Last season, the AFC North was arguably the best division in football. Every year, this division fights tooth and nail to the final week, and there is rarely a clear front runner.
When they play each other, they play some of the most physical, and intense games of the season.
Last season, the AFC North had every team competing for a playoff position throughout most of the season.
While the Browns were dismantled toward the end of the year, they fought for the division through the majority of the season.
The AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs last season, and could very likely do the same this year.
The final standings of the season looked like this.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 11-5
Cincinnati Bengals: 10-5-1
Baltimore Ravens: 10-6
Cleveland Browns: 7-9
Just by looking at that, you can see how close the division was. In fact, the Bengals and Steelers played for the division in Week 17, which the Steelers clearly won.
The Steelers moved onto the Wild Card round to face their division rival, the Ravens, who defeated them 30-17.
Looking ahead, the schedule this year does not benefit the AFC North teams, especially the Steelers.
Every team in the division is facing each other, twice, like every season. On top of that, each are facing every team from the AFC West, and the NFC West, which are two very tough divisions. To make it tougher on the Steelers, they also have to face the surging Colts, and the defending champion Patriots.
Overall, it could be a tough season for every team in the division, and it could honestly come down to who performs in the divisional matchups.
The Steelers have lost key defensive players on an already struggling defense that could really hold them back in 2015.
While their offense is very likely the best in the league, it’ll come down to how their defense responds in tight games, and important games as well.
The Ravens lost some key defensive players like Haloti Ngata, and Pernell McPhee. They also lost some important players in the passing game such as wide receiver Torrey Smith, and wide receiver Jacoby Jones, hence why they drafted wide receiver Breshad Perriman in the first round, in hopes that he supply an immediate impact to the team.
The Bengals didn’t lose anyone of major importance, but also didn’t add anyone too significant either.
They added two linebackers, Michael Johnson and AJ Hawk in the offseason, which could help their defense, but probably won’t make them a significantly better team.
Finally, the Browns had a fairly tough offseason. They lost quarterback Brian Hoyer, and replaced him quarterback Josh McCown.
They also lost a major aerial threat in Jordan Cameron, and another with Josh Gordon being suspended…once again. Other than that, they did add wide receiver Brian Hartline from Miami, and brought in another cornerback in Tramon Williams, which could help make the defense one of the better in the league.
AFC North Prediction:
It’ll be interesting to see how the division actually plays out, but for the meantime, here’s a rough prediction of how I believe the division could very well end up being like.
This is excluding anymore injuries, or issues that might erupt as the season prolongs.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers: Overall: 10-6 Divisional: 5-1
2. Baltimore Ravens: Overall: 10-6 Divisional: 4-2
3. Cincinnati Bengals: Overall: 9-7 Divisional: 3-3
4. Cleveland Browns: Overall: 5-11 Divisional: 0-6
According to the early prediction, the Steelers will do well in the division.
They will beat both the Bengals and the Browns twice, and their only loss within the division will be against the Ravens.
Also, while the Browns made it clear they no longer wanted to be the doormat of the AFC North last year, history will repeat, and they will remain the doormat, having gotten only worse throughout the offseason.
Expect a close AFC North, like every season, but don’t expect too many surprises. It’s very likely the AFC North could see three playoff participants again, but the tough schedules could also lead to just one, only time will tell.
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