2019 AFC North Preview

1. Baltimore Ravens– They came out of nowhere to win this division in 2018. Joe Flacco went down with a hip injury in week nine and John Harbaugh put Lamar Jackson in. As the weeks went on, the Ravens continued to win and clinched the AFC North for the first time since 2012. The playoffs though were a different ballgame. They were punched in the mouth by the Los Angeles Chargers. I also questioned Harbaugh for continuing to keep Jackson in the game when he had an experienced veteran still on the sideline. Who knows what would’ve happened if coach had decided to put Flacco in.? In the offseason, they signed Mark Ingram to be their running back, drafted Marquise Brown from Oklahoma who gives them a true number one receiver, something they’ve struggled to have since Steve Smith. The defense will have a different look. The Ravens shockingly decided to part ways with Terrell Suggs. However, they did land a big fish when they signed Earl Thomas in free agency. Lamar enters the year as the full-time starter for Baltimore.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers– If you needed your fix of reality television, I hope you tuned into the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers because that’s exactly what it was. There was the Le’Veon Bell saga, Mike Tomlin potentially losing his team or not having control of the locker room, then there were the Antonio Brown shenanigans. After their struggles early on, they seemed to get into a rhythm which turned into a winning streak. In their final six games, they lost four of the six which included losses to Denver, the Chargers, Raiders and Saints. The losing streak came at a horrible time which led to them missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013. After rumors circulated the organization, the Steelers traded Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders in March. Le’Veon Bell also left (as expected) and signed with the New York Jets. Juju Smith-Schuster is now the new number one receiver, James Conner returns after having a nice year as the number one running back. The defense must get back to the Steeler way. They gave up too many big plays down the field. They traded up in the draft to get Devin Bush from Michigan which should fill the void that Ryan Shazier left open.

3. Cleveland Browns– For once, I’m not talking about them as a laughingstock now. They had one of their best years in quite some time in 2018. I can sit back and say the Cleveland Browns made the right choice by drafting Baker Mayfield. They finally found their franchise quarterback. Hue Jackson was fired in season after winning only three games as the Browns head coach. I saw a different team after he was gone. They played with more effort all around. Cleveland made one of the biggest moves in the offseason when they decided to acquire Odell Beckham Jr from the New York Giants. If this pans out, Odell and Jarvis Landry will be one of the best receiving tandems in football. Former offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens was hired to be the team’s new head coach.

4. Cincinnati Bengals– It has finally happened. Marvin Lewis was relieved of his duties as the head coach of the Bengals. I’m still wondering how a guy who was a head coach of a team for over 15 years had successful regular seasons, won division titles and all, but couldn’t win one single playoff game. That chapter is over, and the Zac Taylor era is set to begin. Maybe this move would help revitalize the career of Andy Dalton considering he is an offensive minded guy. Can A.J. Green finally stay healthy? He’s struggled to remain on the field the last few years. This year will tell me a lot about the Bengals and what direction they go in after this season is completed.

2019 Predictions

1. Browns (10-6)

2. Steelers (9-7)

3. Ravens (9-7)

4. Bengals (5-11)

I’m picking the Cleveland Browns to win the AFC for the first time in franchise history since the divisions were all realigned. They’ve added pieces to get better. The Steelers lost a few players, Baltimore is up in the air and the Bengals have a rookie head coach. Everything looks good for the Browns to succeed this year. Baker has weapons out this world, the defense can be good and if any fanbase deserves something good from their team, it’s them. I’ve seen the years where the fans were wearing paper bags over their faces. Something must go right for the Cleveland sports scene.