Ranking the eight NFL divisions by quarterback: AFC claims top three spots; North headlines NFC side
Adam Schein, NFL.com
1) AFC North
Burrow has just about everything you want in a franchise quarterback: the leadership, the swagger, the processing ability, the knack for delivering in the fourth quarter. Watching the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick work with Cincinnati’s receiving talent — most notably, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins — is breathtaking stuff. No wonder the guy’s about to break the bank with a long-term deal.
Speaking of which, Lamar rightfully received his nine-figure extension a few weeks ago. Just the second NFL player to win MVP in unanimous fashion, Jackson boasts a sparkling 45-16 career record and is the only quarterback in league history with a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons. But he’s eager to sling the ball across the yard in 2023. At his press conference after signing the new $260 million deal, Jackson said, “I want to throw for 6,000 yards, with the weapons we have.” OK, that’s a little rich, but I’m picking up what Lamar is putting down. With Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers joining the receiving corps — and Todd Monken taking over as offensive coordinator — I expect the 26-year-old to blow past his previous high for passing yards (3,127 in 2019) while maintaining the ability to break your will as an electric runner.
Danny Heifetz, The Ringer
Cold Feet at the Wedding but Finally Walked Down the Aisle
Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson
Jackson and the Ravens were once the league’s Cinderella love story. But this offseason, they nearly became a cautionary tale when Jackson got cold feet. He skipped Baltimore’s playoff games in January and asked for a trade in March.
Most of the issues came down to Baltimore’s prenup. Jackson apparently balked at not getting offered a fully guaranteed contract, while the Ravens insisted this was standard practice. The Ravens smoothed things over by signing Odell Beckham Jr. as a guilt gift. Then the Eagles and Hurts got hitched in April, and that seemed to change Jackson’s tune, leading him to sign a new five-year contract worth up to $260 million that was extremely similar to Hurts’s deal. Nothing speeds up a couple’s timeline like seeing other people get married.
Jonas Shaffer, The Baltimore Banner
Overall, the Ravens finished sixth in the NFL in total sacks (48) despite ranking just 17th in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate and 25th in Pro Football Reference’s pressure rate. Part of the credit goes to their elite run defense, which set up countless second- and third-and-longs. Part of the credit goes to second-level defenders like Queen and Hamilton, who graded out as two of the team’s best pass rushers. Part of the credit goes to defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, whose varied mix of “creepers” and simulated pressures toyed with quarterbacks and pass protections.
Next season, though, the Ravens will need more from their edge rushers. Oweh seemed primed for a breakout 2022 after a dominant training camp, but he struggled in the regular season, recording one sack in his first 11 games. Ojabo played just 21 defensive snaps in the regular season. Bowser appeared in nine games, the first time in his career he’s missed more than one in a season. All three ranked among the NFL’s top 61 edge rushers in win rate, according to Pro Football Focus, but none ranked higher than No. 38.
Brian Wacker, The Baltimore Sun
Replacing Calais Campbell
The Ravens will have to worry about replacing the 5 1/2 sacks they got from veteran defensive end Calais Campbell, who was released in a cost-saving move March 13 and has since signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Campbell was also a respected veteran voice for a young defensive front.
Macdonald said the Ravens aren’t looking to replace him as much as they’re relying on a group effort from defensive tackles Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington and Travis Jones — all 26 or younger — among others.
“There’s things he does that not a lot of people can do,” Macdonald said of Campbell. “We have the guys to [replace him], we have a great young core of D-linemen. … We’re flexible with personnel groups, we can sub out and put another outside linebacker in there, a [defensive back] body on the inside.”
Arif Hasan, Pro Football Network
12) Baltimore Ravens
Aside from safety, where the Ravens might be elite, Baltimore seems to be average across the board. They should see some upgrade in linebacker play with the addition of Trenton Simpson. They may need a jump in performance from Odafe Oweh to really establish themselves as a high-level defense.
Baltimore and Washington will hold joint practices on Tuesday, Aug. 15 and Wednesday, Aug. 16, both at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills.
On Monday, Aug. 21, the Ravens will face the Commanders in Week 2 of the preseason at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The 8 p.m. game will be nationally televised on ESPN.