By: Mitchell Petures
It’s that time of the year again. Time for rivalries renewed. Time for Super Bowl or bust seasons. Time for trash talking… The AFC North offers all of this and more.
The Bengals are looking for revenge against a strong Pittsburgh team who knocked them out of the playoffs last year. The Ravens hope to stay healthy this year and return to competing for a playoff spot. The Browns, on the other hand, are looking for player development and hoping Hue Jackson is the answer to their coaching woes.
Nevertheless, here are the AFC North predictions:
Pittsburgh Steelers: They may not have Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell may be suspended for the first four games, but make no mistake this offense will be electric. Antonio Brown will look to build upon his record setting 2015 season while DeAngelo Williams hopes to continue drinking from the fountain of youth. The defense is still a question mark, specifically in the secondary. But with three rookies looking to compete for playing time, the secondary will be improved. They were ranked 30th in pass defense last year, so nowhere to go but up. Overall, this team’s mindset is Super Bowl or bust. Big Ben is not getting younger, so he knows his window of opportunity is slowly shrinking.
Prediction: 11-5; lose in AFC Championship.
Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are another team with a Super Bowl or bust mindset. They blew up in the playoffs last year with Jeremy Hill fumbling late in the game followed by two personal foul penalties which led to an easy game winning field goal by the Steelers. The After losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in Free Agency, the Bengals signed Brandon LaFell and drafted Tyler Boyd. With Tyler Eifert still recovering from ankle surgery, AJ Green will look to dominate secondaries. The Bengals have a strong front-7, but losing key starters such as Reggie Nelson to free agency and Dre Kirkpatrick to injury will be devastating. The defense is in better condition compared to the Steelers, but the offense is well behind.
Prediction: 11-5 (lost tie-breaker to Steelers); lose in AFC Divisional Round.
Baltimore Ravens. Hopefully healthy, the Ravens are looking to come out strong this year after a disappointing 2015. Injuries to key players such as Joe Flacco and Steve Smith decimated an offense that was firing on all cylinders prior to the injuries. Although the Ravens do not have the best receivers or the best running backs, they have depth at both positions. Flacco spreads the ball out well and has a nice complement of running backs that include Justin Forsett, Javorius Allen, and Terrence West. On the defensive side, the Ravens struggled in the secondary and in the pass rush. An injury to defensive leader Terrell Suggs hurt the pass rush to the point where there was almost no pass rush. Even with the return of key players at important positions, this team will be hard-pressed in competing for the division crown. The Ravens are missing a playmaker on offense to elevate them to a top offense.
Prediction: 8-8; miss playoffs.
Cleveland Browns. Did you really expect anything else? The Browns will be competing for the first overall draft pick this year. The Browns drafted five receivers and will have Josh Gordon returning from suspension. Even so, this group is unproven, save one year from Gordon. Their quarterback, former ROY Robert Griffin III, will hope to return to his rookie-self and turn the ball over less. That will be hard with an offensive line that lost many key starters. Even worse than the offense may be the defense. Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert, both former top picks, hope to finally play up to their expectations after a disappointing year in 2015. The pass rush is almost nonexistant which allows teams to throw all day on this defense. The Browns’ staff is looking for player development this year. They will not be competing for a playoff spot, and almost everyone expects them to finish with one of the worst records in the league.
Prediction: 4-12; miss playoffs.
Agree? Disagree? Comment below what you think!