2017 AFC North

2016 Finish: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland

Overall Notes: Pittsburgh is clearly the best team in the AFC North. I see regression in Baltimore. Cincinnati is a bit of a cipher. And while I see Cleveland improving, it’s a long way from 1-15 to the Steelers’ level.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2016 Record:  11-5 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.9)

2016 Division Rank: 1st
2016 Injury Rank: 12th
2017 Age Rank: 18th
2016 DVOA Overall 4th (O/D/ST):  (7th / 11th / 17th)

I’m not as high on the Steelers as many people are. I think Ben Roethlisberger will continue to be excellent, and Antonio Brown might be the best WR in the NFL. The offensive line is very good to great. And LeVeon Bell is fantastic. However, I worry about Bell because he held out during training camp. I think he’s ripe for a pulled muscle injury that will hamper him all year.

Their defense will be pretty good again. James Harrison takes a step back but is replaced by T.J. Watt. Ryan Shazier might have a breakout year and they have a number of other solid players.

Still, they weren’t quite as good as their record last year. Given the quality of the division, I expect another 11-5 record, but I don’t think they’re as good as they have been.

Cincinnati Bengals
2016 Record:  6-9-1 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.3)
2016 Division Rank: 3rd
2016 Injury Rank: 3rd
2017 Age Rank: 3rd
2016 DVOA Overall 13th (O/D/ST):  (11th / 17th / 28th)

This is a hard team to predict. On the one hand, they were better than their record last year. On the other, I just don’t care for the team. They’ve lots of good players, but not many great ones other than A.J. Green.

That’s exemplified by that 11th in Offensive DVOA. Andy Dalton is good, but not great. Joe Mixon might be great, but I don’t expect it this year. A.J. Green is great, but their best receivers besides him are rookies and WR is one of the hardest positions for a rookie. The offensive line is serviceable, but nothing better than average. That 11th is probably the top of their range.

On defense, they’re going to benefit from a couple of really nice draft picks. However, their best players are on the downward curve of their career, like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and Adam Jones. I doubt they’ll get better on this side of the ball.

I can see them improving on Special Teams, and being as young as they are, they’ll do better later in the year. Still, this is an 8-8 team, just like they were last year.

Baltimore Ravens
2016 Record:  8-8 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.6)
2016 Division Rank: 2nd
2016 Injury Rank: 11th
2017 Age Rank: 25th
2016 DVOA Overall 12th (O/D/ST):  (24th / 6th / 4th)

This offense was bad last year, and it’ll be just as bad this year, if not worse. I don’t like how much they lost on the line. I’ve never been a fan of Joe Flacco, and there’s not a dynamic weapon. They’ll struggle to score points. Without Justin Tucker, the best kicker in the NFL, they’d be one of the worst scoring offenses in the league.

Now, their defense was very good last year, and I expect it to be as good or better this year. Lots of good players at every level, and they drafted two nice prospects.

I think 8 wins is their ceiling, but I don’t see them reaching it. I’d say more like 7-9.

Cleveland Browns
2016 Record:  1-15 (Pythagorean Wins: 3.3)

2016 Division Rank: 4th
2016 Injury Rank: 23rd
2017 Age Rank: 1st
2016 DVOA Overall 31st (O/D/ST):  (29th / 30th /  26th)

It’s a long climb from 1-15 but they’re on their way. I really like what this team is doing. If the ownership gives their coach and GM several years to develop things, they’ll turn this around. Unfortunately, the Browns are not known for their patience.

Still, there are positive signs. If Deshone Kizer becomes a decent QB, they have some weapons. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson make a nice RB tandem. Corey Coleman could be something special, as could David Njoku. Plus, I really like this offensive line. I don’t think this offense will be great, but I could see it becoming league average.

Likewise, I see promise on this defense. Myles Garrett will miss some time because of a high ankle sprain, an injury that often lingers. That’s unfortunate. However, there’s lots of young talent on this side of the ball.

I don’t see this team making the playoffs, but I would not be surprised if they won 8 games. More likely they go 7-9 and tie the Ravens for last in the division.

 

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