AFC NORTH 2020 PREVIEW

BY ADAM GREENE

In the entire history of the AFC North (created in 2002 when the NFL realigned and added the Houston Texans as the 32nd team), no team has won the division more than the Pittsburgh Steelers. In its 18 years of existence, the Steelers have claimed the title eight times. The Baltimore Ravens are right on their heels with six division titles and the Cincinnati Bengals have been Kings of the North four times.

The Cleveland Browns? That’s a big zero for them. Will this season be any different? Nope, but let’s still talk about it.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-6, Division Champion)

The Steelers finished 8-8 last season in spite of playing musical quarterbacks between Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges after Ben Roethlisberger went down in Week 2. While Mike Tomlin was praised for his coaching job (and rightly so) as his team limped to the finish line, they only beat one team with a winning record, the Los Angeles Rams, and finished out 0-3, even dropping a Week 16 game to the New York Jets.

As with pretty much every team in the NFL, so much of the Steelers’ success rests on the health of its starting quarterback. The reason we have to talk about it with Pittsburgh is that Roethlisberger has a knack for getting beaten up. But with a full year off to rest and heal for the first time in his career, I’m expecting an especially spry Big Ben to lead the Steelers to their first division title in three seasons.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (9-7)

Of all my predictions, this one is likely the most controversial. Certainly the love for Lamar Jackson is real and palpable, exemplified by his ridiculously high Madden 21 rating.

I like Jackson and what he could turn into, but I’ve outlined his issues as a big game quarterback before. He’s been schemed against in two consecutive one-and-done postseason runs and now that film, and strategy is out there for all to see. I don’t see a collapse or a meltdown for the Ravens and Jackson this year, but there will be significant bumps in the road. Their schedule, especially from Oct. 18 through Dec. 3 does them no favors.

CLEVELAND BROWNS (8-8)

The years of predicting the Browns to make some kind of leap and become a real contender are over for me. If they do it, they’re going to have to surprise all of us. They have, unquestionably, the best set of offensive skill players (outside of QB) in the division with Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper and David Njoku.

On top of that, they have some of the best defensive players in the league like Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson and Oliver Vernon. If you were handed this franchise on Madden, you wouldn’t make a lot of changes. And yet, the Browns are going to Brown.

It would be fun to see them do better than .500, but I don’t trust them. And Mayfield has a lot to prove this season. With his receivers, tight ends and running backs, he has no excuses.

CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-10)

The Bengals gave no indication they would be tanking before last season, yet tank they did. It allowed them to win the NFL Draft and put Heismen Trophy and National Champion-winning quarterback Joe Burrow on the roster. That will pay off.

Only not now. Cincinnati is not the Ravens of two years ago that just needed solid play out of the QB to get better. They’ve got some of the pieces, even keeping wide receiver A.J. Green on the franchise tag, but it’s not going to come together this season.

But once December rolls around, this will be a fun team to watch.

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