Ell and Mikes’s NFL AFC Division Predictions 2018-2019
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have owned the AFC North for the past few seasons and with the return of Ben Roethlisberger, I see no different this season. Expect the offense to be just as explosive, as they know how to play without Martavis Bryant, but the return of Le’Veon Bell will be key; happy or not will still have to earn the contract he want whether it comes from Steelers or someone else. The WR core is still loaded with top WR Antonio Brown, upcoming 2nd year WR Juju Smith-Schuster, sure-handed rookie James Washington, along with Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey. The defense will miss their leader Ryan Shazier, but the LB core is healthy and has depth inside. The secondary has undergone some change, which is a definitely a plus, as this has been a concern area come playoffs time every season and they have a full season of Joe Haden; this unit will determine a lot.
The Steelers are not the best team in the division; no they are one of the best teams in the league. This year the Steelers will look to finally get over the hump and I think this year may just be their year. The offense remains the same with the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver trio in football. Le’veon Bell will be back to show that he is still the best back in football, but James Conner is ready to help him in the run game as well. I think it’s safe to say the run game is in pretty good hands. Ben Roethlisberger returns after speculation that he may retire with the best wide receiver in football Antonio Brown. Juju Smith-Schuster will be featured even more this season following his great rookie campaign. They also added a sleeper slot wide receiver in Ryan Switzer and drafted underrated wide receiver James Washington. Ben has some new toys to add to this already explosive offense. The Steelers defense struggled in the secondary but the Steelers went out and signed former Packer Morgan Burnett and drafted safety Terrell Edmunds. These two should help with the back end of the defense and help balance the team. If the Steelers defense can be half as good as the offense then the Steelers could be lifting the Lombardi in February.
Season Prediction- 13-3
The Ravens are coming off arguably their best draft in years and have really stocked the team with depth in GM Ozzie Newsome’s last season. Also, the team is the healthiest it’s been in years on both sides of the ball leading to a lot of optimism. However, production from Joe Flacco can’t be trusted this season and most people have been blinded to a true controversy brewing, where fans will call for Lamar Jackson, every interception Flacco throws. The team did a lot to sure up some problem areas, but the passing game will be the key all season with newly acquired WRs in Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead; especially their chemistry with Flacco, which is something to watch for. Expect the defense to be much improved this season with a lot of depth and playmakers who are a year better, but as usual they must avoid the injury bug.
The Ravens come off a season where they missed the playoffs by giving up a 4th and 16, touchdown to the Cincinnati Bengals. As horrible as that play was, the offense was even worse. The Ravens spent most of the offseason retooling their offense and getting weapons for Joe Flacco. They added wide receivers John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and Willie Snead. All should be more than serviceable options for Flacco. The Ravens also drafted quarterback Lamar Jackson but he is not ready to start and will be featured in packages to change things up a little for the Ravens. The running game will see Alex Collins as the feature back for the whole season. Last season, he racked up over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and he did not start the whole season for the Ravens. The offense should be much improved from its 27th ranking last season. The Ravens haven’t added much on the defense but their front seven is still solid with Brandon Williams, Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley. You will not to be able to just run on the Ravens as usual but the pass defense leaves a lot to be desired as has been the case the past few seasons. The Ravens still have Brandon Carr and will expect Marlon Humphrey to step up in his second year. The Ravens offense will be improved and Flacco will perform better with the rookie Lamar Jackson breathing down his neck. This will be enough for the Ravens to lock up a wild card spot in the AFC.
Season Prediction- 10-6
The Bengals are about to go through another fight in the AFC North, but the Ravens and Steelers are still too good and deep for the Bengals to jump one. The Bengals should find success offensively with an improved O-line and a healthy John Ross opposite A.J. Green who should continue with another consistent season. RBs Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard should find a lot more running room, while the offense should be dangerously balanced, if Andy Dalton can limit his turnovers. However, the defense has a lot of question marks, especially with a suspension to their best player LB Vontaze Burfict. The defensive line which had been a strong point for years is undergoing more change, but they rewarded pass rushers DE Carlos Dunlap and DT Geno Atkins who should continue to show up. Outside of those three, the team is relying on a lot of young players to become playmakers and one old in free agent pickup MLB Preston Brown; he should cover for Burfict inside. CB Dre Kirkpatrick has been inconsistent and they need him to step up as a true #1, with William Jackson III coming off an injury and Pacman Jones no longer around. The safeties are young and athletic, but how productive can they be?
The Bengals have talent sprinkled all over the roster but something just doesn’t get them over the hump. Some feel it is Andy Dalton and they may be right. Dalton is never mentioned in the tier 1 or even tier 2 categories of quarterbacks and there is a reason for that. Dalton is inconsistent and has his games where he just struggles. Dalton will need to be better than average to get this team to where they want to go. They have added Cordy Glenn to the fold to help build that less than stellar offensive line. They also get back John Ross who barely saw the field his rookie year and he will be an added weapon for Dalton to throw too. The run game looks to be another benefit to Dalton as the two headed monster of Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard look to carry the load. Mixon will be the starter and is explosive in space and should have a big year now that he is the feature back. Bengals defense will start and finish with the defensive line. It is the strongest part of their defense and they will look to wreak havoc. If they fail to get to the quarterback I think the Bengals will get shredded in the passing game. I think the Bengals are talented but Dalton will have another average season and so will the Bengals.
Season Prediction- 9-7
The Browns are finally going in the right direction with so much optimism around the season and the smart moves they made to bring in quality veteran players to start a winning culture. However, they should still finish around the bottom with about 6 wins, as the secondary is lacking true playmakers outside of a rookie in Denzel Ward and the O-line transitioning after losing long time LT Joe Thomas; as the tackle positions have been downgraded. The Browns should be competitive in a lot of games with steady QB Tyrod Taylor, but don’t quite have the talent and depth to make a lot of noise. Please don’t expect any miracles by #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield to save the day. The Front 7 will be ready to wreak havoc on teams with weaker offensive lines with Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah and Jamie Collins, but any teams that can get the ball in the air should find success. The Browns’ offense should be a lot more balanced under Tyrod Taylor with playmakers in Carlos Hyde, Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, and David Njoku, but will it be enough to keep Hue Jackson?
The Browns have done a big overhaul of the team and are looking to change the culture of a team that has 1 win in the last two seasons. The offense bought in veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor and drafted Heisman trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Tyrod Taylor will start the season as the starter but if things go awry then Baker will be next up. They also added a lot of weapons including the leading wide receiver in the NFL last year Jarvis Landry. They also added Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb from Georgia. The Browns have a solid foundation to build on and they will put it all on Baker’s shoulders one day but right now Tyrod will look to lead the team. The Browns defense looks to be solid with Myles Garrett and Jabril Peppers entering their 2nd season. If these two guys can live up to their potential this defense will be better than what people think. They have some help because with the fourth pick in the draft the Browns drafted Denzel Ward. They also added 3 more defensive backs so this defense is looking to improve. The Browns are improved but they are not yet to challenge for the division crown but will garner some wins this season.
Season Prediction- 5-11