As the season draws nearer, let’s highlight some key offseason moves and 2018 predictions for all 32 teams. We’re going to take a closer look at each team division by division leading up to week one. Today we’ll break down the AFC North.
2017 Record: 13-3
The Pittsburg Steelers are always going to be a team to pay attention to, as long as Ben Roethlisberger leads one of the best offenses in the NFL. Big Ben put doubt in the minds of Steelers fans last season about how long he’ll continue to play with comments he made about contemplating retirement. The organization responded by drafting Mason Rudolph in the third round. They now have four quarterbacks on the roster, and head coach Mike Tomlin must be hoping that one of them can learn enough from Ben and develop into his replacement. At this point in his career, Ben is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and hasn’t yet shown signs of slowing down and will continue to be dominant this season.
Le’veon Bell has decided to play this season on his $14.5 million franchise tag, although he hasn’t reported to Steelers camp yet. Antonio Brown has been sidelined due to a right hip issue, but he has since practiced in full and it seems as though he will be ready for the start of the season. If these two world class players can stay on the same page this season with the rest of the offense, the Steelers are poised to make a deep playoff run.
2018 Prediction: 12-4 AFC North Champions
2017 Record: 9-7
Another situation with an aging quarterback on the verge of replacement, Joe Flacco is reportedly having one of the best training camps of his career. He’ll need to step up his play from the last few years to quiet the fans calling for first round draft pick Lamar Jackson to get time at quarterback. For now, Flacco is the entrenched starter, and he will have two new receivers to throw to in John Brown and Michael Crabtree formerly of the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders respectively. With an upgraded receiving core, it should take some pressure off the running backs lead by Alex Collins and allow the offense to really get going to compliment a competent defense. If John Harbaugh can bring all these pieces together, the AFC North race will be very interesting.
2018 Prediction: 11-5 Wild Card
2017 Record: 7-9
Marvin Lewis will always have a job in Cincinnati as long as he wants one. That was proven this last offseason when he signed a new two year contract to remain head coach of the team. Some thought Lewis would lose his job after the Bengals were one of the worst offenses in the league last year. This offense has plenty of potential, including one of the best receivers in the league in A.J Green, and a young back in Joe Mixon. If Tyler Eifert can get healthy he can be one of the top five tight ends in the league. Everything depends on quarterback Andy Dalton. His play has declined in the past few years, and he needs to take a big step in the right direction if he wants any chance at success this year. The biggest competition for Cincinnati has been along their offensive line, specifically on the right side with both tackle and guard spots up for grabs. Offensive line is the most important position for success behind quarterback so if the Bengals can find the right combination of starters, they might have a chance to improve one of the leagues worst offenses.
2018 Prediction: 7-9 Miss Playoffs
2017 Record 0-16
Last season Cleveland tied for the worst record in NFL history by losing 16 games and they’ve lost 31 of their last 32. After cleaning house in the front office, John Dorsey brings actual football experience and expertise into the clubhouse. His presence was felt immediately, bringing in veterans quarterback Tyrod Taylor, receiver Jarvis Landry, and running back Carlos Hyde among others. Dorsey shocked many when he took Baker Mayfield ahead of the likes of Josh Allen and Sam Darnold, but their quarterback of the future has looked good in camp and he has an excellent mentor in Taylor. Josh Gordon looked good in limited action last season, and if he can get right and return to the team, he and Landry can form a talented receiver group for whichever quarterback is throwing to them. Offensive line centerpiece Joe Thomas retired this offseason, and he will be missed. This team has nowhere to go but up, and they’re certainly moving in the right direction for the future. Temper expectations for this season though.
2018 Prediction: 4-12 Miss Playoffs