 28

Defense

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  • DEF Rush Yards – 32nd / DEF Pass Yards – 9th / Points Against – 20th

Schedule

  • First Four Matchups: @CIN / NE / @CLE / NYJ
  • 2022 Projected Vegas Win Total: 8.5

Current ADP

The year is 2004. The Boston Red Sox defied the “Curse of the Bambino” and won the World Series for the first time, America’s grandma Martha Stewart was sentenced to prison, Lance Armstrong won his sixth consecutive Tour de France and had yet to be caught for doping, the first legal same-sex marriage was performed in the US… and the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted QB Ben Roethlisberger in the first round. Now 18 years later, the Black & Gold welcome a new era, captained by a shaky QB tandem of Mitchell Trubisky and rookie Kenny Pickett. All three were first-round picks, but that’s where the similarities end.

While Trubisky is expected to start, it’s only a matter of time until Pickett takes over… yet neither guy is worth drafting. They will undoubtedly struggle to find their footing, especially with non-existent protection from what PFF predicts to be one of the worst O-lines in the league. Such subpar QB play and weak protection will have a trickle-down effect on their offensive playmakers. Sophomore RB Najee Harris already led all players in total touches (381) while finishing last in average yards before contact per touch (1.3), which is as brutal as it is inefficient for anyone to withstand, leaving Harris as one of the Ballers’ favorite early BUST candidates.

The Steelers’ pass-catchers will also suffer from their QBs. While Roethlisberger excelled at sustaining multiple top-tier fantasy receivers, Trubisky has always struggled to do so (aside from Allen Robinson in only two of four seasons together). Pickett could provide hope, but he’ll have to defy insurmountable odds as rookie QBs historically fail to sustain even just ONE top-36 WR nearly 70% of the time. Diontae Johnson has seen fantasy success via a dominating target share that may not repeat without Big Ben, while Chase Claypool is coming off a disastrous year where he had more penalties (8) than targets inside the 10-yard line (6), touchdowns (2), or average targets per game (7). However, this is heavily baked into the latter’s ADP, making Claypool a dynasty target and someone worth buying the dip on in redraft.

Cleveland Browns (8-9)

Head Coach: Kevin Stefanski
Offensive Coordinator: Alex Van Pelt

Offense

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2021 Pace of Play PPG Total Yards Pass Att. Pass Yards Pass TDs Rush Att. Rush Yards Rush TDs
Cleveland Browns 22 20 18 28 27 20 9 4 7

Defense

  • DEF Rush Yards: 12th / DEF Pass Yards: 5th / Points Against: 13th

Schedule

  • First Four Matchups: @CAR / NYJ / PIT / @ATL
  • 2022 Projected Vegas Win Total: N/A

Current ADP

Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight? Well, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and GM Andrew Berry certainly did when they signed QB Deshaun Watson with the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history, and are now deservedly stuck in QB (and PR) hell as they await a looming suspension for their hand-picked addition, hence the unknown projected win total for this doomed franchise.

Regardless of QB, we know that the RBs will be heavily utilized in this Stefanski offense. Nick Chubb will continue to feast as one of the best pure rushers around, and he’ll have to as he won’t get nearly enough targets to boost his fantasy output. But this man finished the 2021 season as the RB2 in total rushing yards (1,259) despite missing three games, so we can forgive his lack of usage in the passing game (only 25 targets). Conversely, Jason’s champion Kareem Hunt saw more targets (27) in just 8 games played, making him a viable PPR Flex target and an extremely valuable handcuff if Chubb were to miss any time.

The Browns will lose 47% of their team’s targets with Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Austin Hooper no longer on the roster, leaving a goldmine of opportunity for newly traded Amari Cooper. However, the value of these targets will depend heavily on whoever will be throwing them, so Cooper’s fantasy success is no surefire bet. Though he’s never been able to produce reliably, TE David Njoku could gobble up some of those vacated targets and finally breakout after the team extended him during the offseason, and his ADP is low enough that it’s worth taking a gamble on.

Baltimore Ravens (8-9)

Head Coach: John Harbaugh
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Roman

Offense

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2021 Pace of Play PPG Total Yards Pass Att. Pass Yards Pass TDs Rush Att. Rush Yards Rush TDs
Baltimore Ravens 27 17 6 9 13 20 3 3 9

Defense

  • DEF Rush Yards: 1st  / DEF Pass Yards: 32nd / Points Against: 19th

Schedule

  • First Four Matchups: @NYJ / MIA / @NE / BUF
  • 2022 Projected Vegas Win Total: 9.5

Current ADP

The Baltimore Ravens have all the makings of a tremendous bounce-back season. The entire roster was absolutely devastated by injuries and had the most adjusted games lost (191.2) due to injuries per Football Outsiders. With a healthy starting lineup (RBs pending), they should reclaim their title as an NFL and fantasy juggernaut on both sides of the field.

This obviously includes QB Lamar Jackson, who was the QB5 prior to succumbing to injury in Week 14. Simply put, the man loves to run, averaging 75.2 rushing yards per game since being declared the starter halfway through his rookie season. Last year saw the Ravens throwing more passes than ever (nine games of 30+ pass attempts; averaged 20.6 in his three prior years ) due to the aforementioned injuries, but this team will assuredly go back to establishing the run. Unfortunately, we won’t know if J.K Dobbins or Gus Edwards will be available for the season opener, leaving fantasy managers to play another game of RB musical chairs.

Perhaps the biggest disruption was made when the team traded Marquise Brown to the Cardinals, leaving a prime opportunity for sophomore wideout Rashod Bateman. Now that he’s fully healthy and had another year to build a rapport with Jackson, Bateman has a clear path to fantasy glory at a reasonable ADP. Meanwhile, TE Mark Andrews will continue to be heavily targeted as he battles for the overall TE1 throne, although you’ll have to pay a hefty price to obtain him.

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