A division, once dominated by the clashes between the Steelers and Ravens, now belongs to the Bengals and their one-and-done status in the playoffs. Can Cincinnati finally get over that bump they have faced for three straight seasons? The Ravens are the most recent of the teams to see success but multiple on (and off) the field issues have plagued them since their Super Bowl run just two seasons ago. Pittsburgh is usually the model franchise around the league but health and questions about whether or not their defense needs to revamp will determine a lot for them. What about the Browns? Cleveland will always be the butt of jokes when it comes to the AFC North but with some new changes and a fresh head coach, can the Browns make big improvements? Interesting division to try and figure out.
Cincinnati Bengals: Another year for the Bengals and another year where the franchise will be solely judged on how well they do once they reach the playoffs. Barring a drastic injury to one of the big players, Cincinnati will once again end up around 10 or 11 wins and reach the postseason. The only difference this season is that the pressure has mounted in a big way now that quarterback Andy Dalton got his big extension. But can the young QB step his game up? Dalton has a big weapon (AJ Green) and a rising RB (Giovanni Bernard) to help continue his solid performance, but nothing will matter unless he improves his play when it matters most. That’s really what it’s going to come down to for the Bengals this season. Get through the regular season in the similar fashion of years past. I expect them to win the division but it will forgotten if they don’t win at least one playoff game.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers’ season will hinge on a few big factors. First of all, how will the defense adapt to the changes that have been made both this season and last season? Troy Polamalu can’t continue to be the deciding factor this far into his career. The next two factors go hand-in-hand but are separate. How well will the offensive line protect Ben Roethlisberger? Injuries always occur but more specifically, the offensive line of the Steelers seems to lose a man every single weekend. The next factor is who, aside from Antonio Brown and Big Ben, will step up on offense. The running backs (Bell and Blount) dealt with off the field issues not too long ago but seem to have moved past it. Here’s a nice tip for the Steelers: don’t start the season 0-4 if you plan on making the playoffs this season. Adapting to changes will determine how well above .500 this team finishes.
Baltimore Ravens: The term “Super Bowl hangover” was said over and over last season with the Ravens. But how accurate of a description was it for Baltimore? Well, the way they start this season is going to give everyone a look at what this team is about. The Ravens revolve around their big-money elite quarterback Joe Flacco, who has been wildly disappointing since signing his big contract. I really like the signing of Steve Smith and their “all in” approach with various other acquisitions. If the passing game can carry the offense under their new coordinator, then the stink coming off their running game won’t be as much of an issue. Once Ray Rice gets back from his suspension (an absurd length) then they continue to figure out what’s going on with the run game. Cautiously optimistic about this Ravens team and I feel that they can compete for the division title.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns are the Browns. Every season they seem to catch news for the wrong reasons and this year is no different. Their star receiver Josh Gordon is appealing his season-long suspension and that will hang over the team for pretty much the entire season. Another big moment came when Brian Hoyer was named the starting quarterback with none other Johnny “money dance” Manziel holding the clipboard right behind him. This isn’t the boldest of predictions but don’t worry, Johnny Football will play this season and will eventually be the starter before week 17 rolls around. Just wait until the Browns’ underrated defense isn’t able to bail them out of a below-.500 record and the fans start chanting Manziel’s name over and over. Growing pains for this team but, despite their record, Cleveland will be a solid team this season.View All Photos ›