Tag Archives: AFC North

NFL 2017: AFC Preview (Condensed)

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Tom Brady and the Patriots reloaded in the offseason. Does the rest of the AFC stand a chance?

By: Elias McMillan

 

AFC East

New England Patriots – The Patriots won another title last season with a roster that wasn’t supremely talented. During this offseason, New England added significant upgrades on offense at RB and WR and on defense at DE and CB. Also, TE Rob Gronkowski returns after missing much of last year due to injury. It looks like the Brady-Belicheck combo will be the cream of the crop once again in the AFC. Although, it seems when the Patriots reload like this, they find a way to disappoint in the post season. We’ll see if this season will be different. Prediction: 15-1 (AFC East Champs)

Miami Dolphins – Miami made the playoffs somehow last season. But they don’t have much momentum going into 2017. It doesn’t help that they lost Ryan Tannehill to injury in training camp and had to replace him with a Jay Cutler they had to drag out from the announcer’s booth (Why didn’t they sign Kaepernick?). Positives: they found an answer a RB last season (Jay Ajayi) and they are pretty solid at the receiver positions. On defense, they have a tough front four and I like the offseason addition of Lawrence Timmons. Negatives: Miami secondary may be the down fall for this defense, yet again. And you’ll never know which Jay Cutler that you’re going to get. Prediction: 8-8

Buffalo Bills – Buffalo did Rex Ryan wrong and now they seem to be tanking. They traded their best WR and CB for draft picks. The Bills made a smart trade on draft day in April. Buffalo is stockpiling draft picks. It’s good idea but its not going to help them win 2017. I feel bad for LeSean McCoy who is wasting his talents up there. I’m interested in seeing how QB Tyrod Taylor will fair with limited weapons in the passing game. Buffalo has young talent on defense. I really liked Shaq Lawson from the 2016 draft. If he’s healthy, he’ll be impact player. Regardless, I don’t see many wins in Buffalo this year. Prediction: 5-11

New York Jets – The Jets are tanking. I hope it doesn’t cost head coach Todd Bowles who won 10 games in New York just two seasons ago. The Jets literally got rid of every veteran on the team except RB Matt Forte. The QB position is a disaster. What is josh McCown doing to keep finding work in this league? WR core? Garbage. They do have some promising talent on defense. It’s going to be an ugly year for the Jets. Prediction: 2-14

 

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers return with supreme talent on the offense between the QB (Roethlisberger), RB (Bell), and the WR (Brown). That, along with that over achieving offensive line, Pittsburgh should be able to rule the North again. What will stop them in the playoffs? If it isn’t the inability to stay healthy, it will be the lack of big plays from their defense. Losing and not replacing Lawrence Timmons at middle linebacker will prove to be a mistake. Pittsburgh is solid on the defensive line but they lack players in the secondary that can make big plays. But what they are really missing is an impact pass rusher. Can rookie T.J. Watt be that guy? Despite the questions, Pittsburgh should be New England’s main rival for the AFC crown. Prediction: 11-5 (AFC North Champs)

Baltimore Ravens – Baltimore quietly made some improvements this offseason especially on defense. I like the addition of S Tony Jefferson. They have solid veteran leadership in the secondary between him and Eric Weddle. Terrell Suggs returns for what maybe his final season. Look out for rookie Tyus Bowser to become a difference maker off the edge on this defense. Baltimore’s defense will keep the Ravens in a lot of games but they have serious questions on offense. It feels like everyone has been waiting for 2012 Joe Flacco to return and it just hasn’t happened yet. It would help if he could get some consistency from his supporting cast. Maybe WR Jeremy Maclin can help. The success of this season for the Ravens will be up to if the offense can finally figure itself out. Prediction: 8-8

Cincinnati Bengals – Cincinnati again brings a talented roster to the table but their undisciplined nature seems to be their undoing. I like Marvin Lewis but how does he still have a job as he continues to vouch for Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict? On offense, the Bengals need Andy Dalton to stay healthy because he has a great collection of skill players around him, highlighted by WR A.J. Green. The Bengals have a talented defense led by DT Geno Atkins. But I think their immaturity will hold them back. They might push Baltimore for second place in the division. Prediction: 8-8

Cleveland Browns – Same as it ever was for the Browns. QB questions. Young talent on both sides of the ball. Seasoned veterans. Cleveland just can’t seem to put it all together. But this season could set the table for some success down the road. The Browns will see what they have in rookie QB DeShone Kizer right out of the gate. First round pick Myles Garrett will receive tons of playing time as well and he has impressed in the pre-season. I will be interested in seeing how Cleveland does with this current crop of young talent. I’m a believer in Hue Jackson. Prediction: 6-10

 

AFC South

Tennessee Titans – I’m buying into the Titans this season. They impressed a season ago and they may have made the post season if QB Marcus Mariota doesn’t get hurt late in the season. Tennessee has a good mix a RB with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, a great offensive line, and they added weapons in the passing game. Once the defense figures itself out, they could become a contender in the AFC. But for now, I think they’ll be good enough to win the AFC South. Prediction: 10-6 (AFC South Champs)

Houston Texans – Houston has made the playoffs in two straight seasons. I would say this is mainly because of their defense. In 2015, in was all about J.J. Watt. In 2016, while Watt was injured, it was all about Jadeveon Clowney. Who knows what this defense will be capable of with both Watt and Clowney in the line-up. Houston has a legit starter at RB (Lamar Miller) and a legit number one receiver (DeAndre Hopkins). What they don’t have is a legit starting QB. Could it be the returning backup Tom Savage or the rookie who just won a national championship, Deshaun Watson? Either way, I’m expecting more big things from the defense in Houston. Prediction: 9-7 (Wild-card)

Indianapolis Colts – I feel like the majority is expecting nothing from this Colts team, which makes them kind of underrated. But they still have plenty of issues. Issues number one: the health of Andrew Luck. I expect Luck to start out on the PUP list (6 Games) so they are going to have to roll with Scott Tolzien. Good thing for Tolzien, the best player on the team is a WR (T.Y. Hilton). The defense is full of cast offs from another teams. I think a lot of teams will sleep on Indy and for good reason. But I don’t think they’ll completely stink. Prediction: 7-9

Jacksonville Jaguars – Jacksonville should have been the team that brought in Colin Kaepernick. The jig up for Blake Bortles. The Jaguars actually have promising talent on both sides of the ball. It is clear that the QB position is holding them back. It’s too bad, I guess. I really like what they have on defense. But it wont be enough to make up for the shortcomings offensively. Jacksonville will likely be drafting a new QB early in the draft next April. Prediction: 4-12

 

AFC West

Oakland Raiders – The Raiders had a great 2016 season that was derailed by Derek Carr’s injury before the playoffs. Now, Carr returns to a team that is ready to take the next step and win the AFC West. Oakland is set up pretty well offensively. I think Marshawn Lynch’s return to the NFL wont have as much as an impact as some people may want to but at the least, he’ll serve well as a weapon in the red zone. Outside of their front four, I’m still worried about the defense especially in the secondary. Prediction: 12-4 (AFC West Champs)

Denver Broncos – Denver suffered through a Super Bowl hangover last year but I think they can rebound in 2017. I still like what their defense brings to the table. Von Miller is one of the best players in the league. I’m not sure how far this offense will be able to take them under the command of QB Trevor Siemian. But the Broncos have plenty of weapons at the skills positions on offense. They still have a stacked WR group led by Demaryius Thomas. Also, remember this name from out of the backfield: sixth round pick RB DeAngelo Henderson. Prediction: 9-7 (Wild-card)

