Tha Sports Junkies 101

2016 AFC North Projected Order Of Finish

Jack Kurzenknabe via Flickr


The AFC North was a two team race in 2015. The Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers played three times, splitting the regular season matchups, and the Bengals epic meltdown in their playoff loss in January.

The Baltimore Ravens lost Joe Flacco to a torn ACL, en route to losing nine games by eight points or less. The Cleveland Browns finished last for the fifth consecutive season.

This season, the division appears to be another two team race between the Bengals and Steelers. However, with the return of a particular Super Bowl winning quarterback, it may escalate it to a three team race by season’s end.

Better days are ahead for the Browns; they’ll be scarce this season, but maybe “Money Ball” can salvage the franchise.

1)Pittsburgh Steelers

2015 Record: 10-6

Major Addition: Tight end Ladarius Green (Signed from Chargers)

Biggest Loss: Wide receiver Martavius Bryant (Suspension)

Analysis: The Steelers are downright freighting on offense. Ben Rothelisberger has evolved into one of the best quarterbacks of his era. He’s progressed from a game manager, to a two-time Super Bowl winner. Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver in the game, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a running back with the skill set of Le’veon Bell. Markus Wheaton, is developing into a solid no.2 wideout.

In March, the Steelers added Ladarius Green via free agency. Green spent most of his career behind Antonio Gates in San Diego, so he’s a bit unproven, but he thrived as a backup San Diego. Last season he posted 63 catches 429 yards and four touchdowns.

Green is replacing a Steelers legend in Heath Miller, but he’s a vertical threat, and the Steelers passing game is predicated upon downfield passes.

Look for Roethislberger to key in on Green in two-point conversion situations, and the in red zone. Expect a breakout year for Ladarius Green.

Projection for 2016: 11-5

The Steelers have the best QB-RB-WR tandem in all of football. Originally, I had the Steelers projected at 12-4, but the suspension of Le’veon Bell could prove to be costly. However, Big Ben and Co. didn’t miss a beat without him last season.

DeAngelo Williams is more than capable of carrying the load. Mike Tomlin is one of the more accomplished coaches in the league, and his teams are usually well coached. They’ll be fine without Bell, for the first four games.

The defense may have question marks, but it’s infused with youth. Since 2014, Pittsburgh has drafted eight defensive players in both rounds one and two.

The Pittsburgh Steelers breed linebackers, and Ryan Shazier looks to be next in line. This past off-season, he beat Antonio Brown in a race.

As a rookie, Dick LeBeau used Shazier to cover Brown in practices. He’s a throwback type middle linebacker, with insane athleticism. He had the play of the game in the playoff game against the Bengals, as he stripped Jeremy Hill.

Last season, the Steelers ranked 11th in points allowed with 19.9. The offense is the unquestionable strength of the team, but if the defense can improve in points allowed this season, the Steelers have a legit shot, at a seventh Lombardi.

Strength of Schedule:T-23

2) Cincinnati Bengals 

2015 Record: 12-4

Major Addition: Cornerback Adam Jones (Re-signed)

Biggest Loss: Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson (HC in CLE)

Analysis: The Bengals remain one of the more balanced teams in the NFL. Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard are a top-5 rushing tandem, A.J. Green is an elite wide receiver, and Tyler Eifert finished second in the NFL in receiving touchdowns. The “Red Rifle” Andy Dalton has quite an arsenal at his disposal.

Defensively, the Bengals remain stout. Geno Atkins is a force on the interior, Vontaze Burfict is a human wrecking ball, and Carlos Dunlap is a solid pass rusher.

The secondary is one of the best in limiting the deep ball. According to ESPN‘s Football Outsider Aaron Schatz, the Bengals were the best in the league in limiting passes down the field of 16 yards or more.

The Bengals receiving core took a few hits this off-season with the departure of Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu.

They signed Brandon Lafell to start opposite of A.J. GreenLafell had a career year in 2014 with the New England Patriots. He posted 74 catches to go along with 953 yards and seven touchdowns.

A foot injury took a toll on his production last season. Now that he’s fully healthy, expect a bounce back year for LaFell. With attention on Green and Eifert, LaFell should be able to duplicate his success from 2014.

Record for 2016: 10-6

The Bengals open with back to back road games against the Jets, and at Pittsburgh. Then open at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

The offense will get off to a slow start due to the departure of Hue Jackson. They also travel to Dallas and New England in weeks five and six.

Head coach Marvin Lewis, is the second longest tenured coach in the NFL, next to Bill Belichick . Belichick has 19 playoff wins, Lewis ZERO. Marvin Lewis has to deliver a playoff win in Cincinatti, or he’ll be coaching elsewhere next season.

