The AFC North is an upcoming division with teams beginning to ground themselves. Let’s take a look at the division headed into this season.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Even though the Bengals had a horrid 2-14 record last season, they earned the number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. With that pick, Cincinnati begins the Joe Burrow era.
After releasing longtime QB Andy Dalton, now with the Dallas Cowboys, the team looks to the LSU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner to lead the squad.
What’s worrisome is that the offensive line is still among the worst in the NFL. Cincinnati is headed in the right direction but they haven’t reached their final destination yet.
3. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland doesn’t have the hype they had last year coming into this season. In theory, this team should be better off than they were last year with the help of an easier schedule.
A notable addition to the Browns this year isn’t a player, but a coach. The team hired former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as their head coach.
QB Baker Mayfield has something to prove heading into his third year; he also has a beefed up offensive line to allow him more time in the pocket. With OT Jack Conklin, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, and OL Jedrick Wills of Alabama, Mayfield should be able to work as a playmaker under Stefanski.
This team should be one of the reasons the AFC North breaks out this year.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
What they lacked in offense they excelled in defense. Pittsburgh’s defense ranked sixth overall in 2019 and not much has changed on that end.
Although the team has to adjust to the loss of DT Javon Hargrabe to the Philidelphia Eagles, DT Tyson Alualu will help fill the gap. Pittsburgh also has DT Stephon Tuitt, OLB T.J. Watt and Pro Bowl DT Cameron Heyward all returning healthy this season.
Offensively, Roethlisberger is back and looks to elevate all parts of his offense.
The common theme here is injury for the Steelers. As long as this team can stay healthy, they’ll have no issues being contenders.
1. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens ran away with the AFC North last season with a 14-2 record on the back of 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. After being knocked out by the Los Angeles Chargers in the Wild Card, Baltimore aims for the top to give it another go this year.
Jackson has no problem carrying the team on his back but the addition of RB J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State to the group of Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill should mean less carries for the superstar QB.
Baltimore’s defense may be an even bigger star than their offense. Ravens placed a franchise tag on OLB Matthew Judon, picked up DE Calais Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars and DT Derek Wolfe from the Denver Broncos as well as drafted LB Patrick Queen of LSU headed into this season.
On paper, the Ravens look to be the most balanced team in the NFL this season and should take the division once again.
Photo: (Brien Aho/AP Photo)