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid has won 10+ games in Kansas City 3 out of the 4 seasons as head coach. And in the one season he didn’t, the team still finished over .500. I think that impressive streak will come to an end this season. The Chiefs are in the process of pushing out many veterans on the roster and that turnover will affect their chances to compete in the AFC West. Alex Smith will be feeling the heat all season from the first round QB they selected in April, Patrick Mahomes. The offense will feature TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreke Hill but Jamaal Charles and Jeremy Maclin are both gone. They do have a great defense to lean on but that group is starting to age. This will be a down year for the Chiefs. Prediction: 7-9

Los Angeles Chargers – I absolutely hate the Chargers move to LA. It stinks to the high heavens. It stinks for the NFL. As for the team, they could be a sleeper in the AFC West if they can stay healthy. I feel like you could say that every year about this team though. Phillip Rivers returns for yet another season where he will see his WR core suffer through many injuries. At least he still has an aging TE Antonio Gates to go to. It would be nice if RB Melvin Gordon can continue the success he had a season ago. I think the story from this team this year will be the emergence of DE Joey Bosa as he will become a defensive star in this league. Between Melvin Ingram and Bosa, the Chargers could have the best pass-rushing duo in the division. It would be cool to see this team grab some success while they still have Phillip Rivers but I don’t see it happening. Prediction: 6-10

 

AFC Playoff Picture Prediction

  1. New England Patriots – 15-1 (AFC East)
  2. Oakland Raiders – 12-4 (AFC West)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers – 11-5 (AFC North)
  4. Tennessee Titans – 10-6 (AFC South)
  5. Houston Texans – 9-7 (Wild-card)
  6. Denver Broncos – 9-7 (Wild-card)
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NFL 2016: AFC North Preview

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The Steelers will be contenders in 2016 even without Le’Veon Bell for the first 3 games. Right?

By: Elias McMillan

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers – Last year, the talk was that the Steelers were going to have to score 35 plus a game because the defense was suppose to be so bad. As the season when on, we saw what the offense could do despite all of the injuries and the defense kind of over achieved. Pittsburgh ran into so many problems last season when it comes to injuries but they still were so close to beating the eventually champion Broncos in the playoffs. That should serve as motivation going into 2016 as the Steelers will return a great offensive attack again along with a defense that will need to play better than what they look like on paper. On offense, everyone will talk about the QB and the skill players but if you watched last season, you saw that the offensive line was really the unsung heroes on that side of the ball. In 2016, the offensive will receive a couple of key guys back from injury and they acquired a new tackle from the Super Bowl Champion Broncos team. I expect the offensive line to be great again this season. I would expect Ben Roethlisberger to be the same tough player that he has always been in his career in 2016. RB Le’Veon Bell will miss the first 3 games of 2016 but I think the blow of not having him early on won’t be as big. Bell is a top back in the league but he has had issues with staying healthy. The time off might help him remain fresher through the season. Also, RB DeAngelo Williams played surprisingly well last season in the back up role and he’ll carry that confidence into 2016. Bell is in his contract year and with his suspension history, it is likely that 2016 will be his last in the black and gold. I bring this up because once Bell gets back on the field he will be extra motivated to show his worth to the Steelers and the other 31 teams in preparation for 2017. Bell might only play in 13-16 games but he is too talented to not be a factor in Pittsburgh’s offense. The real star on offense for the Steelers is at WR. Antonio Brown can do it all for this offense and he is primed for another great campaign. The depth at receiver this year could be a bit shaky with the suspension of Martavis Bryant but I think Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, and Darrius Heyward-Bey are capable to be big targets when called upon. TE Heath Miller retired but the Steelers quickly moved in free agency and signed Ladarius Green from San Diego. Green can be a valuable receiver and Ben likes to use the TE a lot. But Green’s status is already up in the air because of injury concerns. Because of injuries and suspensions, you can see the floor for the Pittsburgh offense this season but the veteran pieces at key position should be able to hold everything together. On defense, the worries don’t come from the front seven. Pittsburgh had a top 5 run defense a season ago and the defensive line returns the same leaders from a season ago. At the outside linebacker rush positions, Bud Dupree merely scratched the surface in his rookie season and I think he can improve in 2016. James Harrison has yet to be replaced because he is defying the aging process. At 38, he is still probably the Steelers best disruptor off the edge. The Steelers also return the duo of inside LB’s Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons. The weakness of the defense will be in the secondary again. Safety Mike Mitchell offers a lot as a physical tackler but not much as a pass defender. Is Robert Golden ready to be the starter opposite of Mitchell? William Gay can make big plays at times but no one really sees him as a number 1 corner in this league. I like the draft picks of Artie Burns and Sean Davis. Those two rookies might be called upon earlier that expected in this defense. There might be a few wrinkles but I think this Steelers team will be similar or even better than the one from last year. If the Steelers can survive their division and if you look at how the other top teams in the AFC have done in the offseason, you’ll see why I think this Steelers team will have a shot at being the top team in the AFC in 2016. Prediction: 12-4 (AFC North Champs)

Cincinnati Bengals – With the way Cincinnati’s season ended, you would think some of that would carry over into 2016. That maybe true but the Bengals still return a talented roster into this season and they will be Pittsburgh’s main rival for the division crown. Cincinnati had an epic meltdown in the playoff game against the Steelers but many people have already forgot that they almost pulled off with the victory while having to start their backup at QB. Andy Dalton was playing well before getting hurt right before the playoff game. Seeing how close his team got without him should prove to be a huge motivation for Dalton this season. The Bengals have lost some talent at the WR position but they have also gained some as well. All-pro, AJ Green is still the leader of the group along with veterans Brandon Tate and Brandon LaFell. But I expect rookie WR Tyler Boyd to eventually become the breakout target in this offense in 2016. The RB duo of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard still looks good on paper but they both kind of underperformed last season. I don’t now if the Bengals need better blocking upfront but Hill and Bernard need to become bigger factors in this offense. On defense, the Bengals return many of the familiar characters that have been apart of the unit for years now. Cincinnati’s defense has plenty of experience but I’m worried because experience is really just code for “old”. Cincy’s front four was a top 10 run defending unit in 2015 and they’ll be lead once again by DT Geno Atkins. The starting linebackers are pretty much the same aside from they replaced an aging vet with another aging vet. A.J. Hawk only lasted one year and Karlos Dansby will replace him. Dansby was only let go from Cleveland because of his age but he definitely has a lot left in the tank. Cincinnati has always spent a wealth of draft picks on the secondary but that group was a weak point last season. I liked the first round selection of William Jackson from Houston but an injury will keep him on the bench for at least the first half of the season. CB Adam Jones returns as the veteran leader, which is crazy by itself. This defense is still waiting on Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick to play like the first rounders that they are. The secondary will really be hurt by the departure of safety Reggie Nelson. This Bengals team will probably have the same issues as it did a season ago but I think the individual talent from a few will be able to carry this team for at least one more trip to the postseason. Hopefully, they can be healthier than last year. But even if then, this team just seems allergic to winning big time ball games. With a few downgrades on the roster, can Marvin Lewis survive yet another disappointing ending? Prediction: 10-6 (Wildcard)

Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens had a worst-case scenario type of season in 2015. And they were still able to beat the rival Steelers twice. With all the injuries they had a season ago, Baltimore fans can enter 2016 with a sense of optimism. QB Joe Flacco is back, the offensive line is retooled, and the talent at the skill positions seems solid. At RB, Justin Forsett will be looking to bounce back from an injury and depth behind him at the position is pretty good with Javorius Allen and Terrance West. The WR position looks bleaker than I originally thought. I’m excited to see the return of Steve Smith in his final season but I’m disappointed that last year’s first rounder, Breshad Perriman, is still fighting to get on the field because of injuries. Kamar Aiken and Chris Matthews are decent receivers but they are not gonna demand the ball or take away attention from the defense like top receivers do. But Flacco does like going to the TE’s a lot and the Ravens have a wealth of talent at that postion. Dennis Pitta is ready to return from a season long injury, Crockett Gilmore and Maxx Williams have plenty of ability, and they signed Benjamin Watson who is one of the most respected players in the league. I don’t know what Perriman will bring to the table once healthy but until then, Flacco will be sorely missing a deep threat on this offense. Baltimore is really going to have to do well upfront at run blocking and keeping Flacco healthy. On defense, Baltimore isn’t the elite unit that it once was but they are a veteran laden group. On the defensive line, they have a group that is still relatively young and average. The strength of this defense comes from the group of linebackers. The outside pass rushing roles will be held down again by veterans Elvis Dumervil and appearing in perhaps his last season, Terrell Suggs. The real star is in the middle of the defense where CJ Mosley plays. Mosley is probably among the best LB’s in the league and he is just entering his third season. Baltimore’s secondary will receiver a boost this season as they brought in veteran safety Eric Weddle. Paired up with Lardarius Webb, they will form one of the better safety combos in the league. At corner, the Ravens don’t have a lot of depth, as Jimmy Smith is the only standout player. Baltimore will be hungry this year to bounce back after that disaster that was 2015. But they are a little “long in the tooth” when it comes to age and their overall talent just isn’t where it was year’s ago when they where mainstays in the playoffs. I think the Ravens will improve and compete for a playoff spot but I don’t see them playing past December. Prediction: 9-7

Cleveland Browns – Going into 2016, it is the same old sad story for the Browns. The prior plan at leadership didn’t work. Management has brought in the next head coach. Sweeping changes are on the way. Etc. Etc. Etc. Why will this time be any different? Hue Jackson is coming off some successful seasons coaching behind Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati and Jackson wasn’t awful in his last head gig in Oakland. Jackson is a good offensive coach and his players usually like him a lot. I would trust Jackson to build this team in his image but we have to consider that he is now in Cleveland, which has always been an impossible situation. I’m rooting for Jackson and I really hope that the Cleveland brass give him the time that Oakland didn’t give him. Cleveland really needs to solidify the QB position in 2016. Robert Griffin III was brought in from Washington and he enters a great situation with Jackson who has a rep for getting the most out of his QB’s. I think Griffin can show flashes of his former self in Cleveland this season. The issue will be keeping him healthy for 16 games. Cleveland also needs to build up that offensive line. Joe Thomas and Cameron Erving maybe be solid pieces but that unit, as a whole needs to be great if they hope to have RG3 for most of the season. It would be nice if Griffin had a running game to lean on. RB’s Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson have plenty of ability but they are both very inconsistent. I’m really excited at what the Browns could have at the WR position in 2016. First round pick, Corey Coleman, is drawing comparisons to a young Steve Smith. QB turned WR, Terrelle Pryor, is already turning heads in the preseason. And WR Josh Gordon is scheduled to return from suspension in Week 5. If Gordon can reinvent himself while being the player that he once was and if Pryor can carry over his play from the preseason, the Browns could have one of the most talented WR cores in the league. The real key will be if Griffin can return to form under the tutelage of coach Jackson. Almost forgot to mention that the Browns also have a great TE in Gary Barnidge. They just happen to have a lot to offer at the receiving positions in 2016. On defense, the Browns have some promising youngsters but overall they need a lot of help. On the defensive line, last year’s first round pick Danny Shelton will be looking forward to being the leader they drafted him to be. The young movement upfront will be fully in place this season with Xavier Cooper and rookie Carl Nassib likely playing aside Shelton. Cleveland has suffered for years at pressuring the opponent’s QB. Paul Kruger is a player that can rush the passer but he is getting up there in age and the Browns don’t have another guy like him starting on the other side. Cleveland will be hoping for LB Nate Orchard to step it up in his second year but also look out for touted rookie Emmanuel Ogbah. The Browns let Karlos Dansby go so, younger veterans, Demario Davis and Christian Kirksey, will lead the middle of the defense in 2016. Cleveland’s secondary will be a problem area again especially after they loss starting safety Tashaun Gibson in free agency. CB Joe Haden is one of the best corners in the league but fellow first rounder, Justin Gilbert, has been a massive disappointment. Its going to be interesting to see what Hue Jackson can do with the pieces they have on offense but Cleveland will be seriously short staffed defensively in 2016. Again, the Browns are years away from contending and the real question will be if Jackson will be around long enough to help build up the rest of the roster. Prediction: 4-12

2016 NFL Draft Grades: AFC

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Shaq Lawson will be able to use his pass rushing skills in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense in Buffalo.

By: Elias McMillan

 

AFC EAST

1. Buffalo Bills: (Team Needs: DE (3-4), OLB (3-4), QB, WR, CB, LB) – I absolutely love Rex Ryan’s draft class for the second season in a row as Bills head coach. DE Shaq Lawson can be the pass rusher in a 3-4 that this defense needs. Reggie Ragland is one of the top tacklers in the draft and Buffalo was able to draft him in Round 2. Adolphus Washington’s athleticism makes him a great fit up front in this 3-4 defense. QB Cardale Jones was one of my favorite prospects in this draft. He didn’t have a great final season at Ohio State but he probably has the strongest arm of any QB in this draft. He could be able to push hard for the back up position at QB in camp. In the 6th round, they got WR Kolby Listenbee who is one of the fastest receivers in the draft. Buffalo also pretty much addressed all of their needs. Grade: A

2. Miami Dolphins: (Team Needs: OT, OG, CB, DE (4-3), DT, S, RB, WR) – Miami may have gotten the steal of the draft in OT Laremy Tunsil. There are some character issues with Tunsil maybe. Well, I wouldn’t say “character issues”. More like “acting like a dummy issues”. But with the bizarre way his draft stock fell all in one night while costing him millions of dollars, Miami will be getting a talented player who is eager to show that he is worth it. They drafted for secondary help in CB Xavien Howard but I feel that they could have gotten a better player a pick 38. RB Kenyan Drake is a reach in the third round. He kind of a one-trick pony in how he is like a poor man’s Darren Sproles. Miami should have addressed the RB position earlier. Thomas Duarte could be a steal in the seventh round if he can stay fast while bulking up to many play TE. Grade: B-

3. New York Jets: (Team Needs: OT, QB, ILB, OLB (3-4), CB, TE) – LB Darron Lee is a heck of player and he’ll do well in this 3-4 defense as an inside tackler or someone who can rush from the outside and make plays in the backfield. A lot of Jets fans didn’t like the Christian Hackenberg pick but his skill set matches what the Jets need at QB. Hackenberg has issues with being a “statue” at QB and holding on to the ball too long but once he figures it out, fans will see that he has one of the better arms out of the QB’s in this draft class. I didn’t see Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins as a dynamic pass rusher coming off from this draft but he’ll provide solid depth. The Jets hit most of their need areas but I feel like they could have done better in the later rounds. Especially with addressing the secondary. Grade: C

4. New England Patriots: (Team Needs: DE, OG, OT, WR, LB, CB, RB) – This was not a strong draft by the Patriots. It makes it worst that they didn’t have a first round pick. I’m a big fan of CB Cyrus Jones though. He doesn’t offer much size but he is as tough as they come and usually covers receivers tough in man-to-man situations. They addressed the offense line but they didn’t draft a tackle. I have no idea why they took a QB in the third round. WR Malcolm Mitchell could develop as a great special teams player. Grade: C-

AFC NORTH

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Tyler Boyd is a talent that could rise quick in Cincinnati.

