NFL Previews That Don’t Suck: AFC North
It comes as a surprise that the AFC North will even play football this year. From Chris Lewis-Harris’ (who?) substance-abuse suspension to Ray Rice’s “I totally didn’t mean to beat my wife” suspension to Josh Gordon’s “Bruh, two hits then pass that that season-long suspension,” is anyone even eligible to play this year? Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), yes.
Coach: Mike Tomlin
It’s hard to really tell how the Steelers and their team of should-be felons will pan out this year, but you can never count them out. Despite Ben “Sir Touch-a-Lot” Roethlisberger having one of the best years statistically of his career in 2013, the Steelers only went 8-8. Expect a return to form (hopefully not in a Vegas bathroom) of Big Ben and the Steelers squad.
LeGarrette “I Will Smash My Helmet Against Your Face” Blount was added in the offseason and should help bolster the sixth-worst rushing offense in the NFL. Antonio Brown is a stud. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Lance Moore were signed in the offseason and have been meh forever, but there have been flashes of decency from time to time. A healthy Heath Miller should help as well.
The defense should be able to step up as well. Cameron Heyward finally showed why he was a first round pick last year. Rookies Stephon Tuitt and Ryan Shazier will help as well. The Steelers apparently love former Al Davis busts since, along with Heyward-Bey, they signed Michael Mitchell to play safety. He had a good year in Carolina and should continue to play well next to Troy Polamalu’s hair.
Notable Losses: WR Emmanuel Sanders, S Ryan Clark, OLB LaMarr Woodley
Notable Additions: RB LeGarrette Blount, S Michael Mitchell, WR Darrius Heywar-Bey
Notable Draft Picks: LB Ryan Shazier, DE Stephon Tuitt, RB/WR Dri Archer
2013 Record: 8-8, 2nd in AFC East
AFC North Record: 4-2
Best Case Scenario: 12-4, AFC North Champion
Was last year an aberration? Probably. If Roethlisberger plays like last year and the rest of the cast gives just a little more effort, the Steelers might be back. A pretty easy schedule should help as well.
Worst Case Scenario: 6-10
Then again, counting on LeGarrette Blount, Markus Wheaton, Michael Mitchell and no injuries is always risky.
Coach: Marvin Lewis
The Bengals have an interesting scenario this year. The jury is out on if QB Andy Dalton is good or not, but it is his contract year. That means he could put up some serious numbers. Or he could crumble under the pressure. Dalton is the ginger-headed, beige crayon of NFL quarterbacks, so his future is sort of in limbo unless the team gives him a contract.
Luckily he’s got some tools to work with. Gio Bernard is a stud. A.J. Green is a stud. Maybe Jermaine Gresham can play well and Tyler Eifert can prove why he was worth a first-round pick. The Bengals only have one new starter on offense besides Bernard.
Losing Michael Johnson on the defensive line hurts a lot. Sure he might be a little crazy, but the good kind of crazy. And Wallace Gilberry is all right, but simply will not going to be able to pick up the slack. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins should continue to play well. Vontaze Burflict has to continue his Ray Lewis impression (sans holding a guy down to get stabbed, which is definitely within the realm of possibility for Burflict).
This really comes down to coaching. Marvin Lewis might have some serious tenure with the Bengals, but he can make some stupid decisions. If Lewis finally acts like he knows what he’s doing, there’s no reason this team can’t reach the playoffs. Also, since AJ McCarron is on the team, maybe we’ll get some sweet Katherine Webb shots.
2013 Record: 11-5, AFC North Champion
AFC North Record: 3-3
Notable Losses: DE Michael Johnson, LB James Harrison, CB Brandon Ghee
Notable Additions: S Danieal Manning, QB Jason Campbell,
Notable Draft Picks: CB Darqueze Dennard, RB Jeremy Hill, QB AJ McCarron
Best Case Scenario: 13-3, AFC North Champion
The Bengals upside is better than that of the Steelers. If all of the moving parts work correctly, this is a dangerous team. If Lewis can act like an NFL coach, then this team is a force to be reckoned with. Games against the Titans, Jaguars, Browns, Bucs and Texans should help.
