The AFC North could be the most exciting division in all of football this year. The division has two quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson who are in their 2nd year at Cleveland and Baltimore. It also has two quarterbacks who may be in their last year as starters in Ben Roethlisberger and Andy Dalton.
AFC North Preview and Prediction:
Cleveland Browns… (10-6):
There hasn’t been this much excitement in Cleveland since LeBron James came back to Ohio in 2015. The Browns went out and acquired Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt. On paper, they have one of the most talented offenses in the NFL. Wide Receiver, Jarvis Landry, has 481 receptions in his first five seasons. That is the most in the history of the NFL during that time frame. Landry could be the 3rd option on this team as the season progresses. Rookie running back, Nick Chubb rushed for 996 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Tight End David Njoku caught 56 balls in 2018 and should improve that number in 2019.
The Browns defense is not great but they do have a few playmakers. Joe Schobert had 103 tackles last year and Myles Garret had 13.5 sacks. If the Browns can force some turnovers and keep teams in 3rd and long situations, they can keep their offense on the field and outscore their opponents.
Cleveland is a young team with and inexperienced quarterback and head coach. They have three questions marks coming into this season.
1) They don’t know how to win, they were 1-5 against winning teams last year.
2) Their offensive line is unproven.
3) They have a lot of personalities on this team and that could hurt their chemistry.
Pittsburgh Steelers… (10-6):
The Steelers led the NFL in sacks last season and they were 4th in total offense. Yet, the didn’t make the playoffs in a division that had two rookie quarterbacks in Cleveland and Baltimore and the Bengals struggled all year and finished with a record of 6-10. If ever there was a year to cruise to an AFC North title it was in 2018. Pittsburgh missed the playoffs for the first time in 5 years. The Steelers lost Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. They will replace those two all-pro players with Juju Smith-Schuster, 111 catches, 1426 yards and James Connor who had 973 rushing yards and 55 catches. Their offensive line is one of he best in the NFL and Ben Roethlisberger threw for 5,129 yards. The Steelers are hoping for a healthy, “Team first” locker room, now that Brown and Bell are in Oakland and New York.
Defensively, they drafted linebacker Devin Bush out of Michigan. He should provide a much needed lift at the middle linebacker position. T.J Watt had 13 sacks last season and should improve on that number in 2019. Cameron Heyward is coming off a second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. The starting trio of Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt had 20 sacks last year.
I expect the Steelers and “Big Ben” to come out with a chip on their shoulders and compete for this division. They need a number 2 wide receiver to step up and help Smith-Schuster. Ben should have a great year but he could be susceptible to interceptions if he tries to force the issue. The Steelers should bounce back and head coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season as the black and gold’s head coach.
John Harbaugh could have won coach of the year last season. With a rookie quarterback and almost no passing game, the Ravens went 6-1 with Lamar Jackson as their starting QB. The Ravens offensive line is very underrated. Only 5 teams in the NFL allowed fewer sacks than Baltimore. Added Mark Ingram to the backfield out of New Orleans should help a team that is already predicated on the run. TE, Mark Andrews averaged over 16 yards per catch last season and looks to improve in his 2nd year in the NFL. He could be Jackson’s security blanket on 3rd downs.
Defensively, the Ravens led the league in total defense. But this unit lost a ton of talented players.The Jets signed C.J. Mosley. Za’Darius Smith, who led the Ravens in sacks, signed a contract with the Green Bay Packers. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs left to join the Arizona Cardinals and Safety Eric Weddle was released. Harbaugh may not want to admit it but this will be a rebuilding year in Baltimore. They lost too many quality players on defense to be an elite unit.
Cincinnati Bengals… (6-10):
36-year-old Zach Taylor takes over the reigns for Marvin Lewis as the Cincinnati Bengals head coach. The Bengals seem to be a team with no identity. Over the past few seasons they have had a record of 6-10,7-9,6-10. Andy Dalton continues to be their so called “franchise quarterback” Dalton is 0-4 in the playoffs and could be the 4th best quarterback in this division. Other than A.J. Green is there anyone on this offense that scares defensive coordinators? Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard must both stay healthy and provide a consistent running game.
Defensively, Vontaze Burfict, is no longer with the team. This unit could be solid with pro-bowl defensive players in Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, but they are not a top 10 defense.
This is a team that is rebuilding and sooner or later they are going to have to realize that Andy Dalton is not the quarterback to lead their franchise into the post-season.
I don’t expect Cincy to win more then 6 or 7 games.
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