Sunday, July 21, 2024

AFC teams affected the most by Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson injuries: Steelers now with an attractive path

The landscape of the AFC shifted in a major way this week. Just a couple weeks ago, all four AFC North teams were firmly in the playoff picture. Now, it seems unlikely all four will make the postseason, and that’s because of injuries.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson broke a bone in his throwing shoulder, which will force him to miss the remainder of the season, and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a torn ligament in the wrist of his throwing hand, which will require season-ending surgery. With the Browns and Bengals losing their starting quarterbacks, it makes life easier for their rivals — and the AFC at large. Let’s take a look at all the teams that were affected by the recent QB injures in the AFC North.  

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook; Projections from SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh

Cincinnati Bengals

Losing Burrow is clearly a massive blow to the Bengals. Cincy was already a little behind the eight ball due to its 1-3 start — and while the Bengals rebounded to get to 5-3 — they have now dropped two straight games and just lost their franchise quarterback. 

What options do the Bengals have? Jake Browning, who completed 8 of 14 passes for 68 yards and one touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night, will likely be the new starter. The Bengals also have AJ McCarron on the practice squad. 

The Bengals have some tough matchups to close out the year. In fact, Tankathon says Cincinnati has the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. The Bengals play the Pittsburgh Steelers twice, the Jacksonville Jaguars on “Monday Night Football” and the Kansas City Chiefs on New Year’s Eve. According to SportsLine’s Stephen Oh, the Bengals’ chances of making the playoffs dropped from 37.6% with Burrow to just 1.3% without him. Cincy’s win percentage dropped 14.1%, and its odds of winning the AFC or the Super Bowl have shrunk to 0.0%.

Playoff chances after Watson injury: 48.9%
Playoff chances after Burrow injury: 1.3%
Odds to make playoffs: OFF

Cleveland Browns

With Watson done for the year, the Browns announced that rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, not veteran P.J. Walker, will start Week 11 vs. the Steelers. The UCLA product struggled in his first career start back in Week 4, throwing for 121 yards and three interceptions in a 28-3 loss to Baltimore. Many will be quick to count out the Browns now that Watson is out, but you have to remember this team took down the previously undefeated San Francisco 49ers earlier this year with Walker under center. Cleveland has a legitimate shot to make the postseason because of its incredible defense. 

The Browns defense is allowing the fewest yards per game (242.7) since the 2008 Steelers, the fewest yards per drive (18.7) since the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles and plays per game (53.6) since the 1973 Los Angeles Rams. It’s impressive that Cleveland is 6-3 despite collectively having the worst completion percentage, passing TD-INT ratio and passer rating in the NFL this season. The Browns have the second-best record through Week 10 since 1970 by a team with the NFL’s worst passer rating. The 2015 Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos were 7-2.

DTR/Walker just have to take care of the football, rely on the No. 2 rushing offense in the NFL and trust Jim Schwartz’s defense. 

Playoff chances after Watson injury: 63.9%
Playoff chances after Burrow injury: 73.2%
Odds to make playoffs: -180

Baltimore Ravens

The 8-3 Ravens were already looked at as one of the best teams in the NFL, and their road just got a little bit easier. Baltimore has already completed its season series with both Cleveland and Cincinnati, so the Ravens won’t benefit in getting to play backup quarterbacks, but with both of their rivals down starters at the most important position in the game, it looks like the Ravens are going to win their first division title since 2019. Losing star tight end Mark Andrews for what appears to be the rest of the season hurts, but the Ravens are still contenders. 

Playoff chances after Watson injury: 92.4%
Playoff chances after Burrow injury: 95.8%
Odds to make playoffs: -2400

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are getting all the breaks! They are 6-3 despite not exactly looking like a 6-3 team. It’s the best record in NFL history by a team that has been outgained in nine straight games! Pittsburgh has six comeback wins this season (most in the NFL), and is a league-best 6-0 in one-score games.

The Steelers defense is feisty and T.J. Watt is always going to get pressure on the quarterback, but injuries at the linebacker position are really something to watch. It doesn’t look like the Steelers are going to part ways with offensive coordinator Matt Canada, so fans will just have to hold out hope he can find a way to improve this offensive attack. It looks like Jaylen Warren is going to play a larger role moving forward, and quarterback Kenny Pickett has now gone five straight games without a turnover. The offense has potential, but very clearly has underperformed. 

It looks like the Steelers will make the playoffs. Check out their remaining schedule. It’s mostly backup quarterbacks!

Opponent Projected opponent starting QB

Week 11 @ Browns

Dorian Thompson-Robinson

Week 12 @ Bengals

Jake Browning

Week 13 vs. Cardinals

Kyler Murray

Week 14 vs. Patriots

Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe

Week 15 @ Colts

Gardner Minshew

Week 16 vs. Bengals

Jake Browning

Week 17 @ Seahawks

Geno Smith

Week 18 @ Ravens

Lamar Jackson

Playoff chances after Watson injury: 62%
Playoff chances after Burrow injury: 82.8%
Odds to make playoffs: OFF

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars were perceived to be the best team in the AFC South entering 2023. That’s now seemingly up for debate with C.J. Stroud and the surging Houston Texans, but at 6-3, Jacksonville has a great shot to make the postseason whether it’s via division title or wild card.  

Jacksonville is actually one of the teams that benefits the most from the AFC North injuries because Trevor Lawrence and Co. are scheduled to play the Bengals and Browns in back-to-back weeks in December. Tankathon believes Jacksonville has the sixth-easiest remaining schedule in the league.

It remains to be seen if the Jags are legitimate contenders. We all saw what happened last week against the 49ers, but Jacksonville will have another chance to make a playoff run this year. 

Playoff chances after Watson injury: 76.6%
Playoff chances after Burrow injury: 84.1%
Odds to make playoffs: -600

Indianapolis Colts

Even after losing Anthony Richardson, the .500 Colts are right on the bubble to make the postseason. They are going to have to best the rival Texans (current No. 7 seed), and the Browns (current No. 6 seed). With Cleveland losing Watson, that clearly helps Indy’s playoff case, and then the Colts play the Bengals in Week 14. The Colts have now won two straight games, and are on a bye in Week 11. This could be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. 

Playoff chances after Watson injury: 15.4%
Playoff chances after Burrow injury: 22.7%
Odds to make playoffs: +280

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