1. Cincinnati Bengals: (Team Needs: CB, WR, DE (4-3), LB, DT, S) – The Bengals had a strong draft and they get extra points from me for trolling Pittsburgh. The Steelers had their eye on CB William Jackson but Cincy took him from right under them. Cincinnati has drafted so many first round corners in recent history but they did lose guys at that position in the offseason. Jackson was one of my favorite corners in this draft and his talent will get him on the field quickly as a rookie. The Bengals needed a receiver and so I correctly mocked Pitt’s Tyler Boyd to them in the second round. Boyd should be able to rise up the depth chart quick while learning from vet A.J. Green. Nick Vigil was one of the better inside linebackers in this draft. DT Andrew Billings should have gone in the first round but there were questions about the health of his knee. Billings may not be healthy but once he gets to 100%, he’ll prove to be a great steal for the Bengals in the fourth round. I had OG Christian Westerman going in the second round and the Bengals were able to get him in the fifth. They should have drafted some defensive end help but even without that, this was a very solid draft class. Grade: A-

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: (Team Needs: CB, S, NT, OLB (3-4), WR) – It has been a while since the Steelers addressed the secondary so early and often in the draft but they did so this past weekend. I think CB Artie Burns was a reach in the first round but he provides a need and he is very talented. Safety Sean Davis is a bit undersized but he’ll be fine as long as he gets to the ball carrier in a hurry and makes plays. Javon Hargrave may be the nose tackle of the future for this defense and many within the organization were big fans of this pick. I like the selection of OT Jerald Hawkins because the Steelers lost a tackle in free agency and Hawkins probably should have been drafted sooner. I didn’t see OLB Travis Feeney as a 3-4 linebacker but his speed should make it easy for him to transition into a playmaker on defense or special teams. I love the final pick of LB Tyler Matakevich who was a heck of a player at Temple. Solid draft by the black & gold. Grade: B+

3. Cleveland Browns: (Team Needs: S, OLB (3-4), ILB, QB, OT, WR) – Cleveland drafted the most players but that’s not what makes a draft a success. It’s the quality of players and Cleveland did okay in that department as well. I don’t know if Corey Coleman is the top receiver in this draft and I thought Cleveland was done with short receivers but Coleman is an absolute playmaker that should make an immediate impact on this offense. The Browns also scored big at the top of the second and third rounds by drafting a couple pass rushers. Emmanuel Ogbah had a beastly final season at Oklahoma State and offers great speed off the edge. Carl Nassib is tall at 6’7 and led all of CFB in sacks last year. The Cody Kessler pick is a head scratcher though. They really focused on the WR position in the later rounds. And I like the final pick of LB Scooby Wright who could be the next Zach Thomas. Grade: B+

4. Baltimore Ravens: (Team Needs: OT, OG, RB, DE (3-4), OLB (3-4), CB, S, ILB) – Baltimore could have had the top offensive tackle in the draft. But because of the ongoing controversy they settled for Ronnie Stanley who is still pretty good in his own right. I love the draft picks of Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi. Both of those guys have a future in this league as 3-4 outside rushing linebackers. Getting RB Kenneth Dixon in the 4th round will prove to be a steal. Dixon may have a lot of miles on him but he is as tough of a runner as they come. I’m interested to see what they do with Navy’s Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds made his college career as a runner but they will see what he can offer as a receiver. Grade: B

AFC SOUTH

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If Myles Jack can be healthy, he’ll be the steal of the entire draft for Jacksonville.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: (Team Needs: DE, OLB (4-3), CB, OG, OT) -Talent wise, the Jaguars hit it out the park with this draft class. Jalen Ramsey fell to them at number 5 when it was said that he was going in the top 3. Ramsey will provide the help in the secondary that this team desperately needs. In the second round, they took LB Myles Jack who if was 100% healthy would have been a top ten pick. When Jack is ready him and Telvin Smith will form the fastest LB duo in the league. DT Sheldon Day was another steal in the 4th round for Jacksonville. The Jaguars also drafted three other defensive ends. If youre a Jacksonville fan, you have to feel good about the foundation being built on the defensive side of the ball. Grade: A

2. Tennessee Titans: (Team Needs: OT, OLB (3-4), ILB, CB, S, DT) – OT Jack Conklin was a good player for Tennessee to trade up for. He’ll help provide stability to that offensive line. The Titans took a young pass rusher in Kevin Dodd. I thought Dodd would be a better fit for a 4-3 but he’ll be fine as a pass rusher from the outside in this defense. I like the selection of DT Austin Johnson as well. RB Derrick Henry is talented but now Tennessee’s backfield is loaded. Not sure if they needed to take a RB so early. I feel that Tennessee should have addressed the secondary and the inside LB position sooner than they did. Grade: B

3. Houston Texans: (Team Needs: TE, WR, DE (3-4), OLB (3-4), C, S) – Houston was looking for help at WR opposite of DeAndre Hopkins. Taking WR Will Fuller in the first round seems like a reach to me. Fuller is one of the fastest players in the draft but he is a body catcher. I’m kinda more excited for third round pick Braxton Miller who has great hands and can do some special things in the open field. Center Nick Martin was a smart pick as the Texans lost their starting center in free agency. I find it interesting that the Texans didn’t address any of the pass rushing positions. DT D.J. Reader is a huge body that will learn a lot from Vince Wilfork. Grade: B-

4. Indianapolis Colts: (Team Needs: OT, RB, WR, ILB, OLB (3-4), CB, S) – Taking a center in the first round is almost always going to be viewed as a reach but it is an extremely safe pick for the Colts. They also got more offensive line help in the third round with the selection of OT Le’Raven Clark. I had Clark going early in the second round so I view this pick as a steal for Indy. Two of the noteworthy defensive picks were safety T.J. Green and DT Hassan Ridgeway. Both picks address needs but I don’t seem too impressed by those selections. Grade: C

AFC WEST

NCAA Football: National Championship-Ohio State vs Oregon

Joey Bosa, the best pass rusher in the draft, will help maximize the front 7 in San Diego.

