2017 AFC North Division Preview

Cleveland Browns

The Browns went 1-15 last year barely escaping immortal futility along with the Detroit Lions courtesy of a missed Josh Lambo field goal on Christmas Eve. The RGIII experiment crashed and burned, some are bigger fans of Cody Kessler than I but most would say he isn’t the answer, and even Kevin Hogan started a game. None the less, the Browns have continued to amass talent using their seemingly endless amount of draft capital, and were still able to gain another first rounder next year in the process even after making three first round picks.

We are now in the second year of Cleveland’s ‘Moneyball’ era. 2016’s draft class featured two promising rookies Corey Coleman and Emmanuel Ogbah and a few others, but a majority of their picks came in the 5th round. In 2017, they took four players in the first two rounds, all four of which can be assumed that the Browns envision being franchise cornerstones. They seemingly secured the defensive end/pass rusher position with Myles Garrett first overall, then added swiss army knife Jabrill Peppers and athletic tight end David Njoku later in the round. At pick 52, the Browns finally added a QB in DeShone Kizer. Personally, I think it was a bad decision to trade out of pick 12. They should have stuck and drafted Watson, but Kizer isn’t a bad consolation prize. Currently, Brock Osweiler is slated to start, but I’m sure Kizer will be given every opportunity to take that spot. As for the rest of their draft, I like 4th round pick Howard Wilson from Houston, and Sashi Brown pulled the trigger on risk/reward Caleb Brantley in the 6th round who’s draft stock sunk like the Titanic after a battery charge

Image result for corey coleman

As for the Browns 2017 outlook, don’t expect them to contend for a playoff spot just yet, but if everything goes right I see 8-8 as this teams ceiling. They did a lot to upgrade the o-line, mainly with the signing of guard Kevin Zeitler from the division and state rival Bengals. Their front seven is now respectable after Danny Shelton had a good sophomore campaign and the acquisition of Jamie Collins. Chirstian Kirksey is a solid backer, and Ogbah/Garrett should be a decent duo for getting after the passer. The secondary could use an injection of talent and this won’t be coming until next offseason. I still can’t understand the decision of letting Terrelle Pryor walk, but Kenny Britt wasn’t a bad get in free agency. The surrounding talent with Coleman, Njoku, and Duke Johnson could be worse, but Quarterback will likely still remain a big question mark all year and into the next.

I’m rooting for the Browns. The NFL is better when teams don’t go 1-15. However, I still remain concerned that this team will become the new Jaguars of the NFL toting a talented team, but QB play that cripples.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are the second-best team in the NFL, and unlike the unpredictable NFC, I feel that a Steelers v. Patriots AFC Championship game re-match is inevitable. Pittsburgh was throttled in the game last season due to a Chris Hogan break-out, however Le’Veon Bell had to leave the game in the first quarter due to a groin injury. The defense really struggled in that game, evident in the final score of 36-17. The last two seasons Steelers fans have watched their team lose its best players in the playoffs, and one can wonder if they would have maybe made at least one Super Bowl trip if not for the injuries.

In past seasons the Steelers offense has been prolific while Big Ben is healthy, but the days of that ferocious Pittsburgh defense had left the Steel City. The reason I think the Steelers have such a strong chance this season is because the defense is finally ready to hold up their end of the deal. Their high defensive picks last year exceeded expectations. With Corner Artie Burns and Safety Sean Davis, the Steelers seemingly overhauled half their secondary in one season. I’m a big supporter of Davis, and I think he had the best year at safety against his rookie counter-parts. Nose Tackle Javon Hargrave also had a stellar rookie year and will be a solid hole-plugger for them up front for years to come.

The Steelers once again reached for defense in the 2017 draft, getting T.J. Watt and Cam Sutton in the 3rd. Both of them should get substantial playing time this season. They also signed Knile Davis and Tyson Alualu in free-agency who will be nice role-players this season. I also thought the drafting of JuJu Smith-Schuster was a smart decision. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates have not been reliable enough for a #3 receiver, and playing inside of Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown is quite possibly the best situation for a rookie receiver in the NFL this year.

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Mike Tomlin is a dog.

Martavis Bryant is back unless something else comes up between now and the start of the year. He will should be a huge help to the Steelers passing attack barring any sort of set back that comes with being out of the league for a full year.

