WINNER: PITTSBURGH STEELERS (12-4)
Those who may be hoping for the demise of the Steelers in the AFC North, are going to have to keep waiting.
There are some who believe this is Cleveland’s year to surpass Pittsburgh. Others are bullish on Baltimore. Perhaps these people don’t truly understand the importance of being a good teammate while playing team sports. The Steelers have done away with the major distraction that is WR Antonio Brown. Meanwhile, the Browns acquired a distraction of their own, in WR Odell Beckham Jr.. All the stats and spectacular TD’s don’t matter if you make the team’s success all about you.
Instead of worrying about what tomorrow’s headlines will read in the world of AB, this year the Steelers get to focus on the emerging group of young talented receivers they do have. Second-year player out of Oklahoma State, WR James Washington has been impressing all Preseason. Via the Draft they picked up the speedy and promising WR Diontae Johnson (Toledo). Pittsburgh also brought in the most important piece in moving on without AB. WR Donte Moncrief, is incredibly consistent and the type of leader and teammate the young WR room needs. His health will be crucial to the team’s success. Of course, we can’t forget the talented WR Juju Smith-Schuster, who rounds out a very impressive WR unit for the Steelers in 2019-20. AB who?
Most importantly, the O-Line is extremely solid. Big Ben should have plenty of time getting the ball out to one of his many options in the pass game. The strong front will also be a big help to RB James Connor, and rookie RB Benny Snell (Kentucky), which makes the loss of RB Le’Veon Bell still more than bearable. Another distraction gone in a place with so much winning pedigree. On the other side of the ball, The D-Line is one of the strongest in the game, and having rookie LB Devin Bush (Michigan), lined up behind them will certainly bolster a nasty Defense. If I could point to a couple weak spots that may trip them up in the Playoffs, it would be the Secondary, and the atrocious kicking game. They will need to improve in those areas if they expect to beat New England this year.
Things are still strong in the Steel City, and they will easily win this year’s AFC North.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (9-7)
The Ravens are my 2nd projected Wild Card team for the AFC (Chiefs are the other).
Everything out of Baltimore’s training camp has indicated that QB Lamar Jackson is ready to make a big improvement in year two. While I’m not completely sold on his decision making skills yet, I like the direction head coach John Harbaugh is taking the team. If Jackson really has made a “180” this offseason, this team could be dangerous. It will be important to keep a close eye on Jackson’s game in the early going.
Where the Ravens are strongest is in the trenches. They’ve made sure things are solid upfront, the foundation of any good football team. This is the biggest reason Baltimore will be in games all season, and they’ve set this young squad up for success. Although, they are technically skating on thin ice a bit when it comes to the depth of talent there is on both Lines. They can’t exactly afford any season-ending injuries to anyone important.
A great coaching staff, and kicking game add to the potential Baltimore success. This team will be a challenge for opponents to prepare for all year, and should be exciting to watch come Playoff time. Where they lack talent is the Linebacker corps, and at Wide Receiver/Tight End. The additions of Draft picks WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (Oklahoma), and WR Miles Boykin (Notre Dame), will eventually make a difference, I’m just not sure it’s this year. When WR Willie Snead is at the top of your depth chart, you know you’re in store for some growing pains. However, the only thing you can fault this team for is youth. The future is certainly bright.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (6-10)
GM John Dorsey may have helped turn around the Chiefs, but what he is doing in Cleveland is a bunch of smoke-and-mirrors. Bringing in WR Odell Beckham Jr. is only asking for a 3-ring circus. Another extremely talented primadonna WR who hasn’t grasped the concept of being a good teammate. In exchange for Beckham, Dorsey sent the Giants, S Jabril Peppers, and OL Kevin Zeitler. Both very valuable pieces to their new team. It doesn’t matter that Beckham grew up with WR, Jarvis Landry. He’s still never happy if he didn’t have a big day.
To make things worse, QB Baker Mayfield likes to make his own noise and create plenty of attention for himself. The dude is dripping in swag, and seems like a guy who would be a blast to be around. But, elite NFL QB’s must eat, sleep, and breathe football. Mayfield has too many interests outside of football, and is easily agitated by outside opinions. There’s nothing wrong with having a great zest for life, but if I was a Browns fan, I’d want my QB completely focused on the task at hand. Mayfield is the perfect example of when confidence doesn’t always equal success. They can talk all the trash they want about how star-studded thier team is. However, Cleveland’s front office has done nothing but put together a very combustible bunch. They have to be the early favorites for next year’s HBO Hard Knocks.
Part of the reason this much-hyped team is projected to finish 6-10, is the very difficult schedule ahead of them. With the Ravens, Rams, Seahawks, and Patriots on deck early, the Browns will stumble out to a 1-6 record. This will make head coach Freddy Kitchens a decent bet to be fired first (Matt Patricia of the Lions the other). GM John Dorsey will have to point the blame somewhere. Other than the tough schedule, the Browns are also rather average in the areas that don’t receive much media coverage. The O-Line, D-Line, and kicking game all have a decent amount of room for improvement. It’s these three vital components that will be the undoing of the 2019-20 Cleveland Browns.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-11)
Even with star WR A.J. Green expected to return at some point, the Bengals season doesn’t look to be very promising.
While I like the hire so far of head coach Zac Taylor, the team will need to eventually find a new Quarterback. Veteran QB Andy Dalton is still ranked near the bottom of NFL QB’s, and although rookie QB Ryan Finley (NC State) has looked good in the Preseason, he projects to have a low-ceiling talent wise. I don’t believe Cincinnati has a franchise QB on board yet.
Weak QB play will also be accompanied by a sub-par O-Line, and an even worse D-Line. Two areas no team wants to struggle in. Unlike the Ravens and Steelers, the Bengals have issues upfront. The Cincinnati kicking game will also need to improve going forward for “Who Dat” nation to have success.
It’s not very complicated in Cincy. The issues are QB, the health of WR A.J. Green, O-Line, D-Line, and kicking game. At least the problems facing this team are relatively obvious. Going forward, they will most importantly need to find a legit QB.
Next Division to be featured: AFC East