By Vincent Pensabene
The best team in the conference resides in the division. Also, the most intriguing team and the second best team in Cleveland (sorry Cavs fans that stayed after LeBron left) are trying to win the division for the first time since 1989. The Bengals are just mediocre no matter what. Here are my AFC North predictions.
Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
This is the most complete team in the AFC and their window is closing fast. Ben Roethlisberger is winding down and Le’Veon Bell is prepared to walk if the Steelers do not pay him. Antonio Brown is a top three receiver in the league and the emergence of Juju-Smith Schuster only helps the dynamic-ness of the offense. The question mark remains on the defensive side of the ball as the team seems to have a lot of older players. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but old players can get exposed over 16+ games, especially after injuries, history is proof. I think it won’t be an issue for this team but can stunt them as time goes on.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
The red-headed stepchild of the NFL: Andy Dalton. This team isn’t ready to be a playoff monster but who else in the AFC is? The team has significant issues moving the ball up the field but I am a big fan of AJ Green and Tyler Eifert securing Dalton from making too many mistakes that will cost this team. I also like the running back combo of Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. If Burfict can be a factor once he comes off suspension, this team will be ready to make some noise in the playoffs (and fall in the Wild Card round, spoiler).
Cleveland Browns (7-9)
It’s very difficult to say that the 2018 Cleveland Browns are not the most intriguing team in the NFL. I think with a good quarterback upgrade with Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield now competing to be under center as well as the return of Josh Gordon, this team can win some games. They have a schedule that can help them get some wins and not end up with the 1st pick next year. Hard Knocks has definitely factored into this prediction with the RV boosting how these quarterbacks will be on the field, but Baker is good and Tyrod has shown what he can do, getting the Bills into the playoffs last season. Gordon is special, which people might forget since he hasn’t played consistently in a few years. I like parts of their secondary with Jabrill Peppers and Denzel Ward/E.J. Gaines. Plus, you can’t sleep on Myles Garrett, but there isn’t enough talent on this roster to make a run into January.
Baltimore Ravens (6-10)
Joe Flacco’s days seem to be numbered as Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III are waiting in the wings. Ultimately, I think RGIII isn’t on this team long, but Jackson is a serious contender to start come Week 9 or so. Their receivers aren’t great with having Willie Snead IV and Michael Crabtree as the top two, opposing corners will shut down the air. Their offensive line is still good enough to keep Flacco or Jackson upright. Their defense won’t be able to shut teams down as age catches up to them with players like Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and Brandon Carr all having at least a decade of NFL experience a piece. I think they won’t look lost out there, but not be impact players that they once were.