In the AFC North, there is a good combination of Veteran leaders and youthful potential. The Pittsburgh Steelers are led by Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger, two men who have lifted this rich franchise to the top of the mountain twice. The Cincinnati Bengals are a proud franchise that has fallen on hard times yet still harbor championship aspirations. The Cleveland Browns, a perennial laughing stock since the turn of the century believes they have finally found a leader at quarterback and an innovative young coach to take the reins. Finally, the Baltimore Ravens, are a mix of young and old, fresh faces and experience, and may have what it takes to raise the Lombardi Trophy. Will any of this come to fruition?
The Cincinnati Bengals have had the dynamic duo of Andy Dalton and AJ Green carrying the flag for the last several seasons. While the pair has been admirable, the Bengals have struggled to gain serious traction in the regular season or the playoffs. Much of that appears to have been due to the ownership’s loyalty to recently released Head Coach Marvin Lewis who underachieved for most of the past 16 years. They have brought in new coach Zac Taylor and currently have the youngest team in the NFL. It may also be time to move on from An aging Dalton and Green. The Elldee Sports Formula is not kind to Cincinnati and projects only two wins this season.
One of the hottest teams in the offseason was the Cleveland Browns. They have a young stud quarterback in Baker Mayfield, a workhorse running back in Nick Chubb, and added depth to an impressive receiving corps by picking up Odell Beckham Jr.. The defense has star power names but will need to build some chemistry and maybe a new coach to bring a new mentality. The talent is there yet the team finished last year in 30th for overall defense. New Coach Freddie Kitchens has come to breath life into Cleveland and was one of the most sought after names this offseason. Talent alone can only take you so far and the schedule doesn’t do the Browns many favors, either. The Cleveland Browns will finish the year 7-9, good enough for a 3rd place finish in the division.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most storied franchises in the NFL. “Big Ben” Roethlisberger is an all-time great and will eventually end up in the NFL Hall of Fame. The offense and defense both finished inside of the top 6 in the league last season. Inevitably, this team is going to suffer, though, as the offense has lost their top RB and top WR in back to back seasons. The defense has done a solid job of reloading and replacing old players with fresh faces. Even though the defense expects to be top notch, they won’t be good enough to carry the offense this year. Compound that with the rising expectations of the Browns and Baltimore Ravens means that the Steelers will finish 2nd in the North with a 10-6 record, scraping out a #6 seed in the playoffs.
The AFC North Division Championship will run through Baltimore. The Ravens have a proven coach in John Harbaugh. He has shown the confidence to adjust his offense to a run first, run second, pass third type of system with electric playmaker Lamar Jackson at the helm. Mark Ingram was brought in at running back which gives this team a one-two Heisman punch in the backfield. The defense led the league last year in total yards per game and Harbaugh has shown the ability to consistently produce a top defensive squad. In fact, this may be Harbaugh’s most talented team and the Elldee Sports Formula is calling for a 15-1 record to go with a #1 Overall seed in the playoffs.
The AFC North should be an exciting race this year with the Baltimore Ravens finishing at the top. The Pittsburgh Steelers will finish 2nd and earn a wildcard spot. The continuity of the coaches on these two is what will ultimately push them over the top. Cleveland has a lot to be hopeful for but will fall short of the playoffs for one more season. By next year, they may be one of the top teams in the league, though. Lastly, the Cincinnati Bengals will struggle. A new coach (also first time NFL Head Coach) and the NFL’s youngest team will prove too much to overcome. Especially when facing this loaded division. Until next time, good luck!