The AFC North; for a division that has a history of being extremely tough, fuel has been thrown into that fire over this off-season. Over the last year, the Browns and Bengals have flip-flopped their competitiveness, while the Ravens are still that team nobody wants to face. With the departures of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers are still more than capable of winning the division title. The AFC North has all the makings to be one of the strongest divisions in the NFL.
1. Cleveland Browns
Unlike our friend Stephen A. Smith, I feel that the Browns will dominate the AFC North. They have the top tier defense to shut down the best offenses in the league. To compliment, Baker Mayfield got some new, shiny weapons to use. However, it ultimately comes down to how well Freddie Kitchens can have these big personalities buy into the system he believes in. Furthermore, I believe Kitchens will do exactly that. It could be tough at first, but this process should take a few weeks. All in all, I have Cleveland finishing at a generous 13-3, losing to the Rams, Patriots, and Steelers(once).
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Losing two of the best at their respective positions surely isn’t good, but no need to fear Pittsburgh fans. As we’ve all seen throughout professional sports, a healthy locker room can take down more talented teams any week. James Conner proved that he can be just as productive as Le’Veon Bell, if not more productive with his past season. JuJu Smith-Schuster has a lot to prove this year being the clear top option for Big Ben. In addition to that, James Washington must step up into that support role to keep as many double teams off of Schuster as possible. With a defense that displayed bright spots from time to time, Mike Tomlin has a lot to look forward to if they can put the pieces of the puzzle back together. To conclude, I have the Steelers finishing 11-5, losing to the Patriots, Chargers, Rams, then splitting the series with Cleveland and Baltimore. However, I do have Pittsburgh competing for the Wild Card.
3. Baltimore Ravens
To sum up the off-season for the Ravens, a lot of give and take. By give, I mean acquiring Mark Ingram to solidify the running game, giving Lamar Jackson a consistent threat in the backfield. Also the addition of Earl Thomas to strengthen the secondary. By take, I refer to the handful of losses to free agency on the defensive side of the ball. John Harbaugh can kiss goodbye to Za’Darius Smith, Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley, and Terrell Suggs. Holy Moley, that was a lot of starters to lose. The weight of this season relies on the improved passing accuracy by former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Jackson could have the best defenses begging for mercy if he could combine his inhuman athleticism and an accurate arm. However, I don’t feel that the Louisville Cardinal legend is ready to take that step yet. With that, I have Baltimore finishing at 8-8, losing to the Chiefs, Browns(twice), Seahawks, Texans, Rams, and Steelers(once).
4. Cincinnati Bengals
With the resurgence of the Browns, somebody had to be at the bottom. That team my friends will be, without a doubt, the Bengals. This team was just terrible last year, and that’s being nice. Cincinnati finished near the bottom in total defense, but managed to be the worst team in the league in terms of total offense. Andy Dalton’s last two years have not been a sight for sore eyes. On top of that, A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert can’t even take the field anymore due to injury. The heart and soul of the defense, Vontaze Burfict, is now gone. This team will simply not be good next year, but maybe Zac Taylor can start pushing this franchise back into the right direction. I have the Bengals finishing at 4-12, with their only wins being against the 49ers, Jaguars, Raiders, and Dolphins. Feel free to read about others’ opinions on the outcome of the AFC North as well in the link below. Also view what my friend has to say about the AFC West in the bottom link.