Lunchtime Snack - AFC North Prediction
The second instalment in the Lunchtime Snack series takes us to the AFC North. Last years division winners, the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had their fair share of drama in this offseason. Hostility towards the Steelers first round rookie Mason Rudolph coming from star Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and no long term deal on paper yet for standout running back Le'Veon Bell would give reason to some Steelers fans to be nervous heading in to 2018. Will they be able to come through the turmoil and retain their crown? How about last season 0-16 Imperfect Browns? How many more swims in Lake Erie will Hue Jackson be allowed by Cleveland's ownership group.
Unfortunately for fans of the Ravens, Bengals and Browns, the Steelers will walk this division again. Much like the Patriots in the AFC East, even offseason issues won't derail a team that's so much more dominant than any others in the division. The Steelers picked up two very savvy free agency additions in Morgan Burnett and Jon Bostic, both strengthening areas of need and have importantly kept Le'Veon Bell, even if it is only on the Franchise tag. A slightly more difficult schedule on paper and a couple of offseason issues should only prove to be bumps in the road for Mike Tomlin's Steelers.
The Ravens have strengthened massively on offense heading into 2018. The addition of former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson adds an element of intrigue into the offense and we've already seen Jackson and Flacco on the field at the same time in training camp. Ultimately the move for Jackson would likely signify that Flacco's days in Baltimore are numbered. The Ravens have also strengthen at receiver with the additions of John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead. The Ravens were very limited a receiver last season so these additions will be welcomed by the Ravens flock. The offensive focus did however mean that their were no major additions to the already ageing defensive unit. Ultimately defences win championships and the lack of defensive improvement will come back to bite the ravens as the season wears on. I'm expecting a down year for the Ravens, ultimately as soon as something goes wrong, the tensions will rise and calls for Lamar Jackson to start will only grow. This kind of tension rumbling behind the scenes doesn't usually lead to favourable results.
The Cincinnati Bengals had recently established themselves as a playoff contender however they couldn't meet those expectations last year. The lost too many games that they were expected to win and ultimately continued to build their reputation as one of the dirtiest teams in the NFL. This season doesn't look like it will be much better. They have lost so key players from last season including Jeremy Hill, Tyler Eifert and Chris Smith but have also added some linebacker talent in Preston Brown and Malik Jefferson. Brown's importance to the team has already been greatly increased as Vontaze Burfect will be suspended for the first 4 games of the season. A storm has been brewing in Cinci for quite some time with many think head coach Marvin Lewis has overstayed his welcome. I'm expecting fireworks from the Bengals this season, but not in a good way. That's exactly why I'm saying they will finish 4th in the AFC North.
Based on the previous two seasons, you could probably say that backing the Browns to win too games in 2018 could be a reach, I'm willing to say they win 6, I would of have them pushing the Ravens for second place if they didn't have such a tough schedule. The Browns have strengthened massively in the offseason. Big name Veteran additions such as Frank Gore, Tyrod Taylor, Damarious Randell, Mychael Kendrick and Jarvis Landry will take this roster a massive step towards putting some W's in the win column. Frist round picks Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward with both have huge roles to play straight off the bat in Cleveland. The main question in Cleveland is who starts at QB. Both contenders can stake a claim, Tyrod Taylor led the Bills to the playoffs last season despite a bizarre benching part way through the season and the maverick Mayfield was last seasons Heisman trophy. Both can realistically lead this team to victory. If Josh Gordon can keep himself on the right track the Browns could end up with one of the most exciting offenses in the AFC.
Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
Baltimore Ravens 8-8
Cleveland Browns 6-10
Cincinatti Bengals 5-11