The most important thing for the Steelers this season is to stay healthy. Roethlisberger hasn’t played a full season since 2014, and they have yet to get a back-up who can come in and win games consistently in his absence. They drafted Joshua Dobbs this year from Tennessee, but another Dak Prescott scenario is quite unlikely. Steelers fans should be supremely confident, and this Tomlin led team won’t underwhelm.

Baltimore Ravens

The John Harbaugh led Ravens could nearly smell the playoffs in their 2016 campaign until Antonio Brown happened, and if the Ravens didn’t absolutely blow the month of October last year by going 0-4 (one of those losses coming from the New York Jets), they would have most definitely been a playoff team. The Baltimore Ravens have practically been a contender to make the playoffs since they joined the NFL and that will not change this year. The Ravens bounce back in 2017 boasting a roster that has been upgraded, most noticeably on the defensive side of the ball. Let’s start with the draft, the Ravens had four of the top 80 picks in the draft and they used all four of them to reinforce the defensive side if the ball. At 16 the Ravens grabbed Marlon Humphery who is a physical corner that makes his share of mistakes, yet has an NFL frame and skills that have been refined by three years as an SEC corner back. For what it’s worth, this was the dude I wanted the Lions to get. They used the 47th pick on OLB Tyus Bowser from Houston, who can bang and get to the QB. 74 was used on defensive captain of the 2016 Michigan football team Chris Wormley who had 12.5 sacks in his final two years at Michigan. My favorite pick came at 78 when they selected Tim Williams a hybrid DE/OLB out of Alabama. He’s a guy that probably would have been a first round pick had it not been for all if the run ins with the law. Nonetheless, he can play ball and I love this pick.

C.J. Mosley
Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley

The Ravens also made some headlines in the off-season with the signing of Jeremy Maclin, a proven NFL talent that will presumably fill as much of the hole of Steve Smiths retirement as he can. Joe Flacco is solid at worst and the offensive line is a more than capable unit. Going into his 3rd year receiver from Central Florida Breshad Perriman is a guy that I am looking at this year. He barely got to play his rookie year due to injury in 2015 and had a disappointing stat line this year with 500 yards and 3 TDs. He is one more useless season away from becoming a lost cause. They brought in veterans Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson to bolster their already solid secondary that has Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith already. Even with the presumed loss of Zach Orr, C.J Mosley is the best young linebacker in the NFL so I still consider them strong through the teeth of their defense. Fans of the Ravens should expect them to be in the playoff chase from the jump.

Cincinnati Bengals

After an extremely disappointing 2016 season, the Cincinnati Bengals have much to prove in 2017. Cincinnati went with the speed kills mantra by selecting John Ross 10th overall in the draft. They also added the dominant collegiate receiver to help alleviate the double teams and constant overload on future Hall of Famer A.J Green. They also added one of the best football players in the draft in Joe Mixon, who has been under major heat for an off the field altercation. Despite the video, I must remind people that he is the real deal. He’s a jack of all trades coming out of the backfield and I believe he has a bright NFL future. It should be interesting to see how things shake out for them in the ground game with three running backs capable of getting 15-20 touches a game.

In order for the Bengals to take steps forward, Andy Dalton needs to be better. He struggles to win games against good teams and 2017 should be a big prove-it season for him. Tight end Tyler Eifert is an absolute hoss. I, and the Bengals, would love to see him play 16 games this year.

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Joe Mixon pondering his past….and possibly his future

Their defense is led by an a**hole who is a pretty darn good linebacker. I would love to have Vontaze Burfict on my team, but a lot of his dirty plays hurt the team. I’m sure Bengal nation would like to see Darqueze Dennard start to play like the “No Fly Zone” corner that we all saw at MSU, but with 2016 rookie Will Jackson III back from injury and safety George Iloka, I think the Bengals will have a good secondary. The Defensive Line should be able to get to the QB and plug holes but my confidence in that unit is not supreme. They are lacking depth there and if Geno Atkins goes down for even a few games things could get ugly. The Bengals have a good team this year, I believe that their playoff lives will come down to them being better than the Ravens, which I think they can do.

Sidenote: I love the Josh Malone pick in the 4th round. Highly touted high school receiver prospect with a big body and an expansive athletic wheelhouse. Look for him to come in and make plays in 2017.

 

Division Predictions:

Adam:

  1. Steelers
  2. Ravens
  3. Bengals
  4. Browns

Leigh:

  1. Ravens
  2. Steelers
  3. Bengals
  4. Browns

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