1. San Diego Chargers: (Team Needs: DE (3-4), OG, OT, WR, S, TE) – Despite already having solid starters at outside pass rusher, the Chargers took Joey Bosa at pick number 3 and I really didn’t see that coming. It’s a smart pick by San Diego as they can now maximize their pass rush on the inside and the outside. Bosa is versatile and good enough to make an difference rushing as an outside linebacker or as a inside defensive end in a 3-4 defense. Not sure if TE Hunter Henry was needed in the second round but he’ll be a solid backup to Antonio Gates. Though they did need to replace Ladarius Green. I like the picks of Max Tuerk and Donavon Clark who will address the interior of the offensive line. I think San Diego missed out of opportunities to address the secondary and the receiver position. Grade: B+

2. Oakland Raiders: (Team Needs: OT, WR, RB, DE (3-4), ILB, CB, DT) – There was a lot of buzz surrounding safety Karl Joseph before the draft but he certainly isn’t worth a top 15 pick. I think Joseph will do well in this defense but Oakland definitely reached on that pick. I liked the next two Oakland selections in Jihad Ward and Shilidue Calhoun. Ward is a great fit as a DE in a 3-4 and Calhoun will do well as a rushing outside linebacker. QB Connor Cook is a curious pick but he could push to be the number 2 QB on this team. I like speedy RB Deandre Washington from Texas Tech and OG Vadal Alexander is a heck of a value in the 7th round. Very solid draft by the Raiders. Grade: B

3. Kansas City Chiefs: (Team Needs: WR, S, CB, OLB (3-4), ILB, QB, OG, DT) – Kansas City did okay for a team that traded down a bunch. I like the second round pick of Chris Jones who should be a great fit on Kansas City’s defensive line. OG Parker Ehinger was a smart pick by the Chiefs who are looking for a starter at that position. I don’t think QB Kevin Hogan will be anything in the league but he was one of my favorite QB’s to watch at Stanford. The odds will be stacked against him but he is a great competitor. I like the sixth round pick of CB D.J. White. White has decent size for a CB and made a lot of plays at Georgia Tech. The Chiefs didn’t address many of their needs. I thought they could have taken a pass rushing outside linebacker or someone who plays safety. Grade: C

4. Denver Broncos: (Team Needs: QB, RB, OT, ILB, OG, TE) – I mocked QB Paxton Lynch to Denver and it was a pick that absolutely needed to happen. Lynch is very similar to Brock Osweiler and will have a great chance at winning the starting job in the pre season. RB Devontae Booker is one of the toughest runners in this draft and he’ll have a good chance at making this roster. I’m kind of shocked that Denver didn’t address the offensive tackle position of the inside linebacker position. Grade: C-

NFL 2015: AFC North Preview

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Can Marvin Lewis survive another lackluster season in Cincinnati?

By: Elias McMillan

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh Steelers – Last season, Pittsburgh found out how great they could be offensively as they rode that offense to a division title. I’m not sure if their defense improved in the offseason so they might have to do the same in 2015. On the bright side, I don’t see how the defenses in this division will be able to deal with the three-headed monster of Roethlisberger, Brown, and Bell. QB Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a career year and he could have better numbers this season if he can stay healthy. I wonder why Ben didn’t receive MVP considerations last season but then I remember the games he played against horrible teams like the Jets and Buccaneers. Ben is a great QB but consistency problems seem to still follow him at times. If Ben can learn from those few bad games a season ago, he would garner more respect from around the league. Having a decent receiving core again will definitely help Ben this season. Antonio Brown maybe the best “pound-for-pound” receiver in football right now and his numbers and highlights show that. Secondary targets like Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and TE Heath Miller aren’t bad either. RB Le’Veon Bell established himself last season as one of the best backs in football and he was the real machine that kept Pittsburgh’s offense going. Bell is so deadly no matter if he’s taking handoffs or catching passes. Unfortunately Bell will miss a few games due to suspension but the Steelers did bring in veteran back DeAngelo Williams from Carolina. I’m not sure how much Williams has left in the tank but I’m sure the drop off from him to Bell is significant. In short, the Steelers will need to get Bell back in a hurry. The true unsung heroes for the Pittsburgh offense last season was the offensive line. The same starting five will return this season, which is great news for the running and passing game. Most of the issues on this football team lay on the defensive side of the ball. On the defensive line, DE Cameron Heyward is the lone stand out. Young guys like Daniel McCullers and Stephon Tuitt need to prove that they belong this season. Pittsburgh once again last season had issues with pressuring the QB. Dragging James Harrison out of retirement seemed like a desperate move but in surprising fashion Harrison looked great at times and was brought back for another season. Father time is undefeated so I’m not sure how long the Steelers can depend of Harrison. These young pass rushers like Jarvis Jones and rookie Bud Dupree, really need to perform at a high level sooner than later. Steeler fans should be excited about the duo at inside linebacker in Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier. Those two can deliver big hits, fly to the football and stuff the run. There isnt a nice way to say this but the Steelers secondary is a mess and it really has nothing to do with Troy Polumalu and Ike Taylor retiring. The lack of a pass rush doesn’t help the secondary either. The Steelers actually have a decent group of corners if you look at the top three guys. Cortez Allen has proven to be serviceable, William Gay was a nice surprise a season ago, and they traded for Brandon Boykin who is a nice player who will give them depth. The situation at safety will be a running narrative this season though. Mike Mitchell was an absolute dud of a signing a season ago and I don’t think Shamarko Thomas is ready to fill Polamalu’s shoes. I’ve always believed that having a strong defense is more important than having a dominant offense. But as I look at the top teams in this division and the conference, I don’t see many strong defensive teams. It is because of this, I think the Steelers will have the opportunity to ride their offensive weapons to another division title and maybe more. Prediction: 10-6 (AFC North Champs)

Baltimore Ravens – Baltimore looked so average and disappointing during the 2014 regular season. But then near the end of the season, they started to catch fire and looked like a team that could have made a run. This years Ravens team will have the chance to build on that strong finish or continue to under achieve. I really cant say that Baltimore could under achieve this season because I think their roster doesn’t look as strong as a season ago. QB Joe Flacco is so ridiculously unstable at times. He throws a great deep ball and it helps that he has guys that can stretch the field. But he has had troubles with finding consistency and I don’t know if new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman can help that. Last season, Baltimore discovered that they had a stud in RB Justin Forsett. The Baltimore running game is an under appreciated aspect for this team as they may have to lean on that if Flacco is having one of his off games. Losing WR Torrey Smith shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Veteran Steve Smith Sr. is playing in his final season with the Ravens. Smith has plenty left in the tank and he’ll be looking to end his career in a big way. Baltimore drafted Breshad Perriman to replace Torrey Smith and that might prove to be a wise decision. Perriman has blazing speed and should develop into an ideal target for Flacco. Also, look out for rookie TE Maxx Williams. Starting TE Dennis Pitta cant stay healthy and Williams was well regarded as the top TE in this past draft. Baltimore’s defense has been a strength for so long but I think that unit will take a step back in 2015. I don’t get why they got rid of DT Haloti Ngata. I guess it was a financial decision but it still doesn’t make sense football wise. That defensive line will need to grow up fast this season to make up for the lost of Ngata. I really like rookie DT Carl Davis and should be an instant standout on this defensive line. The Ravens do have the best pass-rushing group in the division with Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw. In the middle of the defense, Baltimore has a future start in LB C.J. Mosley. Mosley is an active tackler who flies to football. Along with Daryl Smith, Baltimore has a great play making pair at middle linebacker. Baltimore struggled to find consistency in the secondary last season and that may have been due to injuries. Injuries have begun to show up already in that unit, as they will be without starting safety Matt Elam. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are decent players but once again, staying healthy will be key. I think Baltimore will still rival Pittsburgh for this division this season but they wont be able to match them offensively and I don’t see their offense being able to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s young defense. Baltimore might follow the similar pattern of inconsistent play during the first 3 months of the season then they might make a late playoff push. For whatever reason, John Harbaugh’s Ravens have a knack of making it to the tournament. Prediction: 9-7 (Wildcard)