Worst Case Scenario: 5-11
Unfortunately games against the Panthers, Colts, Saints, Patriots, Broncos and two each against fierce division rivals the Steelers an Ravens won’t. Despite all the talent, a lot of the possible success hinges on Andy Dalton having a good year. Who knows how the enigma that is the Red Rifle will play out? Also, Marvin Lewis. But even if the Bengals suck, we’ll get to see us some Katherine Webb.
Coach: John Harbaugh
The Ravens of Bodymore, Murdaland (you’re welcome Wire fans) are in a situation similar to the Steelers. The perennial contender is just two seasons removed from a Super Bowl victory, but only managed to go 8-8 in 2013. Joe Flacco was the sixth-best passer in the NFL last year, but it just didn’t translate. The Ravens were 30th in the league in rushing last year.
Ray Rice also had a down year with an injury. That may continue since he’s serving a suspension for training to be a domestic violence advocate (nice job, NFL). Getting rid of the terrible Michael Oher should help. Good thing they made that movie when they did. Having Eugene Monroe for a full season should remedy some of that. Adding Steve Smith at receiver might help, but he’s 35. The tight end duo of Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels is intriguing.
Defensively, Haloti Ngata will continue to devour offensive lineman, Terrell Suggs will still be from Ball So Hard University and Lardarius Webb will not tolerate anything thrown his way. Bookending Suggs with Elvis Dumervil because of a fax error last year was a coup and will continue to produce results. Who knew this team could lose Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and only have a slight dropoff in production?
2013 Record: 8-8, 3rd in AFC East
AFC North Record: 3-3
Notable Losses: FB Vonta Leach, DE Arthur Jones, TE Ed Dickson
Notable Additions: WR Steve Smith, TE Owen Daniels, RB Justin Forsett
Notable Draft Picks: LB CJ Mosley, DT Timmy Jernigan, DE Brent Urban
Best Case Scenario: 11-5, AFC East Champion
The AFC North really is wide open. If the Bengals and Steelers play badly (and even if they play well), there’s no reason this team can’t win.
Then again they do have some aging players (along with Smith, Suggs is 32 and Dumervil is 30). They’ll also have to deal with domestic violence advocate Ray Rice.
Coach: Mike Pettine
How bad can the Cleveland Browns get? Bad enough head coaches don’t want the job? Yep. Bad enough they’ll make a Hollywood movie about how bad you suck? Definitely. Bad enough they’ll draft a degenerate, alcoholic, coke fiend to lead the team? You should see where this paragraph is going by now.
Sure, they got Johnny Football. But he’s to busy snorting blow and flipping off the Redskins to make any real impact. He’ll more than likely be more of an distraction than an asset. And Briany Hoyer? More like Brian No-yer (I’ll see myself out). The Browns released Brandon Weeden and have to deal with Josh Gordon’s love of weed. He’ll sit the year out and probably go to Burning Man. Maybe Miles Austin can play like it’s three years ago (but probably not). Ben Tate at running back? Or Chris Ogbannaya? Or Terrance West? At least Jordan Cameron should be able to score once or twice this season.
As bad as the offense is, the defense should be pretty good. Joe Haden is one of the best — if not the best — cornerbacks in the league. Justin Gilbert should make some waves as a rookie. Paul Kruger is a beast. Karlos Dansby had an excellent season in Arizona, but decided to go to Cleveland for some reason. All-in-all the D will keep Cleveland in some games this year. But unless the defense is going to score 20 points a game, don’t expect much to come from the Browns.
2013 Record: 4-12, 4th in AFC East
AFC East Record: 2-4
Notable Losses: LB D’Qwell Jackson, S TJ Ward, QB Brandon Weeden
Notable Additions: RB Ben Tate, WR Miles Austin, WR Nate Burleson
Notable Draft Picks: CB Justin Gilbert, QB Johnny Manziel, LB Chris Kirksey
Best Case Scenario: 8-8
There’s always a chance that the team could go .500. To paraphrase Lloyd Christmas, one in a million is still a chance.
But there’s a far greater chance that this team has the first pick in the draft next year. Good thing they made that Kevin Costner flick. It’s bound to be timeless.