20 September 2020

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AFC North Preview

The AFC North will have one of the most interesting divisions when it comes to quarterbacks on the team. For the Ravens they will have MVP Lamar Jackson, for the Bengals they will have rookie Joe Burrow, On the Browns they have Mayfield and on the Stellers they have Roethlisberger who has been in the division the longest.

It will be interesting to see how this division pans out as the most obvious front runner to win is Baltimore but there are some teams that can make a push to win it. It is also the only division where you can turn on a game and see a defensive player rip off a quarterback’s helmet and use it to swing at them. With that being said here is a preview of the NFC North and a prediction on who will win the division.

Cleveland Browns 

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Dec 30, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Breshad Perriman (19) celebrates with wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) and quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after catching a touchdown in the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Browns had to be one of the biggest disappointments in the 2019 season as they appeared to have a top tier team with the wideout duo of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. The Browns look to rebound from their 7-9 season as they added some solid pieces on offense to make it more hyped with the potential of the team. The Browns made an early splash in free agency as they went out and signed tight end Austin Hooper to a 4-year $44 million contract and making him one of the highest-paid tight ends in the league. Cleveland brings in Hooper who can be a starter as their current tight end David Njoku missed most of last season with a broken wrist. The biggest addition and one that will make an instant impact is their first-round pick offensive tackle, Mekhi Becton. Becton will make an instant impact in the blocking game as well on the run at 6’7” 364lbs he was easily the biggest and has surprising athleticism.

Mayfield will have his second go-around with what could be a top duo receiver in Beckham and Landry after his first one did not live up to the hype. Beckham will hopefully return healthy as throughout last season he was dealing with a sports hernia which resulted in one of the worst seasons he had. Despite it being one of the worst seasons he had Beckham still put up an impressive 1,035 receiving yards on 74 receptions and 4 touchdowns. On the opposite side of Beckham was Landry who had one of the best seasons in his career as he caught 83 passes for a career-high 1,174 and 6 touchdowns. In the backfield, Cleveland had Nick Chubb who had an outstanding year rushing for 1,494 yards which were good for second-most in the league and 8 touchdowns which were third-most in the league.

The Browns boosted up their offensive line this off-season so it will be interesting to see how good Chubb will do with a better o-line blocking for him. On defense, the Browns did lose a few starters in linebacker Christian Kirksey, linebacker Joe Schobert, and safety Damarious Randall. The Browns will hopefully get their best player on defense in Myles Garret as he was suspended all of last year after swinging a helmet at a quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens 

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – JANUARY 26: The Baltimore Ravens pose during introductions before the 2020 NFL/GETTY IMAGES

The Browns head into the 2020 season as favorites to win the Superbowl after the elite performance Lamar Jackson and his offense displayed last season. The last time there was a player like Jackson was when Michael Vick was playing with the Falcons and we never thought we would see a player like Vick just because of how much of a dual-threat he was. Jackson broke Vick’s rushing yard record for a quarterback in a season as he rushed for 1,206 yards and an impressive 7 touchdowns.

Baltimore had little to do in the off-season as they feel confident in the team they have built as they only made a few additions that were mostly on defense. Baltimore was able to snatch up defensive end Calais Campbell as they did for him with the Jaguars for what can be seen as a bag of chips (5th round pick). Campbell may have been one of the best steals in this off-season as they now help their defensive line that needed the most help which needed a player like Campbell.

The Ravens were able to re-sign cornerback Jimmy Smith who has been with the team since 2011 they also assigned linebacker Matt Judon the franchise tag who has been a solid piece on the team. Baltimore was able to pick up one of the best linebackers in the draft as they picked up Patrick Queen with the 28th overall pick and added more star power to the offense by selecting running back J.K. Dobbins in the second round. The Ravens will now have an explosive backfield of Dobbins who ran for over 2,000 yards in his final year at Ohio State and Mark Ingram who ran for over 1,000 yards along with a total of 10 touchdowns and can mentor the rookie. Baltimore lost wide receiver Seth Roberts in free agency but they still have the electrifying Hollywood Brown who is coming off his rookie season where he caught 46 receptions for 584 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns.