Cincinnati Bengals – It’s hard to think of a Cincinnati Bengals team that has made the playoffs for 4 straight seasons and then label them as under achievers. But it’s a bit easier when you know that those were 4 straight losses in the first round of the playoffs. Making the playoffs is no longer a good enough accomplishment for this Cincinnati franchise. They have talent and they need to at least appear to start making progress. I don’t know if Marvin Lewis can survive another season where they fall short or if his team’s failures are directly his fault. Andy Dalton is basically “Joe Flacco-lite”. He’s sometimes good and sometimes embarrassedly bad. Dalton’s safety net is super star WR A.J. Green who has a great chemistry with Dalton. Outside of Green, Cincinnati has a pretty good receiving core rounded out by Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate and Marvin Jones. TE Tyler Eifert was injured for most of last season but he will be looking to make an impact in his first year as a sure starter. Cincinnati’s running game is really good. Last season, RB Jeremy Hill took the starting job from Giovani Bernard and didn’t look back. Hill is a tough runner between the tackles and he also has the speed to get away from defenders. Bernard maybe less talented as Hill but he can prove his worth as a third down back and as a receiver from the back field. Andy Dalton was one of the least sacked QB’s in the NFL last season. It is because of that I very much question the reasoning behind drafting two offensive tackles with your first two selections. Especially when you realize that the Bengals were dead last in sacks in 2014. Cincinnati desperately needs pass rush that may not be on the current roster. DT Geno Atkins is a beast and can definetly pressure opposing QB’s but he hasn’t been the same player since his major injury a few seasons ago. They brought back DE Michael Johnson who left the team in 2013 and had an absolute dud of a going out in Tampa. DE Carlos Dunlap is an underrated player but he isn’t the pass rushing force that this defense needs. I think Cincy’s lack of a pass rush will continue to hurt them this year. The Bengals have a decent group of linebackers headlined by Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict. I also like the signing of A.J. Hawk who will serve as a mentor to a rookie LB that I really like, TCU’s Paul Dawson. In the secondary, the Bengals have a lot of talent but not enough results. They were third in interceptions a season ago but they still gave up quite a few yards through the air. The depth at the CB position between Adam Jones, Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Darqueze Dennard would be among the best in the league. Safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka are an underrated but productive duo. I feel that this secondary would be so much better if they had better play on the defensive line. What’s going to lead to a disappointing season in 2015 for Cincinnati will be the lack of a pass rush on defense and the inconsistency in the passing game on offense. I think Marvin Lewis is a good coach but his team did a poor job drafting and in free agency. Cincinnati might be forced to make a tough decision at seasons end. Prediction: 7-9

Cleveland Browns – Cleveland’s plan to get out of the AFC North basement isnt a bad one. It’s just that the plan has been filled with so many unexpected twists and turns. I think Cleveland is in good enough shape that if they keep going in the direction they appear to be going, they might win some more football games. But a lot would have to happen for that to be a reality in 2015. The reason why I like what Cleveland is appearing to be doing is that they did a good job building up the defense. Last season, Cleveland was poor at stopping the run. I love the draft pick of DT Danny Shelton who will eventually lead the defensive line in their run stuffing efforts. Cleveland needs to do a better job at pressuring the QB. Its going to hurt that they lost OLB Jabaal Sheard in free agency and they are going to need Barkevious Mingo to really step it up. Veteran Paul Kruger proved last season to be an absolute gamer and he is the prime pass rusher on this team but he needs support. That support might come from rookie Nate Orchard who was impressive at Utah. Cleveland will have the best secondary in this division for the second straight season. CB Joe Haden is well respected as one of the best corners in football and opposite of him is Tramon Williams who is coming off some pretty good seasons in Green Bay. Justin Gilbert had a tough rookie season but if he can rebound from that, Cleveland will have some serious depth at the CB position. The Browns also have an ideal pair of safeties in the big hitter, Donte Whitner and the center fielder, Tashaun Gipson. The defense could be better this season especially if the offense can find its niche. I’m not confident at all in QB Josh McCown. McCown was a disgrace in Tampa last season. Maybe he can bounce back or at worst be a mentor for Johnny Manziel. People (mostly haters) are already writing off Manziel despite the fact that he only played in 6 quarters last season. Manziel has had his off the field issues and he’s ready to move past them and become an NFL quality QB. What really hurt Manziel last season was when they threw him in the starting lineup; the offensive line suffered some big time injuries. Now that the offensive line is healthy and they added some depth with first round pick Cameron Erving, the Browns might be able to get a better gauge on how good Manziel can be. I think it will be key for the offensive play caller to not get cute with Manziel and have him play in a structured pro-style offense. Johnny can make plays with his feet but he’s not going to be able to pull off the stunts that he pulled in college. They need to spoon feed him the basics and have him free lace with his play making ability as needed. Now if the offensive line is healthy this season, I can see Cleveland having success running the football. Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West showed flashes last season and I’m really excited about rookie Duke Johnson who reminds me of a young but smaller Frank Gore. The situation with WR Josh Gordon is tragic but despite that Cleveland could still have a serviceable WR core. Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, and Travis Benjamin definitely have ability but the wild card will be QB turned WR Terrelle Pryor. Pryor maybe new to the position but his speed and athleticism could make him as an ideal replacement for Gordon. The Browns really need to find a consistent starting QB for this receiving core to reach its potential. I think Cleveland will still be a few pieces away but they are loaded with talent. If the offense can take some of the pressure off the defense, Cleveland could leap frog over Cincinnati this season. Prediction: 6-10

NFL 2014: AFC North Preview

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Ben Roethlisberger could be the difference for Pittsburgh in a competitive AFC North this season.

By: Elias McMillan

Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers had a rough start to last season and it kinda lingered up until the end of the season where they had a strong finish. I didn’t see them as a playoff team before last season and they just about reached my expectations. I think the Steelers learned from last season and they made some improvements in the offseason and they might be set up to return to the post season in 2014. QB Ben Roethlisberger had a slow start last year but he quickly rebounded and had one of his best years as a pro. What really helped him was the emergence of WR Antonio Brown who revealed himself to be a lot more than just a speedy punt returner. Brown put together a Pro Bowl season in 2013 and has solidified himself as a solid #1 receiver in the league. After Brown, there are some question marks for the Steelers as they did lose Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. Young WRs Markus Wheaton and rookie Martavis Bryant are going to have to grow up real quick this season, as Ben will call upon those guys through the year. Having a healthy Heath Miller should help Roethlisberger a lot this year. Heath is coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign but he could bounce back now that he’s fully recovered from a knee injury. I’m really excited about how the Steelers can run the ball this year. RB Le’Veon Bell should be really to break out this season as the starter. I like the signing of RB LeGarrette Blount who is coming off a great 2013 in New England. Along with speedy rookie Dri Archer, Pittsburgh will have the horses to run the ball effectively in 2014. The offensive line has been an area for concern for years now but that should receive a boost with the return of a healthy Center, Maurkice Pouncey. The Pittsburgh defense really held this team back last season. The Steelers will be looking to improve their run defense this season. They will be led upfront by DE Cameron Heyward and newcomers, Cam Thomas from San Diego and touted rookie Stephon Tuitt. What should really help the run defense is the first pick LB Ryan Shazier. Shazier is a speedy guy that can get to the ball in a hurry. Him along with LB Lawrence Timmons should combine for a great duo in the middle of the defense. The Steelers didn’t have a strong pass rush last season so OLB’s Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds are gonna have to bounce back strong this year. Ryan Shazier might end up becoming a great player but I think Pittsburgh would have been better off taking a cornerback in the 1st round. I don’t think much of CB Cortez Allen and CB Ike Taylor is on his last legs. I’m a big fan of the signing of safety Mike Mitchell who should prove to be an upgrade from Ryan Clark. Troy Polamalu is also returning for another season. Polamalu is still a great player but his best days might be behind him. There are a couple reasons why I like the Steelers to top the AFC North this year. I really like what they should be able to do on offense this season with a lot of great options from the backfield and at receiver. I would like to think that the Steelers defense can somewhat improve from a lackluster 2013. The improvement of the defense will really be the key for them. I think the divisional race will be tight but what might separate Pittsburgh from the pack is Ben Roethlisberger. I’ll have more trust with him and the Steeler offense than I would with Dalton or Flacco. Prediction: 10-6 (AFC North Champs)

