AFC North Division Preview 2014

In preparation for the upcoming 2014 NFL season, Just A Guy has put together a team-by-team run down of every division. Today we highlight the AFC North, which includes the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have been on the rise the last three years. But they always fall short come playoff time. Giovani Bernard was a major player as last year wore on, and rookie Jeremy Hill looks to be his new bruising counterpart, running BenJarvus “Law Firm” Green Ellis out of favor. Coordinator Jay Gruden is now the head coach in Washington. Hue Jackson is in. Rumor is they want to run the ball more. However, they have arguably the game’s top wideout in AJ Green, and Marvin Jones came on late last year. Don’t forget about last year’s first round pick Tyler Eifert. They also just rewarded Andy Dalton with a mega six year extension. I for one don’t think it is justified. Dalton is very hot and cold, and is 0-3 with a dreadful performance in every playoff game he’s appeared in. Green elevates his game. But, the QB position is so overvalued nowadays. They return one of the most complete, effective defensive units as well, as they look to make that next step this year. 11-5 record – Frank

Cleveland Browns

For better or worse, this season will be the Johnny Manziel show in Cleveland, thanks to ESPN pushing the hype machine up to Tebow levels. Which is a shame, because the Browns could be a halfway decent team this year, especially on the defensive side. D’Qwell Jackson and TJ Ward both had over 100 tackles last season while Tashaun Gipson and Joe Haden combined for nine interceptions. The team drafted Justin Gilbert to help on the defensive side as well. Offensively the team will struggle. Starter Brian Hoyer will have to throw to someone other than Josh Gordon, at least for an extended time, leaving the passing game in the hands of Jordan Cameron and Greg Little. Cameron and Little combined for less yards than Gordon did last year, so his production will be missed. The rushing game was miserable, with the top five RB’s on the team only totaling 1,000 yards, and probably won’t be getting better. The team won’t be making a playoff run, but they could improve on last season’s four wins. Although with the Gordon suspension looming large, it’ll be difficult. – Steve

Baltimore Ravens

A year removed from winning the Super Bowl, the 2014 Ravens. That ended their 5 consecutive year run of making the playoffs. Joe Flacco failed to live up to that huge contract he signed. But the Ravens tried to help him out for this season by signing vet WR Steve Smith and TE Owen Daniels. That should open things up a bit for Torrey Smith. The RB spot is murky with Rice suspended 2 games. And both Rice and backup Pierce weren’t exactly studs last year. Could be a split backfield all year. The defense returns solid. Terrell Suggs should be healthier this year and has some help with an underrated Daryl smith and CJ Mosley added into the mix. Haloti Ngata is a wall but is about only thing consistent the Ravens D line can offer. Safety is an area of concern with it being pretty much a toss up. Jimmy Smith has come into his own as a solid cornerback. But it ends there and secondary depth could be an issue. I can’t give the Ravens much more hope than last year. They look to be another middle of the road team winding up 9-7 and missing the playoffs. – Chris

Pittsburgh Steelers

The storied franchise with the most Super Bowl wins in NFL history will yet again have a competitive team this year. Heck if their running backs, Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, can get it together they have a good chance of making a run in the playoffs. With the offseason signings of Lance Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey they shored up some depth in a position of weakness and give big Ben Roethlisberger a couple more talented targets. That’s not to say Anthonio Brown can’t get it done but they lost Emanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery which leaves there number 2 receiver as Markus Wheaton, who had all of 6 catches for 64 yards last year.

On the other side of the ball they lost their second leading tacker safety Ryan Clark, who left for the Redskins. They were one of the better pass defenses in the league last year but were in the bottom third against the run in terms of yards per game allowed. Ike Taylor and Troy Polamulu continue to anchor the seconday and hope to continue the previous statistics trend. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers leading tackler, will  lead the defense and improve the run defense. – Ryan

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