Tag: AFC North

NFL 2015 preview: Joe Flacco, Ravens to the Super Bowl

Predicted Finish:

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) (2nd seed; Super Bowl loser)

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) (5th seed; AFC Championship Game)

Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)

Cleveland Browns (6-10)

Remember the good ol’ days when the AFC North struck fear into the entire NFL? When even Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were unsure of their ability to take on the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers defenses and emerge victorious?

Well I’m predicting at least a temporary return to the dominance of the North. In other words, the road to the AFC Championship goes through Winterfell this season.

The Baltimore Ravens and Joe Flacco came tantalizingly close to going the distance last season, and don’t make the mistake of thinking that the departure of Torrey Smith is an automatic step backwards for Baltimore’s offense. Justin Forsett has another year of experience to build on, and the Ravens added some rookie talent that is very likely to contribute sooner rather than later. The outlook on the defensive side of the ball is a little less clear, but the Ravens long standing history of weathering key personnel losses with no corresponding drop off in performance is equalled only by elite organizations like New England.

Speaking of the Patriots, who do you think they least want to see in the playoffs? You got that right!

If there’s an obstacle the Ravens may have trouble overcoming, it’s the resurgent Steelers, whose offense has evolved into a multi-faceted and very hard to handle unit. Right now, the biggest concern the Steelers have on offense is health, where injuries may wind up sidetracking Pittsburgh a little more than they can make up for. On the defensive side of the ball, there are a number of question marks, but I’m trying to remember the last time Pittsburgh put an overtly bad defense on the field. I can’t. They may not be dominating, but then again they may. What they will be, either way, is capable. That will be enough to send tremors through the AFC playoff field.

My prediction of the Bengals multi-year playoff run coming to an end is less about the Bengals getting worse and more about the Bengals primary opposition getting better. Cincinnati will have to play catch up this offseason as their two main rivals pass them this year.

Woe is Cleveland, or then again perhaps not. The Browns have a schedule that starts out easy to let them find their footing, and while the end of the season is bloody murder, Cleveland will probably come out of this season looking better than most people thought they were going to. Josh McCown makes sense for the Browns this year, although they should endeavor to find a way to work in Johnny Manziel once he’s healthy to get him some reps and get themselves some useful film on the guy to see if he’s a lost cause or not. Defensively Cleveland still has quite a bit of talent, and this is a team that sooner or later is going to take a very big step forward instead of their usual baby one.

Come playoff time, I have the North really dominating the scene, as the Steelers will knock off two of the AFC’s favorites (Indianapolis and New England) en route to a AFC Championship game appearance that they’ll lose to rival Baltimore. I have the Ravens going to the Super Bowl but falling short. There’s one NFC team I have rated above all the rest.

Games to Watch:

Week 3 – Oakland @ Cleveland: As I said, the Browns’ early schedule is cake, and if they can’t manage to come out of their opening handful of games 3-0 then they don’t belong on the field with half the teams they’ll play afterwards. 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 5 – Pittsburgh @ San Diego: If the Steelers are going to be the kind of marauders I’m predicting this season, they’ll need to pick off talented but incomplete teams like the Chargers when they run into them.

Week 13 – Indianapolis @ Pittsburgh: The Colts are the golden boys of the AFC this year, expected to take that next step. If the Steelers smack them down, it sends a message.

Week 17 – Cincinnati @ Baltimore: Do the Bengals have more juice than I’m giving them credit for? The schedule makers think so – they’ve made this showdown the highlight game at the end of the season.

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Ravens Win By Default: AFC North Preview

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.

Predicted Finish:

Baltimore Ravens (9-7) (4th seed; AFC Wildcard Round)

Cincinnati (9-7) (5th seed; AFC Divisional Round)

Pittsburgh (7-9)

Cleveland (6-10)

 

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.

 

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Can the Bengals overtake the Ravens in the AFC North?

This is clearly the most competitive division in the AFC, with the top three teams all being legitimate contenders, and even the lowly Browns being a very tough out for opponents week in and week out.

Predicted Finish

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) (4th seed; AFC Divisional Round)

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) (5th seed; AFC Wildcard Round)

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) (6th seed; AFC Wildcard Round)

Cleveland Browns (7-9)

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AFC North 2013 season preview

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