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AFC North Tabbed with Best Crop of QBs in NFL

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Pittsburgh Steelers QB Russell Wilson Justin Fields

The AFC North is widely considered the best division in football. All four AFC North teams finished above . 500 in 2023, becoming the first division since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to have all four of its teams finish with a winning record.

The AFC North is not only the most competitive division, but it’s also the deepest at quarterback, according to Eric Edholm of NFL.com. With Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson/Justin Fields in the division, it’s hard to argue that the AFC North doesn’t have the best crop of quarterbacks.

“On name value alone, this division packs some serious punch,” Edholm wrote. “Jackson is coming off his second MVP campaign. Burrow is making a league-high $55 million per year, having guided Cincinnati to a pair of AFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl over his past two healthy seasons. Watson boasts a contract with the most guaranteed money in league history. Wilson is a nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, while Fields is a 25-year-old former first-rounder with 38 starts under his belt.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Justin Fields

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Justin Fields at the team’s OTAs, June 4, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

While Edholm thinks the AFC North has the best depth at the QB position, he does have some worries.

“Pound for pound, top to bottom, there’s a lot to like with the North crop. Hence, the division receiving top billing on this list. But there also are some clear trap doors here,” Edholm wrote.

“Even with some losses on offense in Baltimore, Jackson should be fine, fresh off a brilliant campaign. But Burrow and Watson both are working back from season-ending injuries, and the Browns no longer have the Joe Flacco safety net behind the enigmatic Watson. Wilson has been in a slow decline in recent years, and Fields has only made modest gains over the past few seasons as a passer.

“Yet this group ranks first because of the high, firmly established floors of Jackson and Burrow — when healthy — as well as the potential for the Browns and Steelers to improve their QB play from a year ago.”

As Edholm alluded to, Jackson should be fine. He’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. However, he needs to produce in the playoffs more. Jackson and the Ravens have underachieved in the postseason. Burrow is also elite, but he’s been held back due to injuries. If he’s healthy in 2024, the Bengals could be dangerous.

This season will be a pivotal year for Watson. He hasn’t lived up to the $230 million guaranteed contract yet. As far as the Steelers, I view Wilson and Fields as a boom or bust. It could work out, but there’s potential that neither succeeds, and the Steelers will be back to the drawing board in 2025.

The AFC North has been the best division in the NFL since 2020, based on win % in non-division games 62.6% (106-63), according to Warren Sharp of Sharp Football. The division is expected to be ultra competitive again in 2024.

The Steelers’ first game in the AFC North will be in Week 11 against the Ravens. It’s the first of four straight games against AFC North opponents. The Steelers’ schedule from Week 11 through Week 18 is a straight-up gauntlet: all six of their divisional games, the Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas, and a road game against the Philadelphia Eagles, a place where the Steelers haven’t won since 1965.

The Steelers and the rest of the AFC North will be featured on the in-season version of Hard Knocks, the NFL and HBO announced last week. Episodes of the show will air on HBO on Tuesdays, starting on Dec. 3 at 9 p.m. and continuing through the NFL postseason. It will also be available on streaming through Max.