By: Monte Perez
There is a scene in the 1995 Movie, Apollo 13, where Tom Hanks (Astronaut, Jim Lovell), Bill Paxton (Astronaut, Fred Haise) and Kevin Bacon (Astronaut, Jack Swigert) are circling around the moon. Their aircraft is damaged, as they are looking at the lunar surface, Actors, Paxton and Bacon start talking about how great it would be to do some “prospecting” and walk on the moon. Lovell, seeing the big picture acts right away. He says, “Gentleman what are your intentions? I’d like to go home!” In this scene, he brings the crew back to reality and gets them to refocus and gives them a clear cut goal. This is the problem with the AFC North, there are 4 teams who all have different intentions or different goals. Over the past two season I have predicted 13 out of 16 division winners. Below you will find my AFC North preview.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Projected Finish 11-5): When healthy and on the field, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the best “Big 3” in football (Quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, Wide Receiver, Antonio Brown and Running Back, Le’Veon Bell.) WR Martavis Bryant is gone for the season because of drug-related suspension, that means more catches for other players. Brown is one of only three WR’s to lead the NFL in receptions for two years in a row since 1982. (The last two players to accomplish this goal; Kellen Winslow in 1981-82 and Sterling Sharpe in 1992-93). I fully expect him to have over 100 catches again. Under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, “Big Ben” has improved every year. In 2014, he tied for the league lead with 4,952 yards and last season he completed 68% of his passes. This offense should be one of the best in the league. Roethlisberger continues to be the most underappreciated quarterback in the history of the NFL. The Steelers struggled on the other side of the ball. They finished 21st in the league in total defense. In 2015 ,they gave up 271 passing yards per game, that ranked 27th in the league. The Steelers have used five of their last six first-round picks and on defense. This is a young group of talented players that need to grow and mature quickly. If their defense improves, which it should, the Steelers should have a great year. What are their intensions? To win a championship, anything less is considered a failure.
Cincinnati Bengals (Projected Finish 10-6): Head Coach Marvin Lewis is the all-time leader in coaching victories (112) for the Bengals, but, he is 0-7 in the playoffs. During the regular season, Cincinnati is always competitive. They have made the playoffs 5 straight years. The Bengals have one of the best rosters on both side of the ball yet the continue to flounder in the post-season. QB, Andy Dalton ( who was injured during last year’s playoff game) has 1 touchdown and 6 interceptions in his post-season career. The Bengals should win 10 games and lose again in the 1st round. What are their intentions? It is obvious, they just want to make the playoffs. If they wanted more, Lewis would have been fired.
Baltimore Ravens (Projected finish 8-8): Head Coach John Harbaugh has made the playoffs 5 times in his first 7 years. Last season was a total disaster. The Ravens suffered major injuries and the team finished 5-11. It was the first time Harbaugh had a record of under .500. QB Joe Flacco and RB Justin Forsett need to lead this team on offense. Last season they were ranked 25th in points scored. Veteran pass rusher Terrell Suggs’ missed the year with an Achilles injury. The Ravens drafted a few pass rushers and will try to get back to being a dominant unit once again. John Lennon once said, “I’m an artist. You give me a tuba; I’ll get you something out of it.” I feel the same way about Harbaugh, he is a very good coach that will get the most out of his players. It shouldn’t be long before Baltimore competes for the division again. What are their intentions? Get back to the playoffs this year or next.
Cleveland Browns (Projected finish 5-11): Since 2008 the Browns have a record of 34-78. 1st year coach Hugh Jackson has just named Robert Griffin III his starting quarterback. This is an organization that has been beyond dysfunctional. They haven’t won a championship since 1964 and they always appear to be rebuilding. Their quarterbacks, including Johnny Manziel , have been total busts. The roster is just not talented enough to compete with the other teams in this division. What are their intentions? Can RG III can be a franchise quarterback and the team needs to improve the 2nd half of the year.
The Steelers are the class of this division. They can score with anyone. If their young defense grows quickly, they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender
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