Baltimore Ravens – After winning the Super Bowl, the 2013 Ravens were a work in progress as they lost a lot of pieces in that offseason. I think Baltimore can bounce back this season. They still have some familiar faces but some newcomers could help them improve from 8-8. I’m not so confident about QB Joe Flacco. During the Super Bowl run, Flacco was able to flourish under the coaching of Jim Caldwell. Flacco kind of regressed last season and now Caldwell is in Detroit. Whats going to help Flacco and the passing game is that now Baltimore is extremely deep at the receiving position. WRs Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, Jacoby Jones, and Steve Smith are all great in different ways and will give Flacco great options when dropping back. There are some question marks surrounding the RB position. RB Ray Rice is the star but he started to regress last season and he is facing a 2 game suspension to start the season. RB Bernard Pierce has some ability but he’s gonna have a lot on his plate for the first two games of the season. On defense, the Ravens were pretty average a season ago but they can definitely improve in 2014. They are pretty strong upfront led by DT Naloti Ngata and look for rookie Timmy Jernigan to make some waves. They have a lot of young talent in the middle of the defense. Veteran Daryl Smith is the leader of the unit but I’m really excited about rookie LB C.J. Mosley. You couldn’t ask for a better duo at outside LB than Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. In the secondary, CBs Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are solid starters. Safety Matt Elam is expected to make a big leap in his second full season as a starter. I think Baltimore can be good enough on defense to help the team make it back to the post season. The question marks reside on the offensive side of the ball. Can Baltimore run the ball like they want to without Ray Rice? Can Joe Flacco thrive and return back to his 2012 form now that he has more playmakers at receiver? I can trust that Baltimore can improve from last season but I don’t see them taking back this division. Prediction: 10-6 (Wild-Card)

Cincinnati Bengals – I think Cincinnati’s short stay in the playoffs last season could have some carry over affects going into 2014. For a short while, the Bengals were the young upcoming team poised to take over the AFC North. Now, I’m thinking that they totally blew their shot. I guess QB Andy Dalton is ready to forget about how last season ended. Cincinnati might of made the right choice when deciding to extend Dalton’s contract instead of having him play this season seemingly “without a net”. The franchise is showing their confidence in Dalton despite his less than stellar play in the post season. The strength of this offense is the connection between Dalton and all-star WR A.J. Green. Green is really in Dalton’s corner, which does help him with his confidence as the leader of the offense. I’m excited about the Bengals backfield with the electrifying RB Giovani Bernard and rookie RB Jeremy Hill. Hill was one of the few RB’s coming out of college that I really liked and he will all but take over the role of veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I think that the Bengals will really take a step back this season because of the defense. They let DE Michael Johnson leave for free agency and they did very little to replace him. Second year DE Margus Hunt is expecting to really make a huge leap as a possible new starter on the defensive line. Thinking of the defensive line, the Bengals will be really happy to have a healthy Geno Atkins this season as he is one of best players in football. At linebacker, the standouts are Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga who aren’t surrounded by much else at that position. The Bengals are ridiculously deep in the secondary. They can get solid play at CB from Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Terrance Newman, and Dre Kickpatrick. Also consider that they drafted one of the top corners in the draft in rookie Darqueze Dennard. Cincinnati will need better play from their safeties in 2104 as Reggie Nelson had a down season last year. What is going to hurt the Bengals this season is their lack of an outside pass rush and the question of if Andy Dalton can solidify himself worthy of the extension he got before the season. I still expect them to compete for a playoff spot at least. Prediction: 9-7

Cleveland Browns – I really think that this could be the season where you will actually see noticeable improvement from the Cleveland football team. I’ve been wrong about this before but I think the Browns make a lot of good changes in the offseason. I think that Browns should be pretty good on defense but it is going to take some significant improvement from the offensive side of the ball to get Cleveland out of the AFC North basement. QB Brian Hoyer showed some flashes last season but I don’t see why Cleveland should be excited about this guy. Considering all the past failures at QB this franchise has had, I don’t see why don’t they just throw rookie QB Johnny Manziel to the fire and start him in Week 1. Manziel does need some more polishing but he seems to start to “get it” the more he plays. You can also bring Manziel along slowly because he’ll have some great options to hand off to on this team. RB Ben Tate is getting his first crack at a starting gig after being a great role player in Houston. There is also a lot of buzz surrounding rookie RB Terrance West who runs the ball with a strong physical style. Depending on the appeal process, the Browns might be without WR Josh Gordon for the entire season. Gordon would be a huge loss but Cleveland did add some veterans with quality experience. WRs Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, & Anthony Armstrong bring a lot of experience to the offense and don’t forget about young speedster, Andrew Hawkins. Last season, TE Jordan Cameron proved to be a dependable target and I would expect for him to be called upon a lot this year especially if they start Manziel as a rookie. Here’s a strong statement: at least on paper, the Browns have the best defense in the division. They are strong on the defensive line with DTs Desmond Bryant and Phil Taylor. For outside rushers, OLB Jabaal Sheard is a great player who is ready to become a name in this league. They will really need Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo to step up this year to really make this pass rush a force. I love the signing of ILB Karlos Dansby. Dansby is veteran player but is coming off a solid season in Arizona. Cleveland’s secondary is also pretty good. Pairing all Pro CB Joe Haden with rookie Justin Gilbert should provide Cleveland with a pair of quality player in the secondary for years to come. I like the signing of Ohio native Donte Whitner. Whitner can set the tempo for this defense as he is a play maker who can still pack a strong punch with some devastating hits. I see a lot of potential with this Cleveland team. They are still probably another solid off-season away from becoming contenders but if they can get stability at the QB position, the Browns could shock a lot of teams this year. Prediction: 7-9

NFL 2013: AFC North Preview

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It looks to me like the Steelers are easily the least improved team in the AFC North.

