2017-18 NFL Divisional Previews: AFC North

Devin Swann breaks down the AFC North division as we gear up for the 2017-18 NFL season.

We are just days away from the start of the 2017-18 NFL season. The anticipation is building over here at The Demo Tape, so we are unveiling our season preview over the next few days, leading up to the opening kickoff. Our first stop is the AFC North, as the Pittsburgh Steelers look to repeat as division champs. Will any other team give them a run for their money? Devin Swann gives us the breakdown.

 

4. Cleveland Browns:

The Cleveland Browns haven’t had a winning record since 2007 and have been the laughing stock of the AFC North for the past decade. The problem with the Browns is that they still haven’t been able to draft or sign a franchise-caliber quarterback, in addition to keeping a head coach long enough to make any progress. Last year, rookie head coach Hue Jackson went 1-15 in his first year as the Browns head coach. However, with their recent draft class, in combination with the talent they already have, the Cleveland Browns should be trending upwards.

In this year’s draft class, Cleveland selected the best player in the draft in defensive end Myles Garrett at No. 1 overall, a hybrid defensive star Jabrill Peppers from Michigan, and a freak athletic tight end in David Njoku from Miami. Cleveland also might’ve found its franchise quarterback in DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame) in the second round. Lastly, the Browns perhaps may have found a steal in Caleb Brantley from Florida State in the 6th round.

With all the positive things the Cleveland Browns did this offseason, they still lost a lot of key players in the offseason, as they lost their best wide receiver in Terrelle Pryor, their best cover corner in Joe Haden and defense tackle Stephen Paea.

Browns 2017 Schedule and Outlook:
Home: BAL, CIN, PIT, NYJ, TEN, MIN, JAC, GB
Away: BAL, CIN, PIT, IND, HOU, DET, LAC, CHI
Outlook: I predict the Browns to go 4-12 with wins over the Bears, Jaguars, Jets, and Bengals. I believe they will go 3-5 at home and 1-7 on the road.

 

3. Cincinnati Bengals:

Sports Illustrated

The 2016 Cincinnati Bengals were a disappointment to all their fans, as they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Part of the problem last year was that they were 1-5-1 in games decided by seven points or less. It is mainly because they were an undisciplined group who had costly turnovers and penalties when they couldn’t afford them. The other part of the problem was that they lost two offensive superstars in A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert for a duration of the year.

This offseason was a busy one, as the Bengals made a splash in the NFL Draft by selecting wideout John Ross from the University of Washington. Ross was the fastest player to ever participate in the NFL combine (4.22 40 yard dash). They also drafted talented but troubled running back Joe Mixon from Oklahoma to add on to an already stacked offensive team when healthy. The problem with the Bengals is that they lost a lot of free agents this year. The Bengals lost both starting offensive tackles in Andrew Withworth and Eric Winston. They lost their starting guard in Kevin Zeitler. They also lost three of their linebackers from last year in Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby, and Vontaze Burflict to a 3 game suspension.

2017 Schedule and Outlook:
Home: BAL, CLE, PIT, CHI, DET, HOU, IND, BUF
Away: BAL, CLE, PIT, GB, JAC, TEN, DEN, MIN
Outlook: 7-9 with a 5-3 record at home and 2-6 record on the Road. I believe the Bengals will suffer another down year because of the combination of a 3 game suspension to Vontaze Burflict, who is their best defensive player, a tough schedule, and the fact that they lost 3 starters on the offensive line. They will have Andy Dalton running for his life. With that being said, I think you can add another year into the Bengals going without a playoff victory, making that 27 straight.

 

2. Baltimore Ravens:

Last year, the Baltimore Ravens finished 8-8. They had an opportunity to write their own destiny, but a crushing loss to the Steelers in Week 16 in the final moments ended the team’s playoff hopes. Two problems with the Ravens last year was that they were a completely average team across the board and they tried to be a team that went against their personnel, as Flacco was second in the league in pass attempts. Average is not good enough to make the playoffs in the NFL. So going into the 2017 offseason, Ozzie Newsome’s priority was to make the Ravens defense dominant again, and get back to running the football.

During the draft, the Ravens focused on defense and defense only, as their first four picks were on the defensive side of the ball. Their first-round pick was an athletic corner in Marlon Humphrey. They drafted two outside pass rushing linebackers in Tim Williams from Alabama and Tyus Bowser from Houston. Lastly, they drafted Chris Wormley, a defensive tackle from Michigan.

During the offseason, the Ravens continued to address their defense as they signed one of the best strong safeties in the game in Tony Jefferson to go next to Eric Weddle. They signed cornerback Brandon Carr to start next to Jimmy Smith. In addition to their defense, the Ravens added Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead to try to help improve the Ravens offense, but most importantly, they signed Greg Roman to help get the running game back on track because it was abysmal. Unfortunately, the injury bug seems to always find its way to Baltimore, as key losses this year are injuries to Joe Flacco (missed entire preseason), Breshad Perriman (missed entire preseason), and Tavon Young (out for the year), as well as the retirement of Zach Orr.

2017 Schedule and Outlook:
Home: CLE, CIN, PIT, CHI, MIA, HOU, DET, IND
Away: CLE, CIN, PIT, JAG, OAK, MIN, TEN, GB
Outlook: The Ravens typically play to the level of their competition and that’s scary as a fan. But the Ravens have one of the best home field advantages in the league. I believe with an easy home schedule, so I can see the Ravens can going 7-1 at home. Their road schedule is pretty difficult, where I only see them beating the Jaguars, Browns and Bengals. They may be able to sneak a win against Minnesota but they should be scared of that defense. I expect a 10-6 season for the Ravens.

 

1. Pittsburgh Steelers:

Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Steelers went 11-5 and were AFC North champions for the second time in three years. A 2017 outlook isn’t hard for the Steelers because they had the best offense in the league last year, led by the triple B’s in Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Big Ben. The amount of talent they have on offense is crazy because they did all of this without the clearcut number two wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who will be returning this season in addition to the depth they already have. The Steelers also had a top 10 defense according to statistics last year, making the Steelers a complete team.

This offseason, the Steelers didn’t get complacent. Instead, they went out and added players that could help them surpass the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. In the draft, the Steelers drafted star linebacker T.J. Watt from Wisconsin, who should flourish in the defensive system of the Steelers. They drafted a good wide receiver in JuJu Smith in the second round out of USC to add on to their surplus of wide receivers. They drafted James Connor from Pittsburgh to replace DeAngelo Williams. Lastly, we all know that the Steelers front seven is elite but there secondary has always been suspect, so to fix that, the Steelers just signed former Pro Bowl corner Joe Haden to help out on the back end.

2017 Schedule and Outlook:
Home: BAL, CIN, CLE, MIN, JAC, TEN, GB, NE
Away: BAL, CIN, CLE, CHI, KC, DET, IND, HOU
Outlook: 12-4. 6-2 at home (losses to GB, NE), 6-2 on the road (losses to BAL, KC)

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