August 18, 2016 by Ell and Mike Sports
Ell’s NFL Divisional Rankings AFC North
The Steelers boost a high scoring passing attack behind an improved O-line and a healthy Ben Roethlisberger. The run game should be fine with veteran RB DeAngelo Williams filling in for star RB Le’Veon Bell, but you can only imagine how deadly the offense would be with Bell and Bryant. TE Ladarius Green should bring some solid athleticism to the team. The WR core continues to be led by star Antonio Brown with some talented speedsters behind him who can get the job done, but none can truly replace Martavius Bryant. The defense has really evolved with a solid front seven with DE’s Cameron Heyward and Stephen Tuitt, a LB core of veteran OLB James Harrison, ILB Lawrence Timmons, OLB Jarvis Jones, ILB Ryan Shazier, and budding OLB Bud Dupree. The secondary is a work in progress, but they have some young competition to make things interesting and give signs of progress. The Steelers should continue to lead the division with their balance on both sides of the ball led by their high-powered offense.
The Bengals suffered some free agency losses at WR, but the offense will still move the chains behind the solid two man run game of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. QB Andy Dalton will miss Hue Jackson, but he will still put up solid numbers with his #1 WR A.J. Green, a possession WR in Brandon Lafell who has shown that he can be a solid red zone target, veteran slot WR Brandon Tate, and rookie WR Tayj Boyd who continues to impress in camp with his size and hands; he could eventually take the #2 job. TE Tyler Eifert will continue to lead the way once he is fully healed from injury, while TE Tyler Kroft is expected to take some pressure off. The O-line has good continuity while getting younger at RT. The defense still boasts one of the best D-lines in the league who should continue to apply pressure all day upfront with high motor players and a solid DT rotation. The LB core is still deep with good continuity and adding solid run stopping and coverage veteran Karlos Dansby while star MLB Vontaze Burfict is on suspension was a smart pickup. The secondary will be the key in its first year without veteran FS Reggie Nelson, so his replacement Shawn Williams will need to step up and 2nd year Darqueze Dennard will need to step up without veteran CB Leon Hall. Veteran CB Adam Jones will continue to lead the secondary on a young, but promising unit. The Bengals will continue to win games with a solid defense and run game.
The Ravens replacing Eugene Monroe with top pick LT Ronnie Stanley was an upgrade in itself, but he will have growing pains as he continues to get better. The team needs to get healthy overall starting with QB Joe Flacco and WRs Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, while TE Dennis Pitta needs to stay healthy. RB Justin Forsett still has hold of the RB job, but I believe the carries will go to Terrance West who runs hungry again and rookie RB Kenneth Dixon who has workhorse potential, while Buck Allen is a solid 3rd down back with his hands out the backfield. The WR core is full of deep threats for Flacco, but who will step up (and stay healthy)? The TE group is full of specialists, unless Ben Watson can repeat last year’s performance. The defense will be better with the return of veteran OLBs Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil who should add some much needed pass rush along with rookie Kamalei Correa and veteran Za’Darius Smith who should be improved. The team needs to find an ILB to replace veteran Daryl Smith who was a solid run stuffer, but the D-line is deeper than it has been in years after adding much needed depth through the draft. The secondary didn’t add the depth it needed and I think La’Darius Webb will not work out at FS and return to his original position, but free agent CB Jerraud Powers could be a steal. The Ravens are making a transition as they continue to get younger while still depending heavily on their veterans, which will cause some growing pains.
The Browns have made a lot of positive changes under HC Hue Jackson, but it’s still not enough to put a dent in the division. They have a solid QB room with a rejuvenated RGIII, a veteran backup in Josh McCown, a young former starter in Austin Davis, and a project in rookie Cody Kessler. The run game should improve under Jackson’s control with power back Isiah Crowell and the explosive Duke Johnson. Rookie WR Corey Coleman has received a lot of offseason praise and should be a playmaker, Terrelle Pryor should bring something different to the passing game, veteran slot WR Andrew Hawkins should be decent in the slot, and one of the rookies they drafted should show up, but the big return is the return of WR Josh Gordon. TE Gary Barnidge should continue to make plays. The offensive line has two veteran pieces in star LT Joe Thomas and RG Joel Bitonio, but losing a lot of veteran pieces will hurt to a usually consistent unit. The defense is making changes and should find a way to bring pressure under DC Ray Horton who has excelled the last few seasons. The D-line has added some depth and the LBs need to play to their potential. The CBs are solid, but star CB Joe Haden needs to play to his potential; also, the back end needs to continue to improve with the young safeties. The Browns should be competitive, but not good enough to win many games; they must continue to add impact players.