We Are The North – 2021 AFC North Preview

Without question the AFC North is one of the toughest divisions in all of football. It never seems to be a lock as to who will come out on top and this upcoming season is no different. The Browns were stars last year and after a hot start the Steelers started to break down. The Ravens were late to the party but made noise and the Bengals…well they showed some promise but fell short of greatness.

Who will take over the North this year?

 

Baltimore Ravens

 Record 2020: 11-5

 Key Player: Outside Linebacker – Odafe Oweh

 Player To Watch: Wide Receiver – Rashod Bateman

There were a lot of positives and negatives to take away from the Raven’s season. The positives were that they made the playoffs and won a playoff game despite Lamar Jackson’s early struggles. The negative: they couldn’t stretch the field and it hindered their offense.

Fast forward to the present, they have added a plethora of weapons around Jackson, including rookie wideouts Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace. The defense took a hit while the offense progressed, but they should still be good enough behind John Harbaugh’s coaching and confidence. Expect the Ravens to be one of the premier teams in the division. Prediction: 11-6

 

Cincinnati Bengals

 2019 Record: 4-11-1

 Key Player: Quarterback – Joe Burrow

 Player To Watch: Wide Receiver – Ja’Marr Chase

The Bengals are one of the few teams that were better than their record showed last year. They had a young and hungry defense and an offense that could score points, yet holes in the roster and injuries curtailed their potential. One of those injuries was to rookie signal caller Joe Burrow, who seemed to be what the doctor ordered prior to the ACL tear that ended his season.

 The Bengals come into this year with Burrow healthy and some new weapons for him to play with. Ja’Marr Chase is one of those and its even sweeter seeing as they played their best college seasons together at LSU. The Bengals did lose some pieces on defense, namely Carl Lawson and Geno Atkins, but added some key veterans that can soften the blow. Still, the offensive line is troublesome and the team is still young. It will be hard to see them topping four or five wins this year. Prediction: 4-13

 

Cleveland Browns

Record 2020: 11-5

Key Player: Wide Receiver – Odell Beckham Jr.

 Player To Watch: Edge – Jadeveon Clowney

The Browns were a healthy surprise last year, making the playoffs and posting their first winning season since 2007. Baker Mayfield had a great second half of the season and really showed what made him the 1st overall pick in 2018. The Browns were missing superstar wideout Odell Beckham Jr. for most of last year and still produced on offense, ranking 14th.

Cleveland will get the aforementioned receiver back this year as well as Rashard Higgins, who resigned this offseason. The Browns will also boast one of the most talented defenses in the league after adding pieces like Jadeveon Clowney and Takarist McKinley. The Browns should win this division with relative ease, barring injury. Prediction: 13-4

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

 2019 Record: 12-4

 Key Player: Quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger

 Player To Watch: Running Back – Najee Harris

Pittsburgh seemed to be a team that couldn’t lose through the early part of last year but as the season went on they started to look mortal, eventually ending in a loss to Cleveland in the playoffs. They relied heavily on their defense, which is one of the best in the NFL, to win games while leaning on short passes underneath the defense to score. Part of that is due to Ben Roethlisberger losing some of his pop in his arm and the absence of a true number one running back.

The Steelers remedied the starting running back spot with the addition of rookie Najee Harris out of Alabama but lost some key contributors on defense. With Bud Dupree now in Tennessee and Steven Nelson in Philly, the Steelers will need to hope that the younger players can step up into those roles. They did add veteran edge rusher Melvin Ingram, but he is older and will fill a more specialist role. The offense will need to be more explosive as well for Pittsburgh to be successful. Roethlisberger will need to turn the clock back for them. All-in-all the Steelers will take a step back this year. Prediction: 8-9

 

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