Photo Credits: Google Images
Over the next several weeks, I will be previewing each division in the NFL, and am starting it off with the AFC North. The AFC North has been dominated by the Steelers, Ravens, and even the Bengals for the last decade. However, this year it looks like the Browns may finally have a chance to take their turn at dominating. The Browns have added Odell Bekcham Jr., Kareem Hunt, Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson, improved on both sides of the ball, and will be under the leadership of first year coach Freddie Kitchens. The Steelers missed out on the playoffs last year and lost Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown this offseason and should be in for an interesting season. The Ravens won the division last year going 10-6 and added talent like Earl Thomas, and Mark Ingram this offseason and should be in contention again this season. The Bengals seem to be rebuilding with first year head coach Zac Taylor. Here is my preview and my predictions for the AFC North in the 2019-2020 NFL season.
Photo Credits: Associated Press
I know that the defending AFC North Champs will stick to their offensive system of maximizing Lamar Jackson’s athleticism, while still allowing him to improve as an NFL passer. The Ravens did lose key players like Joe Flacco, CJ Mosely, and Terell Suggs; but they did add solid veteran players like Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram. Lamar Jackson also got a new top receiving target from the draft in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. I would not be surprised if the Ravens end up taking the division, but if they are going to; they have to do better than a 2-2 record against the Browns and Steelers.
Photo Credits: NFL.com
Zac Taylor takes over as the Bengals Head Coach after 16 pretty successful years under Marvin Lewis that produced several playoff appearances. It is a big season for veteran Quarterback Andy Dalton to show what he is made of. Dalton does have good playmakers around him like AJ Green, and Joe Mixon. Their offensive line, who lost Jonah Williams due to injury, and Clint Boling to retirement is probably their biggest concern. The defense should be strong anchored by Geno Atkins. I think the Bengals will be competitive in most of their games, and maybe play spoiler to some teams trying to get into the playoffs.
Photo Credits: Waiting For Next Year
The Browns have transformed from an 0-16 team in 2017, to division favorites in 2019. The growth of Baker Mayfield in his sophomore campaign will be a huge determining factor on if the Browns can win the AFC North. General Manager John Dorsey was very aggressive this offseason, and the trade to land OBJ could end up being an iconic moment in Cleveland Sports history if they end up winning the division. They also have a two-headed monster at running back in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The defense revolves around Pro Bowlers Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, and added talented players like Sheldon Richardson, Olivier Vernon, and Greedy Williams. First year head coach Freddie Kitchens and how he manages all of the talent on this roster will be another key for Cleveland. I think they are the most talented team in the division and definitely have the most hype surrounding them.
Photo Credits: Associated Press
Is it possible that the losses of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell can be addition by subtraction? This would be the best case scenario for 37 year old Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin. James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster will have to take on those roles this season. The defense will also need to improve after finishing 16th in points given up last season. TJ Watt, Cameron Hayward, and first round pick Devin Bush look to turn Pittsburgh back into “Blitzburgh”. The fact that the Browns are favored to win the division should motivate the Steelers, and turn the Browns and Steelers back into one of the NFL’s best rivalries.
2019 AFC North Standings Prediction
- Cleveland Browns (11-5)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
- Baltimore Ravens (7-9)
- Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)
Photo Credits: Browns Twitter
It will be pretty early in the season when everybody finds out if the Browns are ready for the spotlight. With three of their first five games in prime time, including a Week 3 Sunday Night Football showdown in Cleveland against the defending NFC Champions Los Angeles Rams. Cleveland is definitely a made for TV team with Mayfield and Beckham, but are they ready to take that next step and become division champions? The Steelers will have a lot to do with the answer to this question in weeks 11 and 13. In the last decade the Steelers have won the division four times, the Ravens three, and the Bengals twice. Every other team in the division has learned how to respond and live up to lofty expectations. The Browns will learn to do that this season, and will take advantage of their favorable end of the season schedule to bring Cleveland its first division title in 30 years.