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2018-19 AFC North preview

The Steelers crashed out thanks in part to their own arrogance. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich, File)
Roar Guru
10th August, 2018
5

With the NFL Preseason starting to kick into action, I will preview one of the NFL’s most rivalry-packed divisions.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Arguably one of the best offences in the NFL, the Steelers can score 30-plus points every game.

With names like Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster, this side has enough talent to fill a month worth of highlight reels.

All eyes this off-season have been on Running Back Le’Veon Bell who will again be franchise tagged by the Steelers, as they failed to come to an agreement on a new contract.

There have been rumours he would sit out the entire season if they failed to offer him a decent contract. Instead, Bell has stated on twitter that he will have his ‘greatest season ever’.

Crucial player
‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger. He has only played a full 16-game season, three times in his 14-year career. He is one solid hit away from a career-ending injury.

The window for him to win another championship ring is closing quickly so this needs to be his year.

This offence is talented, but it will all fall apart with a new quarterback behind centre.

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Keep an eye on
With a side so full of offensive talent, it’s hard to find just one player. Look for tight end Vance McDonald to have a busy season.

He shone in the back half of last season and is expected to take more reps away from fellow tight end Jesse James.

Personnel changes
The Steelers have shuffled some of their coaching staff around for the 2018 season. Notably, long-serving offensive coordinator Todd Haley is gone and will be replaced by Randy Fichtner.

What Fichtner brings will remain to be seen.

I suggest that Big Ben will be acting as offensive coordinator for much of the season. Look for a lot of ‘no-huddle’ offence to exploit defences with the unguardable Antonio Brown and seemingly indefensible Le’Veon Bell.

Predicted finish
14-2 – Division champions.

They will leak a lot of points, but they are too strong on offence to not win the division. How far that takes them into the playoffs, only time will tell.

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Baltimore Ravens

Quarterback Joe Flacco will take the reins for his tenth season in Baltimore.

However, he will be watched closely by first-round draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.

The Ravens have a solid defensive line and will stop most teams this year from running through them. After a busy offseason, their wideouts can challenge the best wide receivers in the game.

Look for linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosely to guide this team around the park.

The problem for them lies in distributing offensive targets. Newly recruited wide receiver Michael Crabtree will be a marked man in 2018 and will be guarded accordingly.

On the other side, we see Willie Snead, who fell out of favour with New Orleans last season and will look to rekindle his form with the Ravens.

As a run option, they have Javorius Allen, Kenneth Dixon, and Alex Collins. None of which will strike fear in opposition defences.

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Scoring points could be a problem for them in 2018. But they should hold their own to win more games than they lose.

Crucial player
Joe Flacco, for now. Everything we are hearing out of Baltimore is, he is their main man. But a few losses and the chorus will ring out for Lamar Jackson to take over.

Keep an eye on
The newly acquired Michael Crabtree. He moved from the Oakland Raiders in the off-season and will be a heavy target for Joe Flacco. Look for him to make a big impact on his new team.

Personnel changes
Plenty of new targets for Flacco to aim at will make for an interesting year for Ravens fans.

Predicted finish
9-7.

Not quite good enough for a wildcard berth this year, but they are building.

Cincinnati Bengals

Quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t going to break any records this season, but he will put up enough of a show for them to win a few games. The Bengals seem to be leaning towards a run-first offence in 2018.

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A revamped offensive line means second-year running back Joe Mixon should receive a lot more football. If this new line holds up well, they will see plenty or running yards from Mixon and co.

On the flip side, it means fewer touches for wide receiver A.J. Green.

On the defensive side of the field, the Bengals finished in the bottom half of every stat in 2017. Not a lot will change in 2018.

Their best defensive player, Vontaze Burfict, has lost his appeal against a performance-enhancing drugs suspension and will miss the first four games.

This will only add to the pain for Bengals fans in the opening month of regular season football. Not only is Burfict a quality player, he is a leader. They lacked passion and consistency in 2017 without him.

Crucial player(s)
The whole offensive line. If they can gel and work as a unit, they can trouble a lot of defences this season.

This is a big ask for a group of guys who don’t know each other’s game.

Both rookies, centre Billy Price centre and left tackle Cordy Glenn will be working overtime to ensure their new side can function as a single unit.

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Keep an eye on
The controversial Joe Mixon. He was great in his first season and will look for more touches in 2018 to add to his already glowing career.

Personnel changes
There are too many to name. The offensive line will be where they win or lose games.

American football generic

(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Predicted finish
6-10, third in the division.
It will be another tough year for Bengals fans. The good news is they are on the improve and will push for a playoff spot in a few years.

Cleveland Browns

After winning only one game in the previous two seasons, you could forgive the Browns’ faithful for being pessimistic at their prospects for 2018.

Luckily for them though, they are in for a treat this season. They have drafted and recruited well, therefore they won’t be the pushovers they usually are.

Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor looks to be getting the starting role from number one draft pick Baker Mayfield, but the fun doesn’t stop there for the Browns.

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They used their fourth overall pick to take Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, who will be the star on the defensive side of the ball alongside Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers.

Super Bowl winning linebacker Mychal Kendricks will add plenty of experience to a big defensive pack.

They picked up some quality players on the offensive side of the ball too, with wide receiver Jarvis Landry coming over from the Dolphins and running back Carlos Hyde from the 49ers.

It looks like Hyde will share the RB duties with second-round draft pick Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson.

Crucial player
Sophomore tight end David Njoku. After a solid first year in the game, he will look to improve on his 32 receptions for 386 yards for season two.

Njoku will be key to the Browns offensive options. Look for a big year from him.

Keep an eye on
Wide receiver Josh Gordon.

Gordon has never been far from controversy since he entered the league in 2012.

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He has been suspended multiple times for his use of performance-enhancing drugs and is not currently attending Browns training camp due to personal issues.

It remains to be seen if he is to play in 2018. If he stays clean, sober and happy, Gordon can wreak havoc on defences all season long.

Personnel changes
Head coach Hue Jackson has made plenty of changes across the coaching staff. The most notable is Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley, formerly with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Haley brings with him more than 20 years’ experience in the role, with some of the best players in the game. He will add some much-needed spice to the Browns offensive line.

Predicted finish
5-11.

The Browns are building towards a better future. They will win more games this season than the previous few, but will still be short of playoff football.

They are heading in the right direction.