AFC North – Excuse me?

Excuse me…One division at a time. Biggest Questions for every NFL Team. Starting….now with…

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

What can possibly go wrong?

Try as we might, it’s really hard to think of ways that one of the league’s scariest teams won’t be better in 2020.  With a whopping six picks in the first three rounds, Baltimore added depth and energy on both sides of the ball, highlighted by the absurdity of them getting LSU’s monster linebacker, Patrick Queen, in the first round.

On paper, the Ravens look poised for a very exciting season.  Lamar Jackson is the reigning MVP, but I’m pretty sure he’s only just scratched the surface of his potential. 

But what if he goes down?

Sure, it might be a worst-case scenario, but we have to think about such things in the NFL.  If that happens, we’ll get to see something really, really interesting: the return of RGIII on a contending team.  Are the Ravens good enough to lose their most important piece and still make the playoffs?  I think they probably are.  I don’t know that there are too many ways that the Ravens don’t win the division.

Cincinnati Bengals

Who is Joe Burrow going to throw the ball to when it really matters? 

I know we’re all absolutely positive that Joe Burrow’s last season at LSU guarantees that he’ll break every single NFL passing record, right?  I mean, we’ve never had a highly touted college quarterback fail to become the best passer ever, right? 

But seriously. 

Burrow SHOULD be good, but like any quarterback, he will need help.  Help that might not be around in Cincinnati. 

Sure, they have running back Joe Mixon, fresh off his second thousand-yard season, but what about pass catchers?  The Bengals used the franchise tag on A.J. Green, who missed all of 2019 with torn ligaments in his ankle, after his 2018 season was cut short by toe injuries.  Will he ever be able to take over games again the way he did before the injuries started piling up?  

Tyler Boyd performed admirably as a backup number one in his absence, but he’s not really a legitimate alpha receiver.  The Bengals added Tee Higgins in the draft, so they’ve got that going for them, but in the end, Cincinnati looks like they have more question marks than answers at the wide receiver position.  It will bear watching, especially with a rookie quarterback.

Cleveland Browns

Can the Browns turn the corner this season? 

Last year’s belly flop was just a fluke of overconfidence, right?  The Browns looked scary at all the highlight reel positions, but it just didn’t translate into wins. 

Why? 

Because they got pushed around on both sides of the ball and didn’t play solid fundamental defense. 

So, can they turn the corner?  Yes.  Yes, they can. 

Why? 

Because instead of trying to add more fuel to the weapons race, Cleveland got back to basics in the draft and made four high quality picks in the first three rounds, one offensive lineman and three defenders. 

Am I bullish on all of these picks being All-Pros? Nope, but I see their selections as a commitment to fundamental football which will help the Browns become more relevant again, even if they are in a tough, tough division.  It might not result in a ten-win season, but my guess is that we’ll see the difference in the team’s demeanor as they go back to being a hardhat and lunch pail type of football team.   

Pittsburgh Steelers

How long can Ben Roethlisberger possibly hang on?

Cold water alert/trigger warning for Steelers fans. 

Big Ben is thirty-eight years old, and far older than that in football years.  He’s a sixteen-year veteran known for his toughness in the pocket (synonym for “takes a ton of nasty shots”) who missed almost the entire 2019 season with an injured throwing elbow that needed to be surgically repaired.  I know, quarterbacks are playing longer and longer, and that’s not a bad thing, but let’s be honest with ourselves here, shall we. 

Big Ben isn’t Tom Brady, whose monk-like focus on caring for his body is something out of an impossible-to-be-true Disney movie.  Heck, Roethlisberger can’t even be compared to Philip Rivers, who is clearly leaner and ready for the 2020 season. 

I’m not saying that Big Ben can’t be productive in 2020, he might be.  But if your QB is a guy who toyed with retirement several seasons ago, who no longer has top-tier talent at wide receiver and running back, who is playing with a surgically repaired throwing arm, and frankly does not look to be at peak fitness, you should probably have a better backup plan than Mason Rudolph. 

Just saying. 

For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.

Image Source: AP Images

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