AFC North Preview

AFC North Preview

Jarrett Bailey, Sports Writer

With the NFL Pre-Season winding down and coaches making their final cuts, tThere is no better time than to start making up your fantasy teams and division predictions. We’ll start with the AFC North with the Steelers, Bengals, Ravens, and Bengals.

 

  1. Steelers (11-5): The Steelers will be without All-Pro Running Back Le’Veon Bell and breakout Wide Receiver Martavis Bryant for the first 4 games for abusing the league’s substance abuse policy, but the Steelers first 4 games are very winnable. With the Patriots without Tom Brady in Week 1, and the 49ers bouncing back from a horrible off-season, the Steelers are still in a great position. Ben Roethlisberger is coming off the best year of his career in which he led the NFL in passing yards and threw 32 TD passes compared to just 9 interceptions. The only growing pain I see in the Steelers future is their secondary. They lost Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor to retirement, so guys like Will Allen and Shamarko Thomas will have to step up at safety. They acquired Brandon Boykin, who led the Eagles in interceptions, at corner to add some stability. Adding Bud Dupree through the draft to strengthen one of the best line backing corps in football should help propel Pittsburgh to their second straight division title.
  2.  Bengals (10-6): The Bengals, in my opinion, are going to have to brawl through the season if they want a shot at the playoffs this season. They have a solid unit of players, but looking at their strength of schedule, they will have to play well every week to outduel other contenders in the AFC. Their offense is still lead by Andy Dalton and A.J Green, but last year was sort of a down year for the duo. Dalton only threw 19 TD passes compared to 17 interceptions while Green’s numbers went down dramatically, as he only hauled in 69 receptions for 1,041 yards and 6 TDs. Their running game was a pleasant surprise as Jeremy Hill rushed for 1,124 yards and 9 TDs. Defensively for Cincy, they are a very well-rounded defense. They acquired A.J Hawk at linebacker from Green Bay, and with his talent to add stability to an already strong line backing group. Leon Hall and Adam Jones will likely be the top 2 Corners along with Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Denard in the 3 and 4 spots, respectively. This is a good Bengals team, but in order to do big things, they are going to have to be great.
  3. Ravens (8-8): The Ravens have gone into a decline since their Super Bowl run just 3 seasons ago. We all know about the Ray Rice situation, which is a huge blow to this team. Even though Justin Forsett had a good year filling in for Rice, I think that teams will be more aware of him coming into this 2015-16 campaign. QB Joe Flacco had a good year last year, accumulating 27 TD passes and 12 interceptions, but the loss of Torrey Smith will impact, not only Flacco, but the entire offense will be greatly affected by his loss. Defensively they suffer from the loss of big man Haloti Ngata at nose tackle. This means that Terrell Suggs, who is progressing in age, lead this defense with the help of Courtney Upshaw and Elvis Dumervil. I don’t see a very productive season for Baltimore, so John Harbaugh may be under some hot water.
  4. Browns (7-9): For the past two seasons, Cleveland has been the center of attention with Johnny Manziel calling the Dog Pound home. The Browns have made their implications clear for Manziel, as Cleveland traded their first string QB Bryan Hoyer to Houston and brought in less-than-stellar Josh McCown. But Manziel is another story for another time. Looking at the Browns offense, I think it will take a great leap this year. They acquired Dwayne Bowe at Wide Receiver, which is a huge benefit to their passing game. In the backfield, Isaiah Crowell is a guy who could have a good year without getting much glory. Defensively I love the Browns. With Joe Haden leading the group at cornerback along with the addition of Tramon Williams on his opposite side. Their linebackers are a solid group as well, with Paul Kruger and Karlos Dansby leading the pack. Although I don’t see a playoff birth occurring for the Browns this season, they have very solid building blocks for the very near future.

Overall, I don’t see this division changing very much from last season, but it will be very competitive, as always.

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