The Ravens closed out the 2018 season with three straight wins to win the AFC North, after Lamar Jackson took over for Joe Flacco under center. The transition to a run- always offense worked because the defense was good. Really good. The Ravens allowed the fewest yards per game in the regular season and the playoffs. But can they win the division with a quarterback who doesn’t throw the ball?
Bold Prediction: Lamar Jackson will not be a glorified running back this season. The former Louisville slinger has an arm and he’ll use it. With the whole preseason to get the hang of a more aggressive downfield system, Jackson will still be elusive, but he’ll be a threat to throw the ball. It will be enough, paired with a top-five defense, to win the Ravens the division.
The Bengals finished 2018 at the bottom of the division after allowing a whopping 413 yards per game. Only Kansas City’s porous defense was close. They were also the worst team in the league defending on third down, allowing just under 50% conversion. You just can’t win games if the defense can’t get off the field. Andy Dalton and the offense only put up 310 YPG, barely good enough for 26 th in the league. It will be an uphill battle to climb out of the cellar.
Bold Prediction: New Coach Zac Taylor will stir the pot. Andy Dalton is barely above average for his career and was ranked 25 th in passing yards last season. The absence of Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green for part of the season hurt, but I think it’s becoming clear that Dalton won’t get them to the top of the division. Look for Cincinnati to swing a dramatic move midseason and begin a total rebuild. They probably don’t want to pay Dalton his next contract, and there are teams who would see Dalton as an improvement.
We know. It’s exciting. They might even be above .500 this year. But what if I told you that the Browns defense allowed the third most yards per game last season? What if I told you that new head coach Freddie Kitchens wasn’t the head coach during the Browns turnaround last season? That was Gregg Williams. Kitchens was the running backs coach who was promoted to interim O.C. after Hue Jackson was fired, then promoted again to Head Coach during the offseason. Uh-oh.
Bold Prediction: The Browns will not win the AFC North. Baker Mayfield will regress, despite the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. This talented team will underperform by their new wildly ambitious standards, and maybe, I said maybe, earn a wild card slot.
Last season, the Steelers went 9-6-1 to finish second in the division behind the Ravens. No Antonio Brown. No Le’Veon Bell. Ben Roethlisberger at the very, very back end of his career. Can they improve this season? Will they struggle mightily without their two superstars? Or will it be addition by subtraction?
Bold Prediction: This will be Big Ben’s last year. And it won’t go well. JuJu Smith-Schuster was a great second option when Antonio Brown was locked down or doubled. He won’t have that luxury this season as Roethlisberger’s primary target. I expect to see an unbalanced and inefficient offense that leads to Mike Tomlin’s first-ever losing season.
Image Source: AP Images/Julio Cortez