AFC North preview

Jonathan Charron

Sports Blogger

@theozoneonline

Cincinnati Bengals

Since Andy Dalton arrived in Cincinnati for the 2011 season, the Bengals have made the postseason every year. However, there has to be a point at which you wonder how much longer the team will give Dalton and coach Marvin Lewis to prove they can win a playoff game. After starting 10-2 last season, the Bengals looked poised to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC. An injury to Dalton though hindered the Bengals and they finished the season 2-2 with A.J. McCarron at the helm.

The Bengals didn’t lose or gain any big-time free agents during the offseason. However, they lost receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu and replaced them with Brandon LaFell and second round pick Tyler Boyd from Pittsburgh. Boyd has a chance to come in and be another receiving weapon beside A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert.

Cincinnati returns a defense that finished second in the league last season. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins was a big part of the defensive success, picking up 11 sacks last season.

The AFC North will be a close race between the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. (Jeffrey Beall, Flickr)
The AFC North will be a close race between the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.
(Jeffrey Beall, Flickr)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh finished 10-6 last season and made it to the AFC Divisional round before Denver knocked them off. The Steelers should still have a strong team, but with receiver Martavis Bryant and running back Le’Veon Bell being suspended, Pittsburgh could get off to a rocky start. Last season, Bell played in only five games because of suspension and injury. DeAngelo Williams carried the burden, but as an older back, can he last another season if need be? With Bryant out, second year receiver Sammie Coates will have to step up beside Markus Wheaton and top receiver Antonio Bryant.

The Steelers, even with Martavis Bryant out, should still have a top passing offense. The problem with Pittsburgh will be its defense. Last season it finished 11th in total defense, but that stat can be misleading, considering they finished 30th in pass defense. Pittsburgh will score lots of points and put up a lot of yards, however, they will also give up a lot of points and yards as well.

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore faced a lot of injuries last season, especially from quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Justin Forsett on the offensive side of the ball. Through the first nine games, though, Flacco and Forsett were on the field, yet the team was only 2-7. The Ravens don’t have the same fire power that they had on offense in 2012 when they won the Super Bowl. Baltimore finished last season at 5-11 and should be about a game better.

Mike Wallace signed with the team after getting cut by the Vikings and he should help add another veteran presence to a young receiving corps that includes second-year man Breshad Perriman and last season’s leading receiver, Kamar Aiken.

Overall, Baltimore is in a similar situation as division rival Pittsburgh. The defensive play of the Ravens will go a long way toward how many games they will win. Last season Baltimore finished 24th in total defense.

Cleveland Browns

Three of Cleveland’s biggest pick-ups in the offseason were in the draft. With the Browns first three picks, they got two pass rushers to help shore up a steadily improving defense and Corey Coleman, a receiver from Baylor, with the 15th overall pick.

Second-round pick Emmanuel Ogbah from Oklahoma State and the 2015 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, will transition from defensive end to linebacker. Carl Nassib, from Penn State, will join the defensive line and bring another body to compete.

One of the biggest offseason moves for the Browns was to bring in another quarterback. After cutting Johnny Manziel, Cleveland added Robert Griffin III to be the team’s starting quarterback.

Cleveland is steadily improving, but will have another bad year in the win and loss column.

ozone@ocolly.com

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