A remarkable three teams from the AFC North made the playoffs in 2014, but could that happen again? The Steelers finished first going 11-5 with a 4-2 record inside the division. The Cincinnati Bengals barely edged out the Baltimore Ravens going 10-5-1 and a 3-3 division record, while the Ravens ended the year at 10-6 and 3-3 AFC North finish. Cleveland finished at the bottom of the division, finishing under .500 going 7-9 with a 2-4 divisional record. While the top three spots could shuffle around a bit in 2015, the Browns are likely going to continue operating their factory of sadness as they head into the new season.
The Baltimore Ravens barely made the playoffs as a wild card team last year, but currently are listed at +190 to win the AFC North. The Ravens have been fairly quiet in the offseason transaction department, but will continue to build off of a solid core of players that has them contending every year. They signed cornerback Kyle Arrington to help shore up the secondary, but traded long-time defensive tackle Haloti Ngata which could leave a void unless they believe they have someone in the depth chart that can carry his work load. It helps that the Ravens have a franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco, but not many offensive weapons to compliment his passing abilities.
The Ravens will have to fight for the division with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who also sit at +190 to win the AFC North. The Steelers have also had a slow offseason, but did lose some notable players to retirement, including future Hall of Famer Troy Palumalu at safety and cornerback Ike Taylor. Lack of depth on defense could mean trouble, but as long as Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown continue to work well together on offense, the Steelers should keep winning. Pittsburgh has also found a star in third-year running back Le’Veon Bell who has developed into one of the best in the league. Look for him to get ample carries to help open up the passing game.
Could this year be the year that the Bengals finally get over their hump? They’ve been eliminated in the wild-card round of the playoffs each season for the last four years and not much has changed to suggest that it won’t happen again, as they are currently at +220 to win the AFC North. Cincinnati brought on several new players hoping to build depth on the roster, but a list of these names would likely have you shrugging your shoulders. The most notable transaction was the resigning of linebacker Rey Maualuga, the anchor of their defense. On offense, receiver A.J. Green decided to risk playing the final year of his rookie contract in hopes of cashing in on a huge long-term deal at the end of the season. Either the Bengals will get a determined Green set to help them take the next step or another one-and-done playoff appearance that could finally send long-time head coach Marvin Lewis packing.
Last season was another mixed bag for Cleveland, starting the 2014 season out strong before completely coming apart in the final stretch. This year, the Browns are +900 to win the division and there’s nothing to suggest we’ll get a different result. Josh McCown was brought in at quarterback after last year’s starter Brian Hoyer left in free agency, while Johnny Manziel proved ready for rehab instead of the starting job. Their top receiver, Josh Gordon is suspended for the entire season for marijuana with a real lack of any other options for playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. They’ve signed a handful of past-their-prime big names to farewell contracts, but the team truly has holes all over their roster, and those aging players aren’t likely to make much of an impact. It’ll be another long season for the dog pound, folks.
How Will the AFC North Teams Rank for the 2015/16 Season?
The AFC North will come down to the Steelers and the Ravens, much like it has in previous years. Both teams have franchise quarterbacks with good supporting casts and stout defenses. Look for the Steelers to edge the Ravens for the division title again. Pittsburgh is just a bit more explosive on offense and is beginning to get younger and faster on defense while Baltimore is beginning to see the effects of age on defense. The Bengals saw very little turnover or change, which means we’ll likely see very little difference in performance. Look for Cincinnati to finish third, which means, you guessed it, that Cleveland will once again be on the bottom looking up in the AFC North.