Hard hitting linebackers, top flight receivers, high flying offenses, oh what a division the AFC North is. It is also a division that brings out the best (and worst) of the players, coaches, and teams involved. We’ve seen savage hits, torn ligaments, and brawls from these teams for decades. We’ve also seen a different division winner for most of the decade.
There has been only one repeat winner since 2010. That is what you call a competitive division. The Bengals and Steelers have been in a dog fight for the past almost half-decade, with the Ravens fading a little and the Browns being a dumpster fire that has spiraled way out of control. This division also normally has 2 and sometimes 3 teams in the playoffs, too.
Each team has various story lines from the offseason. Each team has put pieces in that they hope can make improvements. Let’s take a look:
Browns: Cleveland arguably had the best draft in the league this past spring, nabbing sure fire future All-Pro edge rusher Myles Garrett out of Texas A&M with the 1st overall pick, and adding TE David Njoku from Miami and DB/LB/Whatever Jabrill Peppers. Cleveland also spent a pretty penny in free agency on the offensive line for the future and were able to sign solid veteran WR Kenny Britt. They even added ANOTHER QB in DeShone Kizer in round 2. When it comes to QB number 24(?), I don’t get the hype. They should’ve waited until 2018 for a deeper all-around quarterback draft.
Ravens: That defense is improving, and the offense is hoping to get production. They got production from guys last year, but the addition of WR Jeremy Maclin will hopefully (for them, at least) make that offense a lot better. Drafting CB Marlon Humphrey should help this defense a ton, with Antonio Brown and A.J. Green in the division, but only time will tell.
Bengals: They had a very solid draft. Drafting Washington WR John Ross in the 1st round was a solid pick as he ran the fastest 40 in combine history with a blazing 4.22, has great hands, and can run the whole route tree, can return punts and kickoffs, and can probably run reverses. Health has been a problem, though. They got a great pick in highly controversial Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon. Look, we all saw the tape. I don’t like what he did, but it is what it is. Looking past that, this guy will win Rookie of the Year. Mark my words. He can run you down, run around you, jump over you, keep you away from the QB, and catch like a receiver. He could be the next David Johnson. The additions of Kansas State DE Jordan Willis and Auburn LB Carl Lawson should give them much needed pass rush help. Memphis kicker Jake Elliot was drafted because Mike Nugent and Randy Bullock suck. They cost the Bengals at least 4 games. Their offensive line is worrisome especially letting veteran T Andrew Whitworth escape to the Los Angeles Rams. Andy Dalton was sacked 41 times last year, and they lost their two best linemen. If they can be at least average, this team can go places. If they play like they did last year, it won’t matter how many weapons this team has.
Steelers: This team is dynamite. QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Leveon Bell, WRs Antonio Brown and a returning Martavis Bryant, and a very good offensive line make this offense Super Bowl worthy. They also added USC WR JuJu Smith-Schuster in the 2nd round to bolster this offense even further. Their defense is getting better, too. That front seven is among the best in the game, and Ryan Shazier is quickly becoming a star. James Harrison seems to be putting up a fight with Father Time. The Steelers also added Wisconsin LB T.J. Watt in round 1. They should win the North this year.
Steelers: 12-4 (3rd playoff seed)
Bengals: 10-6 (5th playoff seed)
Written By: Joe Johnson