2019 AFC North Preview

September 4, 2019

Getty Images/Will Newton

For the overall 2019 NFL Preview click here, and see the links below for the rest of the divisional previews.

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West

NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West

Overview | Playoffs | Awards

Browns 11-5

It’s been an even 30 years since Cleveland last won their division — so long ago that it was called the AFC Central.

But the Browns have almost instantly gone from historically inept to the most hyped team in pro football, blowing right by expectations to win the AFC North and soaring straight to ranking as one of the conference’s top Super Bowl contenders.

That’s what happens when stud rookie QB Baker Mayfield leads you to a 5-2 finish in 2018 and then Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt join his quest to bring the Browns back to relevance. This offense is talented, and coach Freddie Kitchens should do fine keeping them trending in the right direction.

On defense, Myles Garrett is unleashed for a unit that adds Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson to an already talented outfit.

But here’s the thing: Cleveland finished strong last season with Gregg Williams as head coach and Kitchens coordinating the offense. That’s not the setup in 2019. The only thing we know about Kitchens is that Mayfield likes him and he does a good job running an offense for a half season.

The talent is there, so this all hinges on Kitchens. If he is a legit head coach who can manage all the big personalities, this is a playoff team that lives up to the hype. If he is the second coming of Norv Turner, this is a team with 13-win talent but eight-win structure. I’ll split the difference and say they’ll win just enough to end their division title drought.

Steelers 10-6

After a season aptly compared to the Kardashians, the Pittsburgh Steelers are finally drama-free.

OK, maybe not totally free considering Ben Roethlisberger and his former favorite target Antonio Brown can’t keep each other’s names out of each other’s mouths. But not having AB or Le’Veon Bell is being referred to as a “cleansing” for their locker room. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner should be productive replacements, and Diontae Johnson was drafted with the pick acquired for Brown, so he is literally there to replace him.

The Steelers traded up to get Devin Bush, and I doubt they’ll be sorry. He should be the sideline-to-sideline LB they lost with Ryan Shazier’s devastating spinal injury. Corner Cameron Sutton could be ready for a breakout year after a good training camp.

But Pittsburgh’s season depends on a lot of intangibles. If the drama-free locker room and the unexpected death of assistant coach Darryl Drake galvanizes this team, the Steelers could steal Cleveland’s thunder by winning the AFC North and making a deep playoff run.

Ravens 9-7

Baltimore is a tough team to predict this year.

The top-ranked defense of 2018 suffered a mass exodus that may or may not lead to a drop in production. Earl Thomas joins perhaps the deepest and best secondary in the league, and should have enough left in the tank to earn his big contract.

The other side of the ball is where the intrigue lies. The Ravens are promising a revolutionary offense, one that coordinator Greg Roman said will help Lamar Jackson “fight with both hands.” Even if he can’t withstand the pounding of a full season of running more than the average QB, Robert Griffin III is a serviceable backup and Ashburn-native Trace McSorley was drafted to possibly play the same role Taysom Hill has in New Orleans.

First-round pick Marquise Brown is working his way back from foot surgery so his contribution this season may be limited. This revolutionary offense better be really good if Baltimore is going to stay in contention with Pittsburgh and Cleveland for division supremacy.

Bengals 3-13

For years, we wondered how longtime coach Marvin Lewis kept his job for 16 seasons.

His replacement is likely about to show us why.

The league’s second-youngest coach Zac Taylor, enters his maiden voyage as a head coach at a disadvantage. He’s got Andy Dalton at QB in what feels like his eighth straight do-or-die season, and A.J. Green is injured to start the season (ankle surgery). Cincy has yet another first-round pick on the shelf, and didn’t settle on a defensive coordinator until almost March, when (seemingly) 12th choice Lou Anarumo got the gig.

As underwhelming as Lewis was for much of his tenure in Cincinnati, he was also a deodorant for how wholly inept the Bengals organization really is. Taylor doesn’t stand a chance.

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