As I noted in my last post, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall. Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.
Part II: AFC North
Projected Record: 11-5 First place
In what I think will be the strongest division in the AFC I still see the Ravens as being the cream of the crop here. Even with their notable losses, they still have the best defense in the division, the best coaching in Harbaugh and the best GM in Ozzie Newsome. Last year they all but replaced Ray Lewis with LB CJ Mosely, and this year I think they got the best WR in the draft with Breshard Perriman from UCF.
Yes, at QB they are always a question mark. You never know whether or not you'll see good or bad Flacco. I'm betting on good, since he seems to alternate years. I also think the diverse WR corps that they have for him to target is going to have a good year as well. Watch out for Perriman, but also for Steve Smith Sr.
I don't think this is going to be easy, and I think these teams are going to beat up on one another some, but I do think that the Ravens will have a slight edge over......
Projected Record: 10-6 Second Place
Of the things I like about the Bengals Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill as a 1-2 RB tandem is among the tops. After that it's AJ Green and their WR corps. Next is what I think, with the addition of AJ Hawk, will become a bruising LB group, and a DL that's going to return to form with Geno Atkin's reactivation from injury.
Of the things I dislike about the Bengals is QB Andy Dalton. Also as a dislike is their front office/ownership's ability to seemingly make lemons out of lemonade.
That said, there's a lot of talent on this roster I just can't help but wonder if having the voice of long-time head coach Marvin Lewis is starting to get a little stale? If this team falters, it won't take much for them to fall below.......
Projected Record: 9-7 Third Place
Last year's 11-5 finish and division win was, in my book, a great coaching job by Mike Tomlin. Yes, the Steeler's have a capable NFL QB in Rothlisburger, a top-flight WR in Antonio Brown, and a budding star RB in L'eveon Bell. I do however think that Bell's suspension will hurt (greatly) early and that the Steeler's real faults on the defensive side of the ball are going to be exposed.
That said, despite my concerns that the defense is 1) old, 2) slow and 3) surprisingly non-physical for a Steelers team, I do think that Tomlin is a good enough coach to overcome this through creative game plans and only occasionally having to step onto the field of play to try and stop opposing kick returners.
The secondary has too many questions for me to feel confident in today's pass-happy NFL. They have some talent at corner, but too much youth as well. If this doesn't pan out it could be a long year in the steel city. All that said, I don't see them in any danger of falling behind......
Projected Record: 4-12 Fourth place
My lead question regarding the Cleveland Browns is probably the same as everyone else's: Who in the heck is going to start at QB? Then you consider that, at WR, they have a suspended Josh Gordon (insanely talented but monumentally stupid) and a whole bunch of experiments that might, or might not work out (Hello Terrelle Pryor!) and an RB unit that's, to be kind, uninspiring. I like the thought of Duke Johnson Jr. as a starting NFL running back but he's unproven. Pretty much everyone else (Shaun Draughn?) are not starting caliber.
Add to the dearth of skill position talent an O and D line that are OK but uninspiring and a LB group and DB that is (Outside of Karlos Dansby and Joe Haden) young and still developing and you have a young team with talent but no proven producers, a coach who still hasn't shown the ability to win in the NFL and a General Manager in Ray Farmer who's sole purpose in life seems to be to confuse the heck out of observers.
When you add all of that up it leads to high draft picks, and a losing record, which the Browns appear to be headed toward once again. Amazingly they even got the new uniforms wrong. Is this franchise this generations Raiders?
Unlike the AFC East I think this division gets two playoff teams, the Ravens (of course) and the Cincinnati Bengals who will, undoubtedly, lose again in the first round. Still, I consider this to be the 2nd toughest division within the AFC and, if you take away the Browns, it's possible the most difficult from which to advance.