Kickoff is only hours away, and now we’re bringing the last division preview!
The AFC North is one of, if not the most, competitive divisions in the league with no less than two teams per year making playoffs every year since 2010.
While the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers usually fight for the division crown, Cleveland is making strides towards joining the trio as a top AFC contender.
Let’s break it all down.
2015 Record: 5-11 (third in North)
Key additions: S Eric Weddle, TE Ben Watson, WR Mike Wallace, OT Ronnie Stanley,
Key losses: OT Kelechi Osemele, LB Daryl Smith, DT Chris Canty, S Will Hill, QB Matt Schaub
W2W4: The Ravens were hit by the injury bug in 2015 – hard. They lost Joe Flacco, Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs; but all three are back and ready to take the division by storm. The addition of Stanley will help beef up the outside of the o-line that’s been lacking since Michael Oher left, and the addition of Wallace to spread the field should work out nicely for Flacco. As long as John Harbaugh is the coach, this team is never down and out, so expect them to bounce back and finish the season 10-6.
2015 Record: 12-4 (first in North)
Key additions: S Taylor Mays, WR Tyler Boyd, WR Cody Core
Key losses: WR Mohamed Sanu, WR Marvin Jones, LB Emmanuel Lemur, RT Andre Smith
W2W4: The Bengals were one of the better overall teams in 2015, and could very well have made a deep playoff run had Andy Dalton not gotten hurt and the team didn’t collapse in the Wild Card round against the Steelers. Dalton will be back this time, and although he’s without Sanu and Jones, the team drafted Boyd and Core to hopefully step up and compliment A.J. Green. The defense is pretty much still intact from last year, so expect this unit to carry the team for most of the season. I think the Bengals repeat as division champions with an 11-5 record.
2015 Record: 3-13 (last in North)
Key additions: QB Robert Griffin III, S Rahim Moore, LB Demario Davis, OT Alvin Bailey, WR Corey Coleman, DE Carl Nassib
Key losses: WR Travis Benjamin, RT Mitchell Schwartz, C Alex Mack, CB/S Tashaun Gipson, DT Randy Starks, LB Karlos Dansby, WR Dwayne Bowe
W2W4: Five Pro Bowl calibur starters were lost in Free Agency, and the Browns didn’t do much to replace through the free agent market. Instead, Hue Jackson and company wanted to go younger, loading themselves up with 14 draft picks this year. The addition of Robert Griffin III is welcomed after he was ousted in Washington, and Jackson has a proven track record with quarterbacks such as Andy Dalton. He also led a hopeless Oakland Raiders squad to an 8-8 record in 2011 before being one-and-done as a head coach, so hopefully we’ll get to see more of what Jackson is capable of leading a team. Don’t expect this team to do well this year, maybe racking up only 5 wins, but 2017 could be a different story, provided management is patient with Jackson.
2015 Record: 10-6 (second in North)
Key additions: TE Ladarius Green, OT Ryan Harris, CB Artie Burns, CB Sean Davis
Key losses: OT Kelvin Beachum, NT Steve McClendon, TE Heath Miller (retired), CB Antwon Blake
W2W4: Defense was what Pittsburgh lived and died by, but it recently has become the team’s Achilles heel since the departure of Dick LeBeau. I expect the offense to carry the team again this year, but it will be without Martavis Bryant, who is serving a one year suspension, and without Le’Veon Bell for the first three weeks. With Calvin Johnson retired, it’s fair to say Antonio Brown is now the best WR in the game, as he proved last year he can catch the ball and go with whoever is throwing it to him. Ben Roethlisberger has only played a full 16 game schedule a hand full of times, so it will depend on him and his health. This team has never had a losing record since Roethlisberger took over as QB in 2004, or since Mike Tomlin took the helm as head coach in 2007, and I don’t forsee it happening this year. I expect them to finish 10-6 again and probably earn a wild card berth.