Complete AFC North Preview
Here is a look at what you can expect from the Steelers, Browns, Ravens and Bengals this season…
The Steelers have all the right pieces to pile up points and breeze through the regular season on their way to another AFC North title. They’re a serious Super Bowl contender, too, but they’ll have to clear all the necessary hurdles to get there first.
The organization has declined to make big changes the past two years amid fan discontent, maintaining that the team was one or two plays short of making the playoffs. However, the Ravens are 40-40 in the regular season since winning Super Bowl XLVII. Their roster hasn’t been good enough to compete with the top teams in the AFC, and the latest version is again lacking in elite difference makers. If QB Joe Flacco stops the regression and rediscovers an ability to connect on big plays with a new-look receiving corps, this team will compete for a playoff berth. If he doesn’t, the Ravens will remain mired in mediocrity, the Lamar Jackson era at quarterback will start sooner and other changes will occur.
The Bengals didn’t make many changes after a disappointing season, underscoring a sense of confidence that they have the right coach and right players to get the team back to where it expects to be. If a few close games break their way, the Bengals could easily turn 7-9 into 9-7 and put themselves back in the mix as a Wild Card contender.
The roster is better, even without future hall of famer Joe Thomas. GM John Dorsey needed to add experience, even if he didn’t add a bunch of blue-chip players. This will still be one of the league’s youngest teams, but it has improved at quarterback, wide receiver and in the secondary — all critical areas in a passing league. The Browns believe they have more offensive playmakers than they’ve had in years and will be able to run the ball once the new linemen and RB Nick Chubb develop some chemistry. The quarterback question still lingers — and likely will continue to with Baker Mayfield looming as the eventual starter.
The Browns probably aren’t a playoff team, and they might not even escape the AFC North basement. But they’ll win some games and hope to position themselves as a playoff team for 2019. Whether or not head coach Hue Jackson is still around then remains to be seen.