It’s almost that time again, on September 8th, there will be a Super Bowl 50 rematch to kick off the new NFL season. This series is being used to go through each division to do a preview of each team and where each team is going to place within each of their divisions.
The AFC North should look similar to last year. There wasn’t a lot of change in the offseason to make a major impact on the standings of this division. Cleveland might have gotten a little worse from last year and the other three improved at the same rate.
The Cleveland Browns are not a very good football team, but they do have some good pieces for the future and a lot of draft picks in the next couple of drafts. They drafted Corey Coleman in the first round and he has the potential to be a playmaker. If Josh Gordon can make a comeback and stay out of trouble, the Browns have what it takes to have a really good receiving corps. Robert Griffin III was announced as the starter and it will be interesting to see if Hue Jackson can help him reach his potential. Their best player is the starting left tackle Joe Thomas, hopefully he can the quarterback upright to give them a chance to win a couple games.
Defensively, the Browns will need some help. Last year, their defense was ranked 27th in yards allowed and 29th in points per game. That is not good and they didn’t do anything to really fix their problems. They did draft Emmanuel Ogbah with the 32nd and Carl Nassib with the 65th pick, both of which have the potential to be really nice players, but they need to develop. Joe Haden is a top corner when healthy, but is coming back from injury and probably needs to kick off some rust. The rest of the defense is fairly lackluster and isn’t scarring anyone, except Cleveland fans.
The Baltimore Ravens are a team that had to deal with a fair amount of injuries to some of their key players last year. Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith Sr., and the 2015 26th pick, Breshad Perriman, all ended the season on injured reserve. All of those injuries contributed to their 5-11 record and if all of those players return to full health, the team could bounce back. If the Ravens have to rely on Ryan Mallett for more than a game or two, their season will look similar to last year. They did bring in Mike Wallace to add to the offensive fire power and their first round pick, Ronnie Stanley, should help sure up the left side of the offensive line and keep Joe Flacco upright.
The 2016 defense should be better than last year’s because of players coming back from injury and additions. Terrell Suggs suffered a torn achilles in the season opener last year and certainly hurt the team’s season. He should come back to full strength, add leadership, and make a difference this upcoming season. The Ravens also signed All-Pro safety Eric Weddle to sure up the back of the secondary and surely improve the defense. They already had a top defense in yards per game last year, they just had problems giving up points. By adding these pieces to the defensive puzzle, this defense could be pretty good this year.
The 2016 Steelers has the chance to be a really good team. Last year, they made the playoffs, but had injuries and suspensions that prevented them from being really good. Le’Veon Bell missed the first two games with a suspension and the last two months with a torn MCL, and he will miss the first four games this year because of a missed drug test. Matavis Bryant will miss four games last year for a drug test violation and will miss this entire season for the same reason. Ben Roethlisberger missed five games last year with various injuries and DeAngelo Williams missed the playoff game with an ankle injury. The suspensions will hurt, but if the other players stay healthy in addition to one of the best receivers in the game right now, Antonio Brown, this offense could be really fun to watch this upcoming season.
There probably won’t be a huge difference between last year and this year in terms of the Steeler’s defense. Their draft was very defense focused, but none of the players should make an immediate difference. Burns, their first round pick, might become a good corner in the future, but he needs some seasoning and needs to become better in zone coverage to flourish in the NFL. Sean Davis, their second round pick, should become a solid safety and help sure up the secondary, but needs some time to develop. They should still have a fairly good defense, but not the best in the league by any means.
The Cincinnati Bengals were the AFC North champions last year and they should be even better this upcoming season. They had to rely on AJ McCarron at the end of last year because of Andy Dalton’s broken thumb, but proved himself as a viable backup. Not a lot of people think that Dalton is an excellent quarterback, but he is certainly a top fifteen quarterback that has the ability to manage the game and makes an impact on this team. AJ Green is still a top receiver, Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd will be good compliments this season, Jeremy Hill is a solid running back and Tyler Eifert coming back from injury, but is a top tight end.
Cincinnati’s defense should be really good this season as well. Dunlop and Atkins are both really good on the defensive line and they got a steal in the fourth round this year with Andrew Billings. Some people thought Billings should have gone in the first round this year. Karlos Dansby should thrive in this system and their secondary compliments the rest of the defense. Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick are both good corners that can make plays and keep this team in games. The Bengals should improve this year and win a playoff game or two.
4th Place: Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns are competing for the worst team in the league next year. They have some talent on offense, but not enough to move up the AFC North standings. They have stockpiled on draft picks and Hue Jackson is a good head coach to develop all of the young talent. If they draft better in the coming years then they could be a force in three to five years. With that said, this year they probably won’t win more than two or three games.
3rd Place: Baltimore Ravens
Although the Ravens will bounce back and be significantly better than they were last season, with that said, the Steelers and Bengals are just better. They should be good on both sides of the ball, but they won’t be spectacular either way. They will also have a fairly difficult schedule with two up and coming teams, Jacksonville and Oakland, both of which have the capability of taking giant leaps this season. The Ravens should win around eight games this upcoming season.
2nd Place: Pittsburgh Steelers
It was hard to decide who would win this division and although the Steelers offense should be really good the defense isn’t quite as good as the Bengals. Losing Bell for four games and Bryant for the season will hurt this team and could prevent this offense from being a spectacular statistically. Despite that, if everyone stays healthy they should win eleven games and win at least a wildcard spot and will certainly compete for the AFC North title.
1st Place: Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati should win this division again because there is no real weakness on this team. Offensively and defensively, the Bengals have playmakers that can take over any game at any moment. If they can stay healthy this team could make a serious run and be a threat in the AFC and could make a deep playoff run. The Dalton-to-Green connection is still as strong as ever and they will help take the division crown again. They will probably win eleven or twelve games and should definitely be a playoff team this season.
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My name is Sean, I have been a fan of the NFL for at least 25 years and want to get my thoughts out to the public. Please visit the main site for more posts