2017 AFC North Preview

1. Pittsburgh Steelers– When guys are healthy, this is a top four team in all of football. I know Ben is getting up there in age, but he’s still getting the job done. Last season was truly the first time the “three b’s” were healthy and that’s Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and they didn’t miss a beat. If their offense was good last year, just imagine what it could possibly be with Martavis Bryant who returns after being suspended for a year for failing a drug test. With him in the mix, you have a guy that will take a ton of pressure off Antonio Brown and see many single man to man coverage’s. When I look at their defense, I see a unit that is still one of the best in the business. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler has handled his business after replacing legendary coach Dick LeBeau. The front seven once again will be the strength of the defense while the secondary will look to improve and improve big time after being eaten alive by the Patriots in the AFC Championship in January. Can they get back to the top of the AFC or has that championship window closed?

2. Cincinnati Bengals– After making the playoffs each year since Andy Dalton was drafted, that streak came to an end in 2016. They were extremely inconsistent coming out of the gate to start the season and injuries decimated this team all around. A.J. Green missed the rest of the season after tearing his hamstring. The Bengals were also without a solid second receiver to complement Green. After losing both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to other teams the last off-season, we saw how important those two really were to this offense. This Spring, they drafted John Ross, which I thought was the best move in the entire draft. He’s a speedster with great instincts to take the top off the zone. As a defense, they are still one of the best overall units in the NFL as they allowed 19 points a game in 2016. The Bengals finished with a record of 6-9-1 last year and they’ll definitely look to bounce back and get back to the playoffs. Hopefully, the goal is to win a playoff game. They haven’t won a playoff game in 27 years.

3. Baltimore Ravens– This is just a middle of the pack type of football team and I say that because nothing they do really stands out to me anymore like it once did. Let’s look at it like this: Since they won that Super Bowl in 2013, they have only made the playoffs once within a span of four years. When I view their offense, they’ve avoided running the football and that’s what was helping them win football games was their ability to control the clock. Steve Smith is now retired and recently, the Ravens signed Jeremy Maclin to a two-year deal to be their number one receiver and I like this move a lot. As a defense, they are still one of the best. They get after the quarterback and they shut down the run better than any other team in the league. The secondary has been an issue as of late, but hopefully, Marlon Humphrey, the rookie from Alabama can help them early on. John Harbaugh enters the season on the hot seat in Baltimore.

4. Cleveland Browns– They won a single game in 2016 under first-year head coach Hue Jackson. Everything that can go wrong for a football team simply did go wrong for the Cleveland Browns. Their draft, however, was one of the best I saw this year. With the first pick, they selected Myles Garrett and later on in the first round, they picked Michigan star Jabrill Peppers. You have the anchor of your front seven and a guy that’s more than capable of being a force in the secondary. They also drafted tight end David Njoku from the U. Later in the draft, they selected DeShone Kizer and this couldn’t be any more perfect of a move because Hue Jackson is known to help develop quarterbacks. The future could be very bright in Cleveland.

2017 Predictions

1. Steelers (12-4)
2. Bengals (9-7)
3. Ravens (6-10)
4. Browns (5-11)

The Pittsburgh Steelers will once again claim the AFC North division title and get back to the playoffs to make another run at a Super Bowl. With Martavis Bryant back on the field, I see the Steelers spreading the football around more and stretching the field and making all the difference. For the Steelers to win when it matters the most, Le’Veon Bell has to be on the field and stay healthy. He’s the difference maker. As far as the defense is concerned, the secondary will have to hold its own, especially if the front seven is taking care of business.