NFL Divisional Preview: AFC North

The AFC North is going to be a competitive division within the National Football League all season long. The defending division champion Cincinnati Bengals are seeking their first playoff win, following losing three straight. During that time, Andy Dalton has not been very good. Dalton is one of the solid starting quarterbacks in the division. Dalton, along with Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco are awaiting word on who the Cleveland Browns will start. Will it Brian Hoyer, who has a little more NFL experience, or will the Browns go with the much maligned Johnny Manziel. It will be interesting in the AFC North this season, as the Steelers appear to be better than a season ago. It should be a very tight race all season.

Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill will provide the carries in the back field for Cincinnati. This is a Bengals offense that will feature alot of Andy Dalton to A.J. Green. The Bengals will depend on how well middle linebacker Rey Maualaga can contain both the pass and contain the run game of the rest of the division. For the Ravens, they will of course go as their passing game from Joe Flacco goes. With all the Ray Rice controversy in the off-season, the Ravens are already under fire. The Ravens have added Steve Smith Sr. to go with Torrey Smith, so look for the passing game to be improved from a season ago. The defense is not the ultra stacked squad it was a couple years ago, but LaDarius Webb and Terrell Suggs still are the mainstays that will keeo Coach Harbaugh’s team competitive at the end.

The Pittsburgh Steelers under Mike Tomlin feel they have enough to get back to the top. LaGarrette Blount and Le’Veon Bell carry the backfield, which has to be effective for Roethlisberger to play his best. The defense for Pittsburgh is much like Baltimore, where they are still good, but not the killer instinct of old days. The Steelers still see Troy Polamalu anchor the defense, but certainly has slowed the last couple seasons. Finally, the CLeveland Browns, who added not just Johnny Manziel, but also Miles Austin to the offense. Joe Haden, who was rewarded with a nice contract will be under fire after the positional debate of the summer. The Browns are awaiting word on if receiver Josh Gordon will miss the season, or that suspension will be reduced.

The division will get a quick start right away. The Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens play in week one in Baltimore. Also, the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet in the Steel City. Cincinnati also plays Pittsburgh twice in the final four weeks of the season, which means Baltimore and Cleveland do as well. Some dates to remember: September 7, October 26, December 7 and December 28th – all dates with big divisional games. It would be fun to see the divisional title come down to that final game just before New Years. If we had to put money on it, we would guess it will.

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