2014 NFL Predictions: AFC North

Once the Roughest and Toughest of the NFL divisions, the AFC North has become simply rough and tough to watch. I’m just saying, there is some boring football played in this division. That’s great news for three of my close friends, who each lay claim to one of these messes. (Baltimore is left out. WAH.)

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengal offseason was light on free agent news, but we’re hearing good things about Darqueze Dennard, their first round corner selection. Once he gets into the line-up (he’s had injury issues during the preseason), he’ll make an impact on a team with inconsistent corner depth. Leon Hall and Terrence Newman have to stay on the field. Cincy’s defense actually ranked third in total yards last season, so they’re clearly doing something right… oh wait, that was with coordinator Mike Zimmer running the show. He’s in Minnesota now. And defensive end Michael Johnson left in free agency, taking his piddly 3.5 sacks from 2013 with him. Johnson was always erratic. Geno Atkins however, is a MAN. Getting pressure from a defensive tackle is always fantastic because no QB likes a rusher from the middle. Vontaze Burfict is a beast at outside linebacker, leading the team in tackles by a WIDE margin. Despite the success from last season, I have concerns that this defense can perform at the same level in 2014. Without Zimmer, I feel a regression is likely.

Don’t worry though, I feel trepidation over the offense too! When Andy Dalton’s contract extension was announced, fans everywhere freaked out at the hefty dollar amount attached to it: Don’t worry though, it only sounds like the Bengals are giving Dalton a lot of money. They’re not that stupid… I don’t think. Dalton has improved statistically in the regular season every year he’s been in the league, with the Bengals’ win/loss totals on a correlating rise. The team keeps surrounding him with weapons in the hopes that they’ll win a playoff game, but aside from A.J. Green, who’s dominant? Jermaine Gresham hasn’t become the game-breaking tight end they’d hoped for, which is why they drafted Tyler Eifert last season. I like Eifert, but he needs to develop more as a blocker and route runner. Cincy’s taken a running back in the second round in each of the last two drafts, hoping to shore up the position so Marvin Lewis doesn’t have to rely on Dalton as much. (Trust issues, anyone?)

I think the only legitimate reason I’m excited about this team is that A.J. McCarron is a back-up quarterback. I will take any and all highlights of Katharine Webb at Bengal games. Wait, you mean to tell me he’s on the non-football injury list and is going to miss the first six games? …Will she still come to games? PLEASE MAN. IT’S ALL I HAVE.

Webb Hardees

Non-Record Prediction: Who cares? HAVE YOU SEEN KATHARINE WEBB?

2013 Record: 11-5
2014 Prediction: 10-6

This doesn’t mean I approve of the ginger quarterback. If Dalton isn’t up to snuff, this team is another easy playoff out.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steeler offensive line has been a MASH unit in recent years, with its members breaking legs and rupturing tendons as soon as even the slightest consistency was established. I assume Maurkice Pouncey is already in a walking boot. Of course that will lead to Ben Roethlisberger fattily running for his life as only “Big Ben” can, throwing it to whatever open third round receiver with “potential” he could find. Antonio Brown caught 110 passes last season, so there’s the one receiver the “Stillers” can’t afford to lose. Right now the Steelers’ second wide-out is listed as Markus Wheaton, a dude who caught SIX passes last season. They’ve also got Lance Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey. Talk about top-heavy. Mike Tomlin better whip OC Todd Haley into “giving a shit” shape, because a season of chucking it to Brown and Heath Miller (who will only be healthy for nine games, let’s be honest) won’t cut it. If Haley decides to run the ball, Le’Veon Bell is ready to get injured in his second season, so he can be replaced with rookie speedster Dri Archer, who won’t be able to make a block to save his (or Ben’s) life.

Speaking of health, 2013 was only the second time in the last five years Troy Polamalu has played an entire season. It was also one of his shittiest performances. He didn’t get to make as many of those “impact plays” he’s know for, like his exciting offsides penalties when he fails to predict the snap count. Thrilling Steeler football, everyone. But at least this year he’ll actually play a little at safety. Last year’s decimated line-backing corps forced Polamalu down into the box more often than he’d prefer. So obviously he’ll be back to playing his usual style, which means doing whatever the hell he wants to while corner Ike Taylor takes the blunt of the blame for Troy’s mistakes. As for the rest of the defense, it’s a weird mix of old cagey vets and new raw talent. Which means they’ll be inconsistent as hell. And I’m pretty sure they recently re-signed that one defensive lineman with the huge beard. So they have that going for them.

Non-Record Prediction: Despite lackluster and inconsistent play throughout the season, the Steelers will be that one team that “everyone is afraid to play” as the season draws to a close. They’ll miss the playoffs anyway.

