Projected Afc North End-of-Season Standings
1 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
2 Baltimore Ravens (7-9)
3 Cleveland Browns (5-11)
4 Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)
Pittsburgh isn’t without questions, especially on defense, but they clearly have the most talent in this division.
Baltimore may not even be as good as a typical seven-win team, but being in a relatively bad division gets them an additional win or two.
Cleveland is trending upward for the first time in recent memory. They upgraded at a number of positions, but still have a long ways to go in order to approach a winning record, much less become a legit contender. After getting shut out in the win column last year, only one way to go, right?
Cincinnati just feels like the leading candidate for 2018’s “the wheels have officially come off” award. Not much to be optimistic about here.
QB Watch (Because it’s the most important position)
Pittsburgh: Ben Roethlisberger is on the downside of his career and has openly pondered retiring (though maybe not all that seriously). He’s a good match for this offense though. His big arm can lead to plenty of big plays for Antonio Brown and the rest of Pittsburgh’s receiving corps. But you know how we know Big Ben is getting old? He had to have Fortnite explained to him.
Ben Roethlisberger said JuJu Smith-Schuster recently explained Fortnite to him. He won’t be playing. pic.twitter.com/PoQrjfq82p
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) August 12, 2018
Baltimore: Joe Flacco was put on the clock as soon as Baltimore took Lamar Jackson in the draft. This will be one of the more fascinating QB battles to watch as the season progresses. Baltimore has a fairly easy schedule early on which could buy Flacco some time, but expect to see Jackson under center before the season is over.
Cleveland: Tyrod Taylor is the NFL’s man without a home. Even though he had some perfectly fine years in Buffalo, it seemed like the organization never got fully behind him. Now in Cleveland, he’s got the reigning number-one pick (Baker Mayfield) behind him. Taylor’s time in the AFC North may already have a cap on it, but he’s in pretty good shape to prove himself yet again, even as Cleveland will continue to struggle.
Cincinnati: Andy Dalton just hasn’t progressed the way many in Cincy thought he would. We generally think of head coaches as being on the “hot seat” as far as being replaced, but that term certainly applying to Dalton this season as well.
Not getting ahead of myself off one game, but if Tate continues to build on this, he could be a real complement to the Bengals red zone offense. He’s not the fastest guy but they already have guys with straight line speed. Just needs to keep flashing.
— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) August 10, 2018
Non-QB Positions/Players to Watch
Pittsburgh: Le’Veon Bell. This might seem too obvious, but all sides appear to be content with this being Bell’s last season with the Steelers. That would incentivize Pittsburgh to use him as much as they possibly can, as they don’t have any long-term health concerns if he’s playing elsewhere. Bell would readily accept that challenge. It’s really an interesting situation because they are contractually on opposite sides of the deal-making spectrum, but it’s also in the best interest of both sides to do one thing: feed Bell the ball.
Baltimore: Wide Receiver. Michael Crabtree is a fine player, but not necessarily someone considered to be a game-breaker. Somebody other than Crabtree needs to take a huge leap. If not, teams could double the newly acquired WR and force the ball elsewhere. That, in itself, is enough to cause the Baltimore downfall this season.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco made an unreal throw to Chris Moore that traveled about 70 yards in the air. Rolling to his right at his own 28–yard line, Flacco threw to left side of the field, where he connected with Moore inside the 5-yard line. Not too many QBs have that arm strength.
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) August 13, 2018
Cleveland: Myles Garrett. If the former top pick can infuse a consistent pass rush in Cleveland’s defense, it could end up kind of decent. And decent is, well … not bad.
#Browns #HardKnocks debuts tonight and we really need to get Myles Garrett a @Marvel movie deal ASAP pic.twitter.com/mATDYtuOEF
— Rich Eisen Show (@RichEisenShow) August 7, 2018
Cincinnati: Secondary. Despite the concerns about Andy Dalton, the offense still has capable players in Joe Mixon and A.J. Green. However, stopping teams – especially from getting the ball downfield in the air – has to give Bengals fans nightmares.
Crazy Wild Scenario
If the Steelers defense doesn’t take a meaningful step up and the two of Roethlisberger, Brown, and/or Bell are forced to miss some time (entirely possible), we could be looking at a wide-open division … in the worst way possible. If that happens, it’s possible an 8-8 record could win the division, in which case nothing can be ruled out. Yep, say it with me: The Cleveland Browns, 2018 AFC North Champs!
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