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Predictions in Review: AFC North

During the 2013 offseason, I wrote 32 articles under the RPO 2013 tag. In my Predictions in Review series, I review those preview articles with the benefit of hindsight. Previously, I reviewed the AFC West, the NFC West, the the AFC South, and the NFC South. Today, the AFC North.

Marvin Lewis, Jim Mora, and the Playoffs, May 30, 2013

In this article, I noted that Marvin Lewis had coached the Bengals for ten seasons without recording a playoff victory.  That was pretty unique: Since 1966, only Jim Mora had coached a team for longer without notching a playoff victory, and he was fired by the New Orleans Saints in his 11th year after a 2-6 start. Well, Lewis now stands alone in the Super Bowl era, as the only coach to fail to record a playoff win in 11 straight seasons and then be brought back for season twelve.

Since I wrote that article, though, I’ve become much more sympathetic to Lewis.  For years, it was easy to take pot shots at his ridiculous use of challenges or his failure to be aggressive when the situation warranted it, but I now think Lewis is one of the better coaches in the league.  He seems to have a knack for connecting with his players, he’s surrounded himself with very good coaches, and you get the sense that he has more on his plate organizationally than the typical head coach.  He’s the de facto GM, unless you consider Mike Brown the real man building the franchise.  And he’s developed one of the most talented rosters in the league, even if Andy Dalton turns into a pumpkin every January.

Of course, that is just cold comfort to Bengals fans who have witnessed the team go 0-11 in the Lewis era when it comes to recording a playoff victory. On the other hand, Cincinnati didn’t win a playoff game in any of the 12 seasons immediately preceding the Lewis hire, either.  But Lewis’ streak is particularly notable for just how rare his tenure has been in today’s environment.

Only five head coaches failed to win a playoff game with their current team in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and were brought back for 2014. That group includes Rex Ryan who was nearly fired, and went to the AFCCG in 2010, and Mike Tomlin, who went to the Super Bowl that year (and won it in 2008). The third is the reigning coach of the year, Ron Rivera, who took over in 2011 the team with the worst record in the league 2010. The fourth is Jason Garrett, who was an interim promotion in 2010, and it he’s been on the hot seat for most of his tenure.  The fifth is Lewis, who has been around for 11 years and not won a playoff game.  Given the frequency of coaching fires, it wouldn’t surprise me if Lewis is still the “record-holder” 50 years from now in this category.

What does Norv Turner mean for Josh Gordon?, May 31, 2013

For Cleveland, I was intrigued by what the hiring of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator would mean for Josh Gordon. In this post, I noted that from 1987 to 2012, five different Turner receivers (including Flipper Anderson twice) led the NFL in yards per reception, and his top receiver (in terms of YPR) finished in the top five in that metric another thirteen times. In other words, Turner and Gordon seemed like a perfect match.  Rarely do I get a prediction so correct!

Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013 and he ranked… 2nd in yards per reception to Kenny Stills. The Saints receiver had only 31 catches entering week 17, but a stat line of 1-76-1 against the Bucs allowed him to steal the YPR title from Gordon. Yes, I’m a little bitter.

Are the Ravens subject to a Super Bowl curse?, August 20, 2013

Here was my intro to that post:

No team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since the 20032004 Patriots, which means the last eight champions have failed in their bid to repeat. Three of them — the ’06 and ’09 Steelers and the 2012 Giants — failed to even make the playoffs. Some writers have used this as a reason to suggest that Baltimore may be subject to a Super Bowl curse.

But the data showed that Super Bowl winners fared pretty well the following year, at least relative to the average playoff team. As it turns out, 2013 was a rough season in Baltimore. But despite all the losses on defense, that wasn’t the issue: the Ravens ranked 7th in defense and 30th in offense and according to Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, the team ranked 13th in offense and 19th in defense in 2012.

While the media focused on the defensive losses (namely Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Cary Williams, and Bernard Pollard), I wondered about the offense, which means I got something right in 2013:

The bigger questions to me are on offense, as the team needs to replace Anquan Boldin (traded to San Francisco), Dennis Pitta (likely out for the season with a hip injury) and Matt Birk (retired). Gino Gradkowski, a fourth round pick in 2012, will replace Birk in the middle, while Dallas Clark, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Billy Bajema will compete to be the team’s other tight end next to Ed Dickson. The biggest question mark is at wide receiver, where no one knows what the team has behind Torrey Smith. Deonte Thompson (undrafted out of Florida in 2012), Tandon Doss (4th round pick in 2011, Indiana), Tommy Streeter (University of Miami, 6th round pick, 2012), and Aaron Mellette (7th round pick in 2013, Elon) get the unproven label while Brandon Stokley can wear the “has-been” sticker and Jacoby Jones is placed into the “never-was” bucket (at least when it comes to playing at a starting-caliber level at wide receiver).

As it turned out, none of those receivers turned into much of anything. Joe Flacco obviously struggled — I looked at his interceptions in this post — and part of the blame falls on the failure of any of the wide receivers I identified to replace Boldin’s production. In fact, the second-leading receiver on the team was Marlon Brown, somehow one of the only wide receivers on the team I didn’t mention.

And while Flacco and the passing game struggled, the running game (which I incorrectly assumed would be fine) was an abomination of historic levels. If you want to call that a curse, so be it.

Ben Roethlisberger and Receiving-Corps Quality, August 28, 2013

This was Neil’s contribution to RPO 2013, and he focused on the decline of targets in the Steelers passing game. It looked like Ben Roethlisberger was going to have his worst set of targets in 2013, but that was before we know he was going to get a superlative season out of Antonio Brown. In this post, Neil noted that Roethlisberger had been somewhat immune to declines in his receiving group, but it was hard not to be at least a little concerned about the 2013 Steelers supporting cast.

I’d say that post was spot on. Roethlisberger’s ANY/A did decline – in fact, it was his worst performance since 2008 — but overall it was a pretty strong season despite the weaker receiving weapons. He played in 16 games for only the second time in his career, and subjectively seemed to play very well. If he had better weapons, his efficiency numbers likely go up, and the Steelers make the playoffs.

  • Richie

    Here’s a chart showing how Cincinnati’s last playoff win compares to every other team in the league: Chart.