3) Baltimore Ravens

2015 Record: 5-11

Major Addition: Joe Flacco (Return from injury)

Biggest loss: Kelechi Oseleme (signed with OAK)

Analysis:  Was 2015 an aberration or a sign of things to come in Baltimore? Well, it depends on who you ask. Last season, the Ravens lost nine games by eight points or less.

It was an all around dismal season. Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, Justin Forsett, Terell Suggs, and Breshad Perriman were 5 of 12 starters to miss a combined 71 games.

The offense added nice complementary pieces in Mike Wallace and Ben Watson. At the time of Forsett’s injury, He had 641 rushing yards, through five games. He was a backup option for most of his career, but has made the most of his opportunity in Baltimore.

Last season, the Ravens lacked true playmakers down the stretch. Breshad Perriman is a guy that can full that void. He missed all of last season due to injury, but those were freak injuries. Perriman wasn’t injury prone at UCF, where he played in 49 games. The 6’3 214 lbs Perriman ran a 4.24 at the 2015 combine. Perriman is beginning camp on the PUP list, but the Ravens are hopeful he will make an impact this season.

Record for 2016: 9-7

The Ravens have a chance to get off to a fast start. Of the team’s first five games, only one had a winning record last season, the Washington Redskins. 6-2 before the bye week, is a realistic possibility. Things stiffen up later in the season with matchups against both the Steelers and Bengals, and road games at New England and Dallas.

Defense is an area of concern however. The secondary has been struggling for quite some time. The Ravens signed 5x All-Pro Eric Weddle, to sure up the free safety position. Terrell Suggs is coming off his second torn Achilles but when healthy he and Elvis Dumervil form one of the most fearsome pass rush combos .

Timmy Jernigan is one that could push for Pro Bowl honors within the next two season’s. The second round pick out of Florida State, has had a solid start to his NFL career.

As a reserve in 2014,and 15′ he posted 60 tackles and eight sacks through two seasons. Look for Jernigan to become a force in his first year as a starter.

Strength of Schedule: T-19th


4) Cleveland Browns

2015 Record-3-13

Major Addition: Robert Griffin III (Signed from Redskins)

Major Loss : Alex Mack (Signed with Falcons)

Analysis: After a 3-13 finish, both Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer were fired. The Browns lured Hue Jackson from Cincinnati, to become head coach. Then hired Sashi Brown to oversee the roster, and former Los Angeles Dodgers GM Paul Depodsta to incorporate his analytics influence within the franchise.

At quarterback, the Cleveland Browns hope to have found some stability with Robert Griffin III. Since 1999, the Browns have had 24 different starting quarterbacks.

Hue Jackson has a notable track record with quarterbacks. He was influential in Joe Flacco‘s career early on during his rookie and sophomore seasons, and got the most out of Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.

Jason Campbell even played solid ball under Jackson during his time in Oakland.

Robert Griffin III arguably has the most talent of any quarterback, Jackson has worked with. Although the Browns lack proven commodities, look for Hue Jackson to coach to the strengths of RGIII.

Gary Barnridge had a breakout season last year, and Corey Coleman was the Fred Biletnikoff winner at Baylor last season. The rookie posted a whopping 20 touchdowns.

The reinstatement of Josh Gordon would do wonders for the Browns’ passing game. He had a monstrous season in 2013, and he and Robert Griffin have chemistry from their days at Baylor.

Duke Johnson is one that is poised for a breakout season. Last year, the rookie out of Miami was third on the Browns with 61 receptions. He provides an added dimension as a receiver and will push for the starting role.

Robert Griffin was at his best when he had a rushing attack, so expect Hue Jackson to scheme a running attack with zone read concepts sprinkled in.

Record for 2016: 6-10

Robert Griifin III should push for Comeback Player of the Year honors. He’s 100 percent healthy, and the move to Cleveland should motivate him to rejuvenate his career. He has the support of Hue Jackson, and a franchise that believes in him.

Ray Horton returns as defensive coordinator in Cleveland, where he held the same position in 2013. That season the Browns finished ninth in total defense, The unit ranked eighth against the pass and allowed 3.9 yards a carry, the highest mark the team has had in 18 years.

 The Browns desperately need 2x Pro Bowler and former All-Pro Joe Haden to regain form. Last season, Haden only played in five games. Haden and Tramon Williams form one of the more established cornerback duos in the NFL.

Look for Haden to reclaim his status as one of the NFL‘s premier defensive backs this season.

Strength of Schedule: 21st