By: Elias McMillan

Baltimore Ravens – Once free agency begun, the Ravens roster began to get gutted. Anquan Boldin gets traded. Ellerbe, Kruger, Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed are signed away. Plus, the greatest player in franchise history, Ray Lewis, retires. Despite all of that, I’m here to report that the demise of the defending champion Baltimore Ravens has been completely exaggerated. Baltimore will begin their title defense in 2013 as a more confident team even all they lost. That confidence starts will the QB, Joe Flacco. Here’s something fans will understand about Flacco this season, he’s still the same guy from before the Super Bowl run. He will make mistakes. He might even lose some games. But Flacco showed last season that he is able overcome certain situations and show flashes of greatness. RB Ray Rice is the veteran in the backfield who is still a dangerous threat on the ground and as a receiver. RB Bernard Pierce gives the Ravens a great second option and is certainly not a player defenses will sleep on. Losing Boldin will be huge for Flacco and the passing game. It’s time for WRs Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones to really step up and mentor this young receiving core. They were dealing with some injuries at the TE position but they did a great job signing veterans like Visanthe Shiancoe and Dallas Clark. The Ravens defense has been surviving by rep recently. Last season, the defense really wasn’t that good even before the injuries they fought and the Super Bowl run. But I think GM Ozzie Newsome did a great job retooling the roster on that side of the ball. DT Haloti Ngata will continue to be a force in the middle but also look out for DE Chris Canty to make an impact on that defensive line. LB Terrell Suggs will be starting the season at 100%. Opposite of him will be LB Elvis Dumervil who is a beast of a pass rusher that will more than make up for the lost of Kruger. In terms of the middle of the defense, they wont be able to replace Ray Lewis’ leadership. But they will have a couple of younger guys who will probably look better than what Lewis looked like last season. LB Daryl Smith had a productive career in Jacksonville and they drafted LB Arthur Brown who was the best defender in the BIG 12 last fall. They lost Cary Williams in the secondary via free agency but I think that unit will be ok if they stay healthy. They signed veteran safety Micheal Huff to replace Pollard but I’m really excited to see rookie safety Matt Elam. Elam is no Reed cover wise but he is really quick and is a sure tackler. A Super Bowl hangover is always possible but I think this team is in good hands. It might sound unlikely now because repeats never happen in pro football but this team might have a good run at it. Prediction: 11-5 (AFC North Champs)

Cincinnati Bengals – Last season, the Bengals expected to contend for the AFC North crown. This season, the Bengals have the same goal but they could also contend to win the conference. There will be a lot of pressure of QB Andy Dalton. He is clearly guy at QB for this team but they need him to play much bigger against division rivals and in the playoffs. Dalton has a great cast of athletes around him and they even added more in the offseason. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis will probably start as he will be the steady runner who can get the tough yards. But everyone is excited to see rookie RB Giovani Bernard who develop into a Shady McCoy or Darren Sproles type player. They have a pretty deep, young WR core led by AJ Green who can beat defenses with his speed and with his length. TE Jermaine Gresham is serviceable but they drafted another TE, Tyler Eifert, who has great hands and size. The defense is led by DT Geno Atkins who looks unblockable at times. They have a lot of depth on the defensive line. The linebacker unit is a strange mix of under achievers and over achievers. LB James Harrison will be playing out of position in a 4-3 defense but he will bring some much needed experience and intensity to this defense. The secondary is also a strength of this defense, led by safety Reggie Nelson, who has suddenly become a decent player after a slow start in his career. A lot of veterans in the CB position but they do get Dre Kirkpatrick back from an injury which caused him to miss most of his rookie season. I think on paper the Bengals can win this division and maybe contend for the AFC crown. But they have a long way to go to prove that they are head and shoulders better than Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Marvin Lewis has outlined the path for this team loaded with youth and talent. The players are gonna have to respond this season to prove that there is a new top dog in the AFC North. Prediction: 10-6 (Wildcard)

Pittsburgh Steelers – Most offseasons in Pittsburgh are quiet. They hardly ever make a huge free agency splash. They usually keep it simple of draft day. And to their credit, that way of doing business has worked for them. But they are coming off a disappointing 2012 and they lost some key guys. Of course they return QB Ben Roethlishberger who is the under questioned leader on this squad. Roethlisberger had a very good season up until when he got hurt, returned, and played some forgettable football in a couple games in December. Ben is still one of the best at what he does and this year he’ll be playing with a couple of new guys on offense. Rashard Mendenhall left for Arizona but the Steelers are still pretty deep at RB. Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and rookie Le’Veon Bell will all prove to be valuable throughout this season. The guy in the backfield I would be excited about is veteran LaRod Stephens-Howling who is a great 3rd down back and special teamer. I know by season’s end, Stephens-Howling will be a household name for Stiller fans as he makes a lot of exciting plays. I have a lot of questions about the receivers on this team. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are talented and show a lot of ability but I don’t think either are “#1” receivers. Losing Plaxico Burress for the year might be a blessing disguise as rookie Markus Wheaton will probably get more looks from Ben now. Not having TE Heath Miller early this season will really hurt this offense I think. One of the main reasons why Ben had a great 2012 was because of Miller’s amazing ability to always be open. The Steelers always have question marks on the offensive line. Younger guys like David DeCastro and Mike Adams are gonna have to start performing at a high level. Roethlishberger seems to miss games almost every year. Would be nice for this team to have its franchise player for all 16 games this season. The Steeler defense needs to create more turnovers in 2013. I’m sure they’ll be solid against the run as they have one of the better defensive lines in football led by DE Brett Keisel who is greatly underrated in this league. They will be depending on either LB Jason Worilds or rookie LB Jarius Jones to replace James Harrison. Bottom line is that those outside LBs need to produce more sacks this year. LB LaMarr Woodley needs a bounce back year after a weak showing in 2012. ILB Lawrence Timmons didn’t under perform in 2012 and he’ll need to continue to build upon what he did last season. Once again, the Steelers had a top ranked pass defense in 2012 and I have no idea why. Seems like most teams beat Pittsburgh via the passing game. It is because of the pressure created by the 3-4 defense? I don’t know. I do know that I have a new appreciation for CB Ike Taylor. When he went down from an injury late last season, the corner play from this team was really, really bad. Keenan Lewis was pretty good in the secondary last year so, the Steelers let him get signed away in the offseason and replaced him with vet William Gay who has a great history of being really bad on this team. Safety Troy Polamalu is still one of the best in the league but you cant ignore that he is clearly on the downside of his career. Its hard to say that this team got better in the offseason. I know that games in this league are not won by rep so, the Steelers are gonna have to prove that hey still have another playoff year left with this current group. But I don’t see that happening. Prediction: 7-9

Cleveland Browns – A lot of changes took place in Cleveland in the offseason as the Browns will try to escape from the AFC North basement. I don’t know much about new head coach Rob Chudzinski but I do know that he probably has two of the best assistant coaches in the league. Norv Turner has a great reputation as an offensive mind and Ray Horton is a raising name as he coached pretty good defenses in Arizona. Norv Turner is gonna be huge for the development of QB Brandon Weeden. Well, at least the Browns hope so. Weeden is gonna have to show some improvement this year as veteran QB Jason Campbell will vie for the starting job. Expect the Browns to lean hard on RB Trent Richardson who had a great rookie campaign. The Browns have some decent athletes at the receiver position but no one really stands out. They’ll have to start showing that potential this season as Turner will have this offense going down the field via the passing game more often in 2013. TE Jordan Cameron will be a name to watch for this year as he will try to become a reliable target for Weeden.  I think the Browns defense will have a chance to be really good this year. DT Phil Taylor is a raising star in the middle of the defensive line. Cleveland’s lack of a pass rush has really hurt them in years past. Bringing in OLB Paul Kruger from Balitmore will help but they are also expecting huge things from rookie LB Barkevious Mingo. The Browns already had some decent options at that position. LB Jabaal Sheard is pretty good pass rusher and LB D’Qwell Jackson is a guy who is always around the ball. They don’t have a real strong secondary. CB Joe Haden is the lone stand out. Safety TJ Ward is great in run support and can bring the lumber as a hard hitter. The Browns are some pieces away from mattering again but I think 2013 will prove to be a step in the right direction. A lot will depend on if Norv Turner can turn Weeden into a serviceable starting QB. Prediction: 6-10