You can basically call this the hypocrisy division. In Baltimore, you’ve got Ray Rice and his two games for domestic violence. In Cleveland, you’ve got Josh Gordon getting an entire season for some pot. And in Pittsburgh you’ve got those two crappy running backs and that whole mess. The NFL needs a makeover and they can start with these teams.
I have the Ravens winning this division more or less by default. Baltimore was 8-8 last year, and thanks mostly to an easier schedule I have them going 9-7 this year. The Ravens are neither great nor terrible, just slightly better than the other teams in the North.
Cincinnati’s big news in the offseason was giving Andy Dalton a new deal, which some people questioned. Dalton has had zero playoff success, but given the transient nature of NFL contracts, it may not be the sizable commitment everyone thinks it is. The real key to the Bengals offense remains AJ Green, who is second only to Calvin Johnson in terms of talent at WR in the NFL.
Everyone keeps waiting for the Steelers to re-emerge as the terrors of this division, but I think they will still be waiting at the end of this season. The Steelers o-line remains suspect, and God only knows who will be carrying the ball for them. Similarly, they’ve made few improvements on defense, so what you saw last season from the Steelers is likely what you will see this season. Ben Roethlisberger will probably put up good numbers…except for wins.
Johnny Manziel won’t be starting, Josh Gordon is suspended – is there any reason to watch the Browns? Well, people forget that they drafted Justin Gilbert to pair with Joe Haden, which gives them the best pair of cornerbacks this side of that gang in Seattle. They also acquired Ben Tate from Houston, who is better than anyone they were handing the ball to last year. To be sure, Cleveland is still in rebuild, but with Manziel poised to take the reins at some point in the season, Browns fans have every reason to be optimistic about what may come in the future.
Baltimore Ravens (9-7) (4th seed; AFC Wildcard Round)
Cincinnati (9-7) (5th seed; AFC Divisional Round)
Games to Watch:
Week 2 – Pittsburgh @Baltimore: Even with both of these teams on a downturn, this remains an NFL rivalry that gets your juices going. Smash mouth all the way.
Week 13 – Cincinnati @Tampa Bay: The Bengals face the dreaded three in a row on the road here. They can’t afford to drop a game to a team like the Bucs, so it will be dig down deep time.
Week 14 – Indianapolis @Cleveland: Some people think the Browns will go to Manziel after their bye in week 4. After watching the kid in preseason, I can’t imagine they’d do it that quickly. This game makes much more sense, against a weak defense, at a point in the season when there will likely be no pressure.
Week 17 – Cincinnati @Pittsburgh: This is the kind of end of the season divisional game that often decides playoff fates for one or both teams.