Dec. 15, 2017
AFC North Preview
Here we are, 3rd preview in 3 days. Today we stop by the AFC North. Home of what used to be the biggest rivalry in the NFL between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Big Disclaimer about today's preview is that a Chris who is back helping me today is a big Baltimore fan. Chris, take it away! Tomorrow I will do the NFC North.
Oh Baby! This division is the reason I love football. I’ve been a Ravens Fan since 2000. You get to watch a perennial laughingstock; although I see that changing soon, and 3 of the teams with long tenured stability you rarely see in the NFL; something else I see changing. I try to stay bias as much as I can (everyone who knows me know that I think the Steelers and Seahawks can go bite a curb) but they also know that I haven’t let it affect how I think a team will do, as you will see by my division winner…..
Pittsburgh (12-4): It pains me every year, but I can’t see anyone else in the division winning it. Big Ben is back looking after some retirement rumors surfaced during the offseason; they have a serviceable O-Line which has always been an issue in the past, and arguably the best Running Back (LeVeon Bell) and Best Receiver (Antonio Brown) in Football, as well as a deep threat back in the fold with Martavius Bryant. As long as their defense can be middle of the road or better, this team shouldn’t have a problem putting up enough points to beat anyone, as well as making another deep run into the playoffs.
Pittsburgh (11-5): Pitt will be the 3rd seed in the AFC this year. A tough schedule against, New England, K.C., Detroit, Houston, Green Bay and Tennessee all awaits them though the majority of them are at home. The biggest question for me is the stud RB or WR 2 or whatever he wants to be paid as in Leveon Bell. A) Can he stay healthy for a full season? B) will his hold out affect his performance like past hold outs have affected others? Expect big seasons from Big Ben and Antonio Brown but when it's all said and done they will win the division once again.
Baltimore (9-7): Like years past, it is going to come down to the close games with this team. Last year 7 of their 8 losses were by 1 possession, with their biggest loss being by 10 to the Cowboys. This defense, especially with newcomer Tony Jefferson playing next to Eric Weddle, is going to be a problem for whomever the play. The crux of the Ravens season is going to come down to the offense and health. They are already down 8 guys for the year, and any year Flacco is in the top 5 for attempts, it’s going to be tough. If Harbaugh and crew can pull out some of the close games this year, they have a legit shot at a wild card berth.
Baltimore (9-7): The injury to Joe Flacco scares me. Yes the team is playing it off like it's nothing and he just needs rest but ask Tony Romo how debilitating a back injury can be. With the injuries piling up already in Baltimore this is the scariest pick out of all of them, and with a spotty running game the offense could sputter for lengths of time this year especially at the start. The defense is the key to this team and I expect folks like Weddle, Mosely and rookies Tim Williams and Marlon Humphrey to have a top 10 defense.
Cleveland (6-10): No, this isn’t a misprint. With an O-Line of Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, and newcomers JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler, this team might actually have a decent offense. The real question comes down to the quarterback. Who is going to man this offense? Do they trust Kessler for another year? Do they try for a good draft pick again by putting in Osweiler? Or do they hand it to rookie Kizer? If Crowell stays healthy, this team might be able to control clock, limit mistakes, and get out of the gutter and on a path to contention a few years down the road. This team looks to be building in the right direction, finally.
Cleveland (3-13.): Oh the Browns.... Where to begin. Yes they will have another top 5 pick in the 208 draft but it won't be the number one pick! That's a bonus right? They have a legit offensive line but with no QB, RB, or any decent receivers to throw to. The defense is young but I expect some growth in that department with number one overall pick in Myles Garrett and the young buck from Michigan Jabrill Peppers. That being said this time is a long ways away from doing anything major in this division.
Cincinnati (5-11): I think this is the end for Marvin Lewis. Departures on the Offensive Line with Zeitler and Whitworth leaving are going to leave a hole that will take a while to fill, and the defense isn’t anything to write home about. I’ve never been impressed by Dalton, as he tends to (understandably) lock onto Green. If Dalton and the rest of the Bengals struggle, I could see ownership thinking about going in a new direction by firing Lewis, whose message in the locker room is probably starting to sound like a broken record, and paying Dalton his $2.4 mil and cutting bait.
Cincinnati (7-9): This will be Marvin Lewis's last year in Cincy I agree with what Chris said there. Poor Dalton is going to get hit, and hit a lot this year as opposed to other years. The offense can be something to brag about if John Ross can repeat last year's performance at UW and turn that into a year one performance in Cincy. That along with Joe Mixon, (who will be the starting RB by the end of the year) Tyler Eifert, and AJ Green gives the Bengals some punch. The major issues are the defense and the offensive line with the later being the biggest problem.
Division MVP: LeVeon Bell - Pittsburgh
Division MVP: Antonio Brown - Pittsburgh
Defensive Rookie of the year: Myles Garrett - Cleveland
Defensive Rookie of the year: Tim Williams - Baltimore
Offensive Rookie of the year: Jon Ross - Cincinnati
Offensive Rookie of the year: Joe Mixon - Cincinnati
OPOY: LeVeon Bell - Pittsburgh
OPOY: Ben Roethlisberger - Pittsburgh
DPOY: C.J. Mosely - Baltimore
DPOY: Geno Atkins - Cincinnati