NFL is back! Preseason is under away and it is that time of year where people like me love making predictions thinking we know everything only to be completely wrong by midseason. That being said here is my two cents about the AFC North.
Over the years, the AFC North has been dominated by the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers with Cincinnati and Cleveland being the bottom dwellers. Although Cincinnati has made a run to the playoffs the last couple of years, they have been bounced out in the first round by Houston both l times, and because of this many people (including me) still look at them as a nobody. However, this year I believe Cincinnati will have something more to cheer about, and that it will be a slugfest with them as well as Baltimore and Pittsburgh down to the last week to see who wins the AFC North. For now let’s break down each of the four team’s strengths and weaknesses starting with Cleveland. Anything not mentioned means the position is just okay.
Where to begin. There are many things wrong with the Cleveland Browns specifically on offense. For starters they have a geriatric, inexperienced, and mistake-prone quarterback in Brandon Weeden. Their top pick last year, Trent Richardson, was not much better as he was injury prone and even when healthy, he only averaged 3.6 yards per carry. Also the receivers last year were not very good as there were many dropped balls and overall they were not disciplined at all. On top of this their best receiver, Josh Gordon, is suspended for the first two games. The one bright spot last year for the Browns was their defense so what did GM Michael Lombardi do? He changed the whole scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Not much is known as to why this occurred, but all of these flaws are why I think the Cleveland Browns will finish last in the AFC North yet again.
Weaknesses: QB, RB, WR, FS, SS, CB, TE
Next up is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are coming off a disappointing season finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs. They will obviously look to at least get back into the playoff picture after a terrible season last year to their standards. Ben Roethlisberger will be leading the way with speedy receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to his left and right. The defense should be top 10 once again as they have Troy Polamalu coming back along with a plethora of talent. The loss of James Harrison will not be as big of a factor as people think as he was aging and getting noticeably slower. The glaring weakness for the Steelers is still the offensive line minus Pouncey. Big Ben has not played a full NFL season since 2008 in part due to the poor offensive line play. Although the defense will hold its own, the offense will not and I believe the Steelers will finish the season third in the AFC North and be held out of the playoffs once again.
Strengths: QB, WR, SS, FS, C
Weaknesses: OT, G, RB
Ladies and gentlemen, the Super Bowl champion Ravens. The Ravens had an unbelievable year overcoming much adversity as well many injuries (a total of 24 players start on defense alone) to win Super Bowl XLVII. Joe Flacco proved himself to be an elite QB last year in having the greatest postseason of all time for any player at any position and being named Super Bowl MVP. This year however, the Ravens will be without many of last years starters and although the defense will be better than last year contrary to popular belief the offense will lean heavily on Joe Flacco and Ray Rice having lost Boldin, Pitta, and Dickson. Though the offense may be inconsistent at times with all the losses the defense will be better and I believe the Ravens will finish second in the AFC North and grab the second wild card spot.
Strengths: QB, RB, G, T, DE, DT
Weaknesses: MLB, C, WR, TE
Last up is the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals enjoyed mild success last season in making the playoffs but were bounced in the first round for the second straight year by the Texans. Other than James Harrison, the Bengals did not make many offseason moves, but they do have a lot of young, talented players on offense that are getting better as we speak. The defense is pretty much solid all around with the only position to worry is MLB, and other than that it should finish in the top 5. This Cincinnati team is very balanced up and down the depth chart and with Andy Dalton heading into his third year with even more young talent than he had last year I think this team will win the AFC North and at least one playoff game.
Strengths: WR, T, DE, DT, CB, FS, SS