Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu escapes San Diego Chargers linebacker Donald Butler in the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)
The NFL season is just five days away, and Grizzly Detail will be going through our predictions for each of the NFL’s eight divisions, as well as our picks for the Super Bowl and the various awards available after the campaign.
We’ve already gone through the other three divisions that the Bears will play against this season, so we’ll continue our look at the AFC today with our AFC North predictions. Will the Cincinnati Bengals once again reign supreme, or will one of their rivals steal the spotlight?
Cincinnati Bengals: 11-5
We hate to ruin the suspense early, but we’re going to be picking the Bengals to win another division title. This group is simply too loaded on the offensive side of the ball, with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert forming a tremendous young nucleus of players for Andy Dalton to throw the ball to. Running back Giovani Bernard is also an excellent player, and second-round draft pick Jeremy Hill makes the running game even more potent.
As if that group isn’t scary enough, the Bengals’ defense might be even better. With Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins wreaking havoc in the front four, and Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga rounding out the front seven, the Bengals can not only defend the passing game well, but they can get excellent backfield penetration and make life miserable for their opponents.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-7
The Steelers are a team that has been accused of getting long in the tooth in recent years, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is seeing his teammates on the offensive side of the ball get younger and younger. Antonio Brown is arguably in the conversation as one of the top five wide receivers in the league, and he’ll be joined this season by Markus Wheaton.
Veterans like Heath Miller and Lance Moore will also make the Steelers’ passing game more potent, and when you factor in running back Le’Veon Bell, the offense is a multi-dimensional threat that won’t be fun to defend against.
The question for the Steelers will come on the defensive side of things, as they try to get one or two more good seasons out of strong safety Troy Polamalu. Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier is a guy who could be a key force for the defense, but he’ll have a lot of work to do as the Steelers try to crawl their way out of the bottom-10 in the league in rushing defense.
Baltimore Ravens: 7-9
The Ravens are a team that’s always tough to figure out, as they seem to straddle the line between rebuilding and competitive football. Quarterback Joe Flacco’s massive contract is a part of the reason for that, but this season he has Steve Smith to throw the ball to at the wide receiver spot, and if tight end Dennis Pitta can have the kind of season fantasy prognosticators think he will, then the Ravens’ offense should be decent.
The Ravens are generally a force on the defensive side of things as well, and this year should be no exception. In the 2013 season, they finished close to the top 10 in the league in both passing and rushing defense, and having veterans like Terrell Suggs and skilled corners like Ladarius Webb should provide them with some serious punch.
Cleveland Browns: 4-12
The Browns are a team clearly building toward the future. Their 2014 aspirations took a big hit when wide receiver Josh Gordon’s off-field issues resulted in a full-year suspension, and even though they drafted cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round of the draft, hopes still aren’t exactly soaring in Cleveland.
Fortunately for them, the Browns have some other pieces that they will be able to build around. Running back Ben Tate is going to be eager to prove that he was worth the team’s investment after they rescued him from perpetual back-up hell in Houston, and cornerback Joe Haden could very well be the best at his position in the NFL.
Adding Karlos Dansby to the mix on defense will also help solidify things on that side of the ball, but even with all of this talent to play with, the Browns still have some work to do before they become legitimate NFL contenders.