AFC North preview

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September 5, 2017 by hochmancarter

(Courtesy of Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Written by Carter Hochman

Let’s face it, the AFC north isn’t exactly the most exciting division in the entire National Football League. Everyone naturally expects the Steelers and the Ravens to battle it out for the top spot, the Browns to come in dead last and the Bengals to sit idly by with not much pressure to win the division but still win some games with a few surprise upsets here and there. That’s the way its been for the past few years, but is that how it’ll continue to be going into the 2017 season? Let’s break it down team by team.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2016-17 record: 11–5 (1st)

Key additions: Tyson Alualu, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, T.J. Watt, James Conner, Cameron Sutton, Coty Sensabaugh, Justin Hunter

Key losses: Lawrence Timmons, DeAngelo Williams, Karlos Williams

The Steelers went 11-5 last season, going 6-2 at home, and 5-3 away. That, to me, doesn’t show home field advantage, or a team that is strong playing away from home. However, it was still the best record in the AFC North. I don’t see Pittsburgh doing particularly better or worse in this upcoming season. They’ve had no major and/or noteworthy roster shakeups, no huge coaching change, no suspensions… basically a moot offseason. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. Pittsburgh did well in the postseason, only to have it cut short by the leagues best and eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (tiny confetti toss). Although, if Martavis Bryant CAN STAY OFF THE WEED, I could see him making a difference.

Team MVP/X-factor: Le’veon Bell

Bell totaled of 1,268 yards rushing last season, good for 8th in the league and best in the AFC North. Now that Pittsburgh has slapped the franchise tag on Bell, they are well set up for more continued success in their division.

2016-17 prediction: 12-4 (1st)

Baltimore Ravens

2016-17 record: 8-8 (2nd)

Key additions: Jeremy Maclin, Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley, Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson

Key losses: Ricky Wagner, Lardarius Webb, Elvis Dumervil, Kamar Aiken, Matt Elam

Going .500 isn’t necessarily something to brag about when you have the talent that Baltimore has. Now, as a New England fan I might be bias, but the Ravens’ 8-8 record should be cause for concern for John Harbaugh’s squad. Joe Flacco threw for 4,317 yards with 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Flacco’s 4,317 passing yards was good enough to put him at 7th in the league for most passing yards in the season, but the 20 touchdowns to 15 interceptions isn’t necessarily the best ratio either. Who knows when he’ll be back from his back injury, so Ryan Mallet might have to start the season under center.

Team MVP: Jeremy Maclin

Baltimore’s biggest transaction could and should turn out to be their MVP of the season, signing wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to a two year contract. Maclin has had two previous 1,000+ yard seasons with both the Eagles and Chiefs in 2014 and 2015, and could be a lethal target for Flacco’s arm this upcoming season.

2016-17 prediction: 9-7 (2nd)

Cincinnati Bengals

2016-17 record: 6-9-1 (3rd)

Key additions: John Ross, Jordan Willis, Joe Mixon, Kevin Minter

Key losses: Rey Maualuga, Rex Burkhead, Karlos Dansby, Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler, Eric Winston, Domata Peko, Margus Hunt

The Bengals’ 6-9-1 record should feel as underwhelming as it looks. The combination of Andy Dalton and AJ Green looked to be something special two seasons ago, but like a single flower in a dried out field it appears that it’ll only bloom once. Last season Green fell short of 1000 receiving yards for the first time in his career, and Dalton threw for only 18 touchdowns with 8 interceptions, his worst season to date.

Cincinnati as a whole doesn’t have a ton of depth at most of their positions, which would lead me to believe that they might not improve at all, if not get worse in this upcoming season. No major acquisitions would leave the leadership role to remain with Andy Dalton. Dalton needs to find a way to inspire his team before things start to crumble right beneath them and their few star players look to bring their talents elsewhere.

2016-17 prediction: 7-9 (3rd)

Cleveland Browns:

2016-17 record: 1-15 (4th)

Key additions: JC Tretter, Kevin Zeitler, Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, David Njoku, Kenny Britt

Key losses: Robert Griffin III, Andrew Hawkins, Josh McCown, Tramon Williams, Terrelle Pryor, Stephen Paea, Jordan Poyer

The new lovable losers? Congratulations Chicago Cubs…you’re off the hook? Where oh where to begin with the Browns of Cleveland. The diminutive alterations they made to their uniforms back in 2015 might be the biggest change we’ll see in the Browns organization for a few years, aside from the 16 different quarterbacks that have passed through since 1999. Their highest paid player heading into their 2017 campaign is quarterback Brock Osweiler, and he’s not even on the roster anymore, owing him $16,000,000 after his release.

Team MVP: The fans

The real MVP of Cleveland is their few but true loyal fan base. There was a point last season where it had snowed, and anyone who came to the stadium and helped shovel was given a ticket. Even then, there were a few fans who had bought tickets to show their support regardless. Those are the real MVP’s. It’s teams like this that lead any fan of a team in the NFC to believe that the AFC is a joke of a conference, and that any AFC team (aside from the Patriots) would get crushed in the NFC. So what exactly is in store for the 2017 Cleveland Browns? Who’s to say? And honestly… who’s really wondering?

2016-17 prediction: 3-13 (4th)

All in all, not much change is expected in the AFC North. The Steelers will likely continue to reign over the division as long as they stick to what they’re good at. The Ravens, if they buy into Harbaugh’s system, have the potential to knock on the door of an AFC North championship. The Bengals either need a major turnaround season, or some front office changes might be in order. And the Browns… well… I don’t think I really need to repeat myself there.

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