Other notable players Baltimore lost were inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, tight end Hayden Hurst who was traded to the Falcons for some extra picks in the draft, and safety Tony Jefferson who was released after three seasons. 

Cincinnati Bengals

Dec 29, 2019; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) reacts with Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (11) after a play against the Cleveland Browns during the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Bengal fans had to watch Cincinnati lose almost every game of the season and some blowouts in the mix but that all paid off as they were granted the first overall pick. Of course, Cincinnati took the best player in the draft in Heisman winner quarterback Joe Burrow who had one of the craziest seasons in college football history. Another addition to the team was wide receiver Tee Higgins as the Bengals took him in the second round who was a solid pick since Burrow will need some weapons to throw deep to. Expect for the Bengals to perform better than what they did last season as they spent the most money in free agency than any other off-season in recent years. Although the Bengals were not that bad of a team last season as they lost seven games by one touchdown but lost the game due to a silly mistake. Cincinnati made another franchise-changing move as they released quarterback Andy Dalton after being a starter for the last nine years.

As soon as Burrow was drafted it became obvious that Dalton would likely get the boot out of Cincinnati but there was some speculation that Dalton would play as a mentor for Burrow. Burrow is coming off a season where he led the NCAA in passing completion with a 76.3% completion rate and yards thrown with 5,671 yards. Burrow also set an NCAA record by throwing 60 touchdowns for the season breaking the 13-year old record of 58 touchdowns thrown. Burrow will have some solid weapons as A.J Green will hopefully be ready to start the season as he missed all of 2019 with a torn ligament in his ankle. John Ross will also be another target Burrow will favor him as he has some speed to him but missed half of the season with a shoulder injury. Ross has yet to play a full season as he has been injured each of the last three years he’s been with the team and with the Bengals declining his fifth-year option it may have given him some motivation to play in his A-game. The Bengals added some players to their defense but could still look to add some more help with their defense being one of the worst defenses in 2019. One big release the Bengals did was releasing cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick who was in the team for the past nine years and has played a role in the secondary for some years. If the Bengals receiving core can stay healthy and their defense performs at a solid level they could possibly make the wildcard thanks to the new playoff format.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers were one of the most underrated teams last season as they lost their starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger early in the season. Despite that Pittsburgh was able to finish 8-8 and just missed a spot at the wild card but if the extra playoff spot was to be added last year they would have been in the playoffs. The Steelers had no first-round pick this year as they traded it away to Miami for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick which was well worth it as their whole defense switched when he came in. The Steelers comeback was due to their defense stepping up and becoming one of the best towards the end of the season as they were led by Fitzpatrick who was having the best season of his career. The Steelers had a second-round pick that they used to pick up wideout Chase Claypool who has drawn some resemblance to JuJu Smith-Schuster who is the best receiver on the Steelers roster.à

The Steelers didn’t have much of a splash in free agency but they did go out and get one of the top tight ends in Eric Ebron. Roethlisberger is entering his 17th year in the league and will hopefully return healthy after injuring his right elbow week two vs the Seahawks. Roethlisberger isn’t the only one who was out with an injury as running back James Conner and receiver Smith-Schuster missed some time as they dealt with their own injury. With all the additions from the draft, the Steelers can look like a playoff team but the most important thing will be that they must stay healthy to be a contender.

With how good the team did last season and how many of their starters were injured, imagine how good they will be when everyone is healthy and all starting. Smith-Schuster and Claypool can become a bright duo as they both are all-around solid receivers and with the addition of Ebron that just adds another option for Roethlisberger. Although there may be some concern if Roethlisberger could return from the elbow injury as it is on his throwing hand and he isn’t getting any younger.

Prediction

The Ravens will win the division with ease as they have no real competition although the Steelers could put up a fight but won’t be able to stop Baltimore’s defense which is one of a kind. The Steelers will have a chance at making the wild cad and will be a team that benefits from the new playoff format but won’t go far as Roethlisberger isn’t what he once used to be. The Bengals have a good chance but they are still young and Cincinnati didn’t do much to upgrade their offensive line. The Browns won’t be able to live up to their hype simply just because of Mayfield and his bad decision making as last year Beckham was targeted the lowest amount of times in his career. They can be seen just as another team with the star power but can’t get the job finished when needed but they could make a run for a wild card just not the division.

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