Ravens still heavy favorites in improved AFC North

Ryan Sharp (@RealRyanSharp)

September 6, 2020

Baltimore Ravens

2019 Record: 14-2, 1st AFC North

2019 Playoffs: No. 1 Seed — Lost to Titans in Divisional Round

2020 Projected Record: 14-2, 1st AFC North

Playoff Projection: AFC 2 Seed

Even though Lamar Jackson won MVP last season, far too many people still don’t believe that he is good.

He only had a few bad games throughout the season, but unfortunately one of them came against the Titans in the playoffs.

All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda was the most notable departure of the offseason, but the Ravens line is still strong, and Jackson does not need to rely on them as much as other quarterbacks do. Overall, their additions far outweigh the offseason losses.

Baltimore had one of the best draft classes in the league, adding Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison at linebacker, bolstering what was probably the weakest position group.

On offense, J.K. Dobbins adds another threat, especially as a pass-catching back. Devin Duvernay also has the potential to be solid WR2.

It’s hard to go 14-2 twice in a row, but Baltimore's firepower will make it hard for them to lose any more than four games in 2020.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2019 Record: 8-8, 2nd AFC North

2019 Playoffs: None

2020 Projected Record: 10-6, 2nd AFC North

Playoff Projection: AFC 6 Seed

After an 0-3 start, the Steelers won eight of their next 10 games and were in the heart of the playoff push, but they ended up losing their final three games and finishing 8-8.

Eight wins was pretty impressive, given the poor quarterback play from Mason Rudolph and  Devlin Hodges, as well as noticeable regressions from James Connor and Juju Smith-Schuster.

The Steelers defense finished fifth in points allowed, and were anchored by Minkah Fitzpatrick, who they traded a first round pick for after Week Three.

I’ve been saying “Ben Roethlisberger is done” for the past four years now, but he has proved me wrong every time, barring last season when he was injured after two games. As he has  managed to do when healthy, I expect Roethlisberger to find a way to lead the Steelers to the playoffs in 2020.

He might not be elite, but he is certainly good enough to add two wins onto an 8-8 team.

Cleveland Browns

2019 Record: 6-10

2019 Playoffs: None

2020 Projected Record: 7-9

2020 Playoff Projection: None

The Browns were arguably the biggest disappointment in the league last year.

A promising rookie year from baker Mayfield and the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. had people incredibly hyped up, and eventually disappointed.

A lot of Cleveland’s failures in 2019 can be attributed to Freddie Kitchens and his mismanagement of the team.

On paper, hiring Kevin Stefanski is a great move. He is a young and smart offensive-minded coach who should be able to maximize the potential his team has.

However, I do have some concerns. It’s less about his age and more about the lack of experience. Not only is he a first-time head coach, he was an offensive coordinator for only 19 games before getting the job.

This lack of leadership experience could prove harmful when trying to manage a team full of personalities, including Beckham and Mayfield.

Stefanski is a far better option than Kitchens, but expect a year of struggling before he gets settled in.

Cincinnati Bengals

2019 Record: 2-14

2019 Playoffs: None

2020 Projected Record: 4-12

2020 Projected Playoffs: None

First overall pick Joe Burrow has all the potential in the world to be a good NFL quarterback, but it’s going to be very important to remain patient with his development, especially in this first year.

The Bengals’ offensive line allowed 48 sacks in 2019, and did not add anyone substantially better this offseason.

However, they will get A.J. Green back, after he missed all of last season with an ankle injury, and added tee Higgins with the 33rd overall pick.

Burrow has proven his ability to escape pressure, so if he can buy himself enough time to make the throws, he’ll have reliable receivers to rely on.

A realistic ceiling for Cincy is about six or seven wins, but a tough schedule will make that pretty hard to achieve.

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