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AFC North Review

Ravens

Good: The Ravens had another strong end to the season and QB Lamar Jackson was able to get the monkey off his back with his first playoff win. Rookie RB J.K. Dobbins came right on time as an explosive dual threat who was able to replace former starter Mark Ingram and even upgrade the position. The run game was strong with Jackson, Dobbins, and Gus Edwards. WR Marquise Hollywood Brown was able to improve his connection with Jackson later in the season when it mattered and show improved individual play after struggles with injuries and inconsistency last season. The defense played well with Marlon Humphrey continuing to prove to be a top playmaker in the league and Marcus Peters’ turnover skills making them one of the best duos in the league and the top duo at causing turnovers. Free agent addition Calais Campbell was a much-needed vocal leader and the key to the defensive improvement, especially against the run. Rookie ILB Patrick Queen was everything the team could have hoped for as another sideline to sideline playmaker who will only continue to get better.     

Bad: The team went in with the same game plan as last season and Lamar’s heroics with his legs had to save the day. The team never replaced TE Hayden Hurst and the offensive became predictable with Hollywood Brown running slants, Nick Boyle blocking, Mark Andrews receiving, and Devin Duvernay running fly routes. Dez Bryant was needed to provide production and never did so as the team needs a legit jump ball WR, Boykins is not good enough and Dez was too old. Lamar Jackson needs to improve as a passer if this team hopes to reach their goal. The defense still needs to find a pass rusher and may lose OLB Matt Judon unless he is overpaid after being franchised. The experiment with DE Yannick Ngakoue failed and luckily the team can cut ties. Mark Ingram was a shell of himself this season, but he has made his mark on the team and has been properly replaced.  

Looking Forward: As mentioned above, the key going forward is the growth of Lamar Jackson as a passer so adding a big WR should be a start or a TE that can block and catch (maybe both) like they had in Hayden Hurst to help Mark Andrews. The defense could use a pass rusher or two and must decide on Judon, as that would leave Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson as the only options with another possible go round with Pernell McPhee. Also, adding help along the interior O-line at Center and Guard are still needs.  

Bengals

Good: #1 overall pick QB Joe Burrow proved to be the real deal and has a real connection with fellow rookie WR Tee Higgins which bodes well for the future. HC Zac Taylor was finally able to show fans what he does offer as a coach as the team played hard for him, especially down the stretch and the offense found ways to move the ball. The run game looked good whether it was Joe Mixon or Giovanni Bernard. WR Tyler Boyd proved to be one of the top slot WRs in the league with his hands and consistency. The defense showed life in the last few weeks of the season and may have something to grow on. 

Bad: The defense played horribly early in the season and they need to continue to find playmakers on that side of the ball and rebuild a D-line that has gotten old, as they shipped out veteran Carlos Dunlap to start the process. Although the play improved some down the stretch, the offense line needs a lot of help and could use two tackles and a guard (or two). Joe Burrow suffered serious knee damage and while there is no doubt he will be back; he has been compromised and that will be something to monitor going forward. Long time veteran WR A.J. Green was more decoy than productive WR last season and should be on his way out.

Looking Forward: The Bengals have another high pick in the draft at #5 overall and need to fortify the offensive line and find defensive playmakers. The offense can be a building point if Burrow can continue to show the same poise and production, but in a tough division finding better talent is what will take this team to the next level. 

Browns

Good: The Browns finally got into the playoffs and won a playoff game, with Baker Mayfield at QB and playing well. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were the best RB tandem in the league and led the way for the new identity of the team. Free agent pickup RT Jack Conklin and rookie LT Jedrick Wills Jr. were everything that the team hopped paving big running lanes and keeping Baker clean. TE Austin Hooper proved to be the best security blanket in the league and a smart free agent addition along with rookie Harrison Bryant who both became safe spots to throw the ball. The defense played better than expected and Myles Garrett played at top level form with the Browns D-line leading the way. New Head Coach Kevin Stefanski proved to everybody that he is a legit coach and found a way to maximize the talent as he may win coach of the year.  

Bad: With the Browns success there is not too much bad that can be said about the season, but the team must decide if Baker was more successful without star WR Odell Beckham and if it is time to move forward without him. The team must also decide if Baker is their franchise QB and if they want to pay him for that role going forward.

Looking Forward: Besides what is mentioned above, the Browns have a confident Baker Mayfield going forward and must find ways to continue to help him grow. The offense is in good hands with both RBs returning and a stout O-line so figuring out the QB spot will be key. The defense could use a talent upgrade on the back end at both CB and Safety, while adding a pass rusher to compliment Myles Garrett would put this team amongst the best in the league.

Steelers

Good: The Steelers won the AFC North and started 11-0 with one the best defenses in the league before injuries began to hit key players at the LB position in Bud Dupree and Devin Bush; both players were playing at a top level before being loss for the season. Ben Roethlisberger had a rebound season coming off injury where most people thought he would be done. Rookie WR Chase Claypool had a great season proving to be the tall jump ball WR Ben likes, as well as young WRs Diontae Johnson and James Washington stepping up to have good seasons, especially the latter. Minkah Fitzpatrick continued to play at a top level and OLB T.J. Watt is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.

Bad: The wheels fell off late in the season and the team struggled on their way into the playoffs and embarrassingly loss to the Browns in the wildcard division which highlighted their struggles. The run game was non-existent after a good start to the season and RB James Conner has been informed that he will not be retained, unless in a lesser role. Juju Smith Schuster has continued to struggle as the #1 WR and was mimicked for dancing on teams’ logos. The team asked Big Ben to throw about 40 times a game with the lack of a running game or productive RB which led to his diminished play. The defense loss key pieces that had the team scrambling for replacements and not as stout against the run or as good against the pass with a lesser pass rush.

Looking Forward: The Steelers must decide what to do with Ben Roethlisberger going forward as he wants to play another season but must figure out if he can get them to their goal and how to lower his cap number. Juju is coming off a tough year and the team must decide if they should pay him, how much they should pay him, or if they can move on without him from the production of the other WRs. With the cap situation, the team must also make some decisions with some key defensive personnel in Bud Dupree, Steve Nelson, and Joe Haden. The team must find a RB that can carry the load and improve the run game that the team has always been known for, while also trying to find a long term fix at CB, another patched over position.

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