Jimmy Mc Ginty looks at the AFC North as part of his NFL season previews and is very much against the Steelers and the Browns in this division.
The AFC North was a tremendous contest in 2014.
The Steelers came out on top with 11 wins, 1 ahead of both the Ravens and Bengals. All 3 made the playoffs. Even the division’s ‘whipping boys’ the Browns won 7 games.
The Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco had his best ever season in 2014, throwing for almost 4,000 yds. The Ravens used their first two draft picks this season to give Flacco more options. The acquired what looks a decent WR in Breshad Perriman (may miss the first game or two through injury) and a talented TE in Maxx Williams. Ok Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels have left, but the Ravens should still move the chains with efficiency. Daniels was often injured and Smith actually disappointed (fantasy owner here) for a lot of last year. Interestingly Steve Smith has looked very sharp this preseason. The strong Marshal Yonda led offensive line rivals any in the league and will give Flacco plenty of time to find his targets (new and old, literally).
Haloti Ngata is no longer a part of the defence and he’ll be missed, but probably more importantly for the Ravens D is the fact Jimmy Smith is due to return from injury. The former first round pick cornerback missed half of last year through injury. Jacoby Jones is now a San Diego player, a great returner, he was important to the Ravens.
Despite the few personnel changes I like the Ravens this year, but the AFC North is tough and their crossover games against the AFC West and NFC West leads to some tough games. Broncos, Cardinals and Dolphins on the road will be big challenges. Visits of Seahawks and Chargers won’t be soft either. Prediction 10-6. If Perriman is the real deal they could go far.
The Ravens' great rivals Pittsburgh Steelers topped the division last season, but then lost to the Ravens in the playoffs. The Steelers return with one of the best QBs (Big Ben Roethlisberger) in the league, a top WR (Antonio Brown) and a top RB (Le’Veon Bell). They have what’s required to make the playoffs, but unfortunately Bell is suspended for the first 2 games and 2nd choice WR Martavis Bryant misses the first 4 games, also through suspension. Not only that, they also have a new look defence. Crowd favourite Troy Polamalu retired along with Ike Taylor and Jason Worilds. Brett Kiesel was also let go. The new faces may take some time to bed in and along with the suspensions the Steelers may quite easily get off to a slow start. This could leave them in trouble as if in need of a strong finish they have a schedule that from Week 12 onwards which shows Seahawks (road), Colts, Bengals (road), Broncos, Ravens (road). That’s as tough as it gets really.
The early suspensions, tricky schedule and new look defence means the Steelers will struggle to match last year’s 11-5 record. Prediction 8-8
The Cincinnati Bengals won 10 games last year, but then followed it up with their annual no show in the playoffs. QB Andy Dalton has a fine record of getting to the playoffs, but that’s as far as he goes.
They should be a little stronger this year. AJ Green missed a few games last term. He’s one of the top WRs in the league and if he stays fit for all 16 games the Bengals will obviously be better as a result. Marvin Jones missed all of last season through injury and he’s back in training as well to line up opposite Green. Also back is tight-end Tyler Eifert. He played only one game last season, but has the potential to be a top TE in the league. Dalton will have options in front of him, but lining up behind him is a very smart running back in Jeremy Hill. Hill didn’t take over as starting running back until the second half of the season, but still rushed for over 1,100yds. He’ll look to eclipse that number this year in a heavy running offense.
After the Seahawks visit Cincinnati in week 5 the Bengals embark on a decent schedule including Bills, Rams, Texans, Browns x2 and 49ers. The Bengals will finish ahead of the Steelers and challenge the Ravens (they clash in wk17) for the AFC North.
With the Bengals and Ravens looking strong, but hard to separate, back the Steelers not to make the playoffs. The Chargers and Dolphins will feature as improved teams in later previews, which also makes the Steelers AFC playoff push more difficult.
Just like last season the Cleveland Browns are in a division with 3 teams far stronger than them. In addition to their 6 divisional games they face San Diego, Seattle, Kansas and St. Louis on the road. The Broncos and Cardinals will fancy winning in Cleveland also. Their schedule suggests a 4 win season at best.
Another reason for that likely poor season – Josh McCown is a garbage QB. Their top WR Dwayne Bowe didn’t score a single TD last season with Alex Smith throwing to him in Kansas and McCown is no better. On top of all that one of the Browns strongest players from last season, tight-end Jordan Cameron, is now in Miami. They’ll score very little through the air this year.
To be positive the Browns have a strong running game. It won’t be much good when their trailing every game though. A much different story on defence where they are very strong, but it won’t win games for them. A rancid 3-13 season awaits. Back Cleveland under 6.5 games.
The Browns were the 6th lowest scoring team last year. Less than 16pts per game was their average. However over the last 7 games they averaged less than 13pts per game. Those numbers over a full season would have had them rock bottom in the scoring stakes, by a long way.
Other weak teams last year- I have the Titans and Bucs improving significantly, Raiders and Jags a little also. Other likely weak teams this season like Chicago and San Fran have their biggest issues on defence rather than offense. Back the Browns to be the lowest scoring NFL team in 2015.
AFC North summary
Ravens and Bengals will decide it in week 17, the Steelers won’t get over their bad start whilst the Browns will have a very early pick in the 2016 draft.
3 points win Steelers not to make the playoffs at 1/1 with Paddy Power
2 points win Cleveland Browns under 6.5 games at 8/11 with Betway
1 point win Browns lowest scoring teams at 9/1 with Ladbrokes