2013 Record: 8-8
2014 Prediction: 7-9

Ben’s good for a few wins, I guess.

Baltimore Ravens

I thought that once Ray Lewis left the Ravens, I wouldn’t have as much reason to hate them with a fiery passion. I apparently only needed to wait one year. My hatred returned with the PR fail that was their handling of Ray Rice’s wife-beating escapades. Look at how much the fans LOVE their mistreated hero! I’m sure Rice will be rarin’ to go following his two game suspension. All ready to carry that rock 2.8 yards at a time. This was the 30th ranked rush offense in the league last season, so it almost can’t be any worse.

Truth time! How do we all feel about that Joe Flacco contract now? It’s a giant, cap-hampering albatross now, isn’t it? This is why the Ravens went after…Steve Smith? Eek. And they re-signed Jacoby Jones? Woo. AND they signed Justin Forsett? Cool. He’s only their fourth running back. If Smith plays with a chip on his shoulder (HA, like he knows how to play any other way), then he and Torrey Smith could be a… capable but unrelated duo. Baltimore made a ballsy trade for left tackle Eugene Monroe last season. It didn’t quite pay off like the changes that led to their Super Bowl run, but they did re-sign him at the start of free agency. I guess they’re finally going to give up on the idea that you can have sustained success while making wholesale changes to your offensive line in the middle of the season. Way to go.

The Ravens continued re-tooling their defense, following last year’s exodus of big names. They brought in some linebacker named Daryl Smithon… to do… something. In the draft, they selected ‘backer C.J. Mosley, who is so Raven. (I’m so sorry for that joke.) With Terrell Suggs and “Don’t Call Me Courtney” Upshaw, Baltimore’s linebacking corps has tremendous upside. If Chris Canty, Haloti Ngata, and second rounder Timmy Jernigan can keep blockers off them, that is. Their third round pick Terrence Brooks is starting at free safety, so let’s hope those pass-happy AFC teams don’t notice, mkay?

Non-Record Prediction: I will crazily boo the TV in week three.

2013 Record: 8-8
2014 Prediction: 8-8

They’re too hard to predict. I also feel they’re neither good or bad.

Rashida Shrug

Cleveland Browns

After an unbelievably lengthy coaching search, the Browns and their overly corrupt owner hired Mike Pettine to coach up those boys. Pettine was the defensive coordinator for the Bills most recently, but he is most known for his days as DC underneath Rex Ryan in New York. So he’s got that guy as a mentor. Yay? Pettine inherits a Cleveland team that looked promising last offseason, but has since fallen into disarray, because Cleveland.

Josh Gordon was an absolutely beast in 2013, racking up the most receiving yards in the NFL by far, and he only played 14 games! He caught passes from Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, and Brandon Weeden, again. He was that good. Going into ’14, you would have assumed his presence would benefit whatever quarterback the Browns decided to throw out there. Well, in true Cleveland fashion, Josh has been suspended for the entire season. That’s what happens when you smoke the weed, kids. (Because the NFL said so.) They did bring in running back Ben Tate from the Texans, but knowing the Browns the signing is probably two years removed from when they should have made the move. Brian Hoyer is recovered from ACL surgery last season just in time to be concussed this season as the starter.

But that’s okay, because JOHNNY FUCKING FOOTBALL is in town! Everyone in Cleveland is just counting the days until the under-sized Johnny Manziel breaks into the starting line-up and brings in some of that cash money excitement. I’ll go on record as being fine with Manziel’s fratbag attitude and personality. (I mean, my quarterback is Smokin’ Jay Cutler, I can’t judge.) I’m still uncertain as to how his overall game translates to the NFL. He’s got a smaller frame which lends itself to injuries with the size and speed of these defenders. I’m expecting to see 87 defenders knocking him to the turf this season and then follow-up with the money sign.

All of these offensive woes are disappointing, because the Browns have a possibly legitimate defense returning in 2014. They drafted corner Justin Gilbert to start opposite Joe Haden, giving them a young corner tandem that could be great for years to come. They let T.J. Ward walk in free agency and signed Donte Whitner, which isn’t an upgrade no matter what any home-town writer tells you. But Whitner is a serviceable strong safety in run support. D’Qwell Jackson also walked, necessitating the signing of Karlos Dansby. They still have Paul Kruger and that big fat dude in the middle of their 3-4 line.

Non-Record Prediction: Brian Hoyer starts less than ten games.

2013 Record: 4-12
2014 Prediction: 5-11


But who cares? MANZIEL!

Wow. Who knew I had so much to say about the AFC North? it’s gross that I spent over 1700 words on this division, but then again, it’s got all that HISTORY. Or something. Come back for more division previews!