2016 AFC North Preview

Raphael Haynes
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The AFC North for many years was known as the all-defensive division. Most of the other teams hated to play this division due to the fact that it was almost a given that someone would get hurt if not injured. Well that has changed the last few years. Now, the once AFC Central has some of the best offensive weapons in the league that makes up for the firepower in the teams’ offenses. Don’t get it twisted, when these teams play each other, the games are the most physical games in the NFL. With the most decorated coaches in a division, all teams are all looking to improve and dominate the AFC North.


CLE_logo-80x90  Cleveland Browns

Record in 2015: 3-13

Key Player: Running Back- Duke Johnson Jr

Player To Watch: Wide Receiver- Corey Coleman

Outlook: The Cleveland Browns seem to have a little buzz going into the 2016 season. There were huge acquisitions starting with head coach Hue Jackson. The ole quarterback guru who actually had the Oakland Raiders at one time looking promising as their head coach will bring his expertise to the Browns as a player’s and development coach. That developing will start with Robert Griffith III (RGIII). RGIII gets a second chance to rejuvenate his career as he has the most experience at a skill position on offense. What’s most exciting is he gets to reunite with his old go-to-guy at Baylor, Josh Gordon after week four (due to suspension). The defense is still pretty weak but they have young talent which they hope can coincide and play better. This team will improve but won’t put fear in any one’s heart. Prediction: 5-11


  Baltimore Ravens

Record in 2015: 5-11

Key Player: Running Back- Justin Forsett

Player To Watch: Defensive End- Terrell Suggs

Outlook: It was a dismal 2015 season that was plagued with injuries upon injuries for the Baltimore Ravens. The good news is they get everybody back including their star quarterback Joe Flacco. With Flacco back at the helm, it gives them stability and leadership in which they solely missed. They will also get back Steve Smith Sr. and Justin Forsett who will provide reliable production that they didn’t possess last year because of injuries. With the addition of Mike Wallace being a deep threat and Kamar Aiken building on a career year, the offense could be somewhat good. Let’s be real, the defense is still the backbone of the team. Getting Suggs back will not only bring back a sack master but also bring back leadership on the field. They also brought in the veteran safety Eric Weddle to help carry the load in the secondary. The defense will only go as far as their star middle linebacker C.J. Mostly take them. The Ravens have to lean on their veterans if they want to make any noise. The injuries to their top three tight ends doesn’t help. Prediction: 7-9.


 Pittsburgh Steelers

Record in 2015: 10-6

Key Player: Linebacker- Ryan Shazier

Player To Watch: Wide Receiver- Marcus Wheaton

Outlook: Health was the main issue why this team didn’t go as far as they should have gone. Health is still the number one issue for this ball club. Last year, their star players which includes Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown missed time at the most important times of the season and postseason that kept them from reaching their potential. Now with Martavis Bryant (suspended for the year) and Bell (suspended for three games) having suspensions, once again they will be shorthanded going into 2016. We all know what Antonio Brown will produce but the key player on offense has to be Marcus Wheaton. Last year he didn’t do so well in the first four games he started alongside of Brown. He has to contribute and play like a No. 2 rather than get wrapped up in his comfort zone in the slot. On the defensive side, they made strides toward the end of the season besides the Denver Broncos game. This young unit has enough speed and athleticism to become a very good defense but mastering it from a mental standpoint will take them to the next level. If Jarvis Jones can finally cause ruckus rushing the quarterback along with the secondary not giving up big plays, this defense will catapult this team deep into the playoffs. Prediction: 10-6


 Cincinnati Bengals

Record in 2015: 12-4

Key Player: Linebacker- Vontaze Burfict

Player To Watch: Tight End- Tyler Kroft

Outlook: What a way to end a great season last year right? The Bengals started 8-0 and Andy Dalton was playing the best football of his career. Of course the injuries like every team in the division started to nag the Bengals, most notably Dalton. Yet still, they put themselves in a position to move to the Divisional round but like we expected, they self-destructed. This team has the most talented roster in this division. The only loop hole might be the No. 2 wide receiver Brandon Lafell. Having A.J. Green bare all of the attention, it’s up to Lafell to give Dalton an outlet when Green is receiving double and triple team coverage. Also the running back by committee is key to the offense sustaining drives. Jeremy Hill must get yards in chunk and Giovani Bernard change of pace will be vital to keep defenses on their hills. Cincinnati clearly has the best defense in the division but the defense only goes far if Vontaze Burfict’s can tone down his temper. He has to find a common ground between playing with passion and playing under control. With Carlos Dunlap and Geno Smith anchoring that defensive line, the Bengals are equipped to finally get coach Marvin Lewis his first playoff win. Prediction: 12-4



Raphael Haynes

Atlanta, GA

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