No Sleep Till Football

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What we now see as the AFC North began in 2002 and it’s amazing the consistency we’ve seen from this division during that time. In the 15 years that the AFC North as we know it began, the Steelers have averaged 10 wins, the Ravens 9 wins and the Bengals 8 wins. In those 15 years the Steelers have won 7 division titles while the Ravens and Bengals have each won 4. Pittsburgh has been to 3 Super Bowls and won 2 of them. Baltimore has been to one Super Bowl and beat the 49ers to give the Ravens their only Super Bowl championship. Cincinnati hasn’t fared as well as the Bengals have been “1 AND DONE” on the 7 occasions they’ve made the playoffs.

That is a tremendous amount of consistency from the top 3 teams in the division, but the AFC North looks to be a division in flux at the moment that could be on the precipice of tremendous change. Ben Roethlisberger contemplated retirement this offseason and when Big Ben finally hangs the cleats up, the entire outlook of the Steelers franchise would change. Yes the Steelers spent a 4th round draft pick on Josh Dobbs in this past year’s NFL Draft, but I don’t think anyone sees Dobbs or Landry Jones as the type of QB that will allow the Steelers to compete for a possible 7th Lombardi Trophy. In Baltimore, Joe Flacco is having back issues and is certainly on the downside of his career. Can he stay healthy for a full season again? It’s certainly a good question and given his enormous contract, his days in Baltimore could be numbered leaving the Ravens with no QB to speak of. In Cincinnati, HC Marvin Lewis enters the season firmly on the hot seat and if the Bengals can’t bounce back from last year’s 6-9-1 injury plagued season, a coaching change could happen which would be a complete culture shock in Cincinnati given that Lewis has been the head coach for now 14 seasons!

That is a lot of upheaval in a potentially short amount of time. Maybe the most interesting question will be whether or not Cleveland will be able to seize the opportunity of turmoil and turn their wretched franchise into winners once the Big 3 teams of the North begin to transition? As it stands now, I think the North is a lot like the East in that it’s fairly top heavy with a really bad 4th team. The only difference I think is that Cincinnati is a greater threat to Pittsburgh than either Miami or Buffalo is to New England. The Bengals have a real opportunity to upset the North should health elude the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Then again, when you look at the past 15 years of the AFC North, would it really be an upset if the Bengals won another division title? The AFC North should provide for some compelling football all season long and don’t be surprised if somehow the Cleveland Browns stealing a couple of division games which ultimately decides who wins the division.

Note: Teams are listed in the order I think they’ll finish for the 2017 NFL season.

Computer Hope This is a team about as good as you can get outside of New England. From a “complete” standpoint the Steelers are the challengers to the Patriots in the AFC. Offensively this team can’t be stopped except internally. We saw the Steelers struggle in the AFC Championship game when Le’Veon Bell went down but Martavis Bryant returns and the Steelers picked up JuJu Smith in the draft so it’ll help. Defensively the Steelers got TJ Watt to help their edge rush which was an outstanding pick! Pittsburgh has a lot of young players on defense that should continue to make a good defense great. Possible Super Bowl team.
Computer Hope This could be a sneaky good team. Injuries hampered the Bengals last year on offense but Cincy picked up WR John Ross and RB Joe Mixon in the draft. Mixon has a chance to be one of the top RBs in the league immediately so he’s a huge upgrade. If Tyler Eifert & AJ Green stay healthy this is a dangerous offense. The O-Line seems like a mess so they’ll have to gel quickly for the offense to click. Cincy isn’t great defensively. They need some players to step up alongside Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Dre Kirkpatrick. It’s worth noting the Bengals were 1-5-1 in close games last so they are due for regression. Lots of upside here.
Computer Hope The Ravens are getting some love in the media about being a potential darkhorse playoff team but I don’t see it. Joe Flacco wasn’t very good last season and back problems never really go away. The Ravens don’t have anyone to run the ball either & losing OT Ricky Wagner was a blow weakening an O-Line that is at best average. How are they going to score? Defensively, the departing DT Tim Jurnigan is a huge loss. The Ravens have excellent safeties in Eric Weddle & Tony Jefferson but the rest is sort of messy which is why Baltimore used their first 4 picks in ’17 draft on defensive players. Baltimore should miss the playoffs.
Computer Hope The Browns won’t be as bad as you think. The O-Line is one of the best O-Lines in football. Corey Coleman is a solid weapon on the outside and 1st Rd. pick TE David Njoku is a BEAST. Isaiah Crowell can make things happen at times too. The QB situation is a mess to be sure but if Cleveland avoids turnovers, they’ll be able to move the football. Defensively you have to loves the Myles Garrett pick to go with Emmanuel Ogbah. DT Danny Shelton was great last year. Jamie Collins & Christian Kirksey are solid LBs and I think Jabril Peppers can step into that hybrid WIL/S spot. I think the Browns will be competitive in 2017.

August 11, 2017 - Posted by | AFC North, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers, Predictions, Preseason, Previews

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