- Cincinnati Bengals– They were one of the five undefeated teams standing in 2015 and the start they got off too was something that none of us saw coming. Andy Dalton became more of a leader and he was spreading the ball around to all his receivers, not just A.J. Green. Dalton went down with a thumb injury and his presence was missed, especially in the playoffs. I know he hasn’t won a playoff game in his career, but the Bengals had a much better shot winning a playoff game with Dalton under center. The season ended for the Bengals how it was in the last five years, a first-round exit in the playoffs again. This off-season, the Bengals lost two key members of the offense in wide receiver Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu but they did sign Brandon LaFell and with Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill back along with Green and tight end Tyler Eifert along with Andy Dalton, the Bengals offense should remain one of the better units in the NFL. The defense will begin the season without Vontaze Burfict who will be suspended for the first three games for his role in the playoffs last year. Geno Atkins will be back and when he remains healthy, the defense is consistent. The secondary decided to go younger with the release of Reggie Nelson and then drafting William Jackson III from the University of Houston. It will be another interesting year for the Bengals in 2016.
- Pittsburgh Steelers– The one thing you have to say about the Steelers is they are never big spenders in free agency but it’s safe to say that changed this year. With Heath Miller retiring after eleven seasons, the Steelers signed former Chargers tight end Ladarius Green and he will bring a different dimension to their passing game. Heath Miller was more of a safety valve for Ben Roethlisberger whereas Green will be more of a possession target down the field as he’s a speedy guy that will also be used heavily in the red-zone. Antonio Brown will look to build off his MVP-like season in 2015 and Le’Veon Bell will be back after tearing his MCL. Last year was a new era of defense for the black yellow. There was no Polamalu or Dick LeBeau, but they held their own. The front seven will anchor the defense once again to take pressure off the secondary. After winning their first playoff game in a half-decade, the expectations are high for the black and yellow. The offense will handle its business and will more than likely have to carry the defense as they still continue to grow. With Bell back, the offense will get another spark outside of Antonio Brown.
- Baltimore Ravens– It was a very down year for the Baltimore Ravens in 2015 and it was just the second time ever that they’ve missed the playoffs under John Harbaugh and the first ever record where they recorded more than nine losses in a season. The big issue for Baltimore was the injury bug and there was no way that they could get around it as they continuously piled up as the season went on. Breshad Perriman was out for his rookie season, Terrell Suggs was lost for the year after week one with a torn Achilles tendon, Steve Smith Sr who was their best player on offense tears his Achilles, Justin Forsett breaks his arm and then Joe Flacco tears his ACL. There were times when I felt the Ravens quit in games. The defense was extremely flat especially when they lost Suggs and you saw how much he meant to the front seven because there were instances when the secondary would double receivers and would leave guys wide open. With all those guys who were injured returning, including Steve Smith who was expected to retire after last year, the Ravens will have a rebound season. When they are healthy, they win games and they are sneaky good because they come out of nowhere and feel they can match up with any team in the league.
- Cleveland Browns– It’s another year with a new head coach for the Browns. Mike Pettine was fired and the Browns made a great choice by deciding to hire Hue Jackson and I’m extremely happy that he’s getting another shot at coaching again. There are always questions surrounding the Browns and how they’ll be every year as a new season approaches. It will be a very interesting training camp and we’ll see who ends up getting the starting quarterback job. Will it be Austin Davis or Robert Griffin III who finally was released by the Redskins after so many speculations and rumors? The Browns were one of the biggest winners in the NFL draft. They selected Corey Coleman, the wide receiver from Baylor and added a lot of quantity to the team. Will Hue Jackson be the coach for only one season or will he do enough to remain there for another season after this? Only time will tell.
- Steelers (12-4)
- Ravens (10-6)
- Bengals (10-6)
- Browns (4-12)
I like the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC North for the second time in three seasons. Some experts have them coming out of the AFC and representing the conference in the Super Bowl this year. For them to be successful this year, Ben Roethlisberger needs to be healthy and under center and Le’Veon Bell has to bring balance to the offense. I actually think he’s key for the Steelers if they want to go anywhere this season. He can pass block, he can catch the ball out the backfield and with Antonio Brown demanding so much attention and the box won’t be loaded as much. The defense will be counted on to make plays here and there but closing games out will be a challenge as this is still a fairly young unit.