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All-32 Series: AFC North Team Outlooks for 2018

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Artwork by Robert Robinson, @badasskidsent

Written by The Blitz Team

The NFL regular season is almost upon us! For all the fans that have been waiting to put the 2017 season behind them, besides Eagles fans, of course, this will give everyone a chance at another run at the Lombardi Trophy. For this month’s All32 series, we are giving an outlook on what to expect from each team and give an idea how the season may turn out. The preseason gave us a little glimpse of how some players and teams are looking so far in 2018, but that is in the past and ‘real football’ is back again. We don’t know about you, but The Blitz Team is beyond excited that the 2018 season is here!

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are coming off a season in which they finished 9-7, going 5-3 in the second half of the year, and barely missing the playoffs due to Andy Dalton’s late-game heroics in week 17. Even though Baltimore missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year, the team met Vegas’ estimated win totals, proving 87% of the wagers wrong, as no one imagined the Ravens getting to nine wins. Fast forward to 2018, and the odds are set at a .500 season for Baltimore. Now, even though the team has seemed to improve this offseason, their division is much stronger, and so is their schedule.

The defense hasn’t been an issue for nearly two decades and will be firing on all cylinders this season. It’s continuously been the offense that has stunted Baltimore’s success. Joe Flacco has been at the center of the team’s offensive problems since his playoff hot streak that amounted to a Super Bowl victory in 2012. Since then, Flacco ranks 42nd in QBR amongst QBs with at least 5 starts since 2013. He’s 2nd in interceptions over that span with 74 and 2nd worst in terms of TD% amongst all starting QB’s. This is why the Ravens signed RG3 and drafted a project quarterback in Lamar Jackson. The team also solidified the offensive line, signed receiver Michael Crabtree, and drafted top tight end prospect Hayden Hurst. The Ravens certainly established the run game in the final stretch of the season once Alex Collins took the reigns as the lead back. The team will look to continue to build upon that success in 2018, especially to open up the play action in an attempt to help their 33-year-old quarterback return to his early form.

With a stout defense and a decent run game, the Ravens need quality play from the QB position to compete in 2018. Last season, the team went 0-5 vs playoff teams. This year they play eight playoff teams, including the Titans, Vikings, Saints, Chiefs, Falcons, Steelers (twice), not to mention the Chargers and Broncos, who should be in playoff contention this season. It’s going to be a rough road for this team to even return to 9-7, much less make the playoffs. All three division rivals improved this offseason and, on paper at least, the Cleveland Browns are going to be a tough team to beat. With Flacco under center, the team’s floor in 4-12, while their ceiling is 8-8. Unless John Harbaugh unleashes Lamar Jackson, who will struggle as a passer but put points on the board with his legs, the team is destined for mediocrity.

  • Jack Bourgeois

Cincinnati Bengals

Last season was a disappointing one for the Bengals, a team that came into the season looking to compete for a playoff berth but struggled to score. They saw a small uptick after a mid-season coordinator change, but still not a huge jump. The Bengals should have one of the more improved offenses after a down season.

Much of the Bengals success this year will depend on the production they get from the running game. Look for Joe Mixon to take control of the position and have a big year. Quarterback Andy Dalton will need to rebound if this team has any chance of competing. The breakout star this year could very well be John Ross. The second-year receiver was injured for most of the year, and never really got started, but has immense speed and talent. Tight end Tyler Eifert will be a reliable target, but only if he can stay on the field. Meanwhile, receiver AJ Green will be the one piece of the offense that will always be stable.

Defensively, the picture became much clearer. After signing both Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins to extensions. Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis will look to follow up their good rookie campaigns. They have a solid duo out on the boundaries with both Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson III. The combustible Vontaze Burfict will man the middle Cincinnati's front seven.

  • Ryan Goudy

Cleveland Browns

The Browns finally have the opportunity to go from being the laughing stock of the NFL to one of the league’s up-and-coming franchises. Sure, the Browns have a terrible track record of disappointing its fans. They also have one of the most underwhelming head coaches in the NFL, Hue Jackson. But the fact of the matter is that the Browns have more talent on this year’s roster than they have had in a very long time.

I look for Tyrod Taylor to lead the Browns to become one of the league’s top 12 offenses in 2018. 1st overall pick Baker Mayfield may see the field towards the end of the year, but I really think Tyrod can do a lot with Cleveland’s weapons if given a fair opportunity. Carlos Hyde is an underrated running back in the NFL due to his ability to make plays on the ground and in the air. Duke Johnson is one of the best third-down backs in the league, and he proved last year he could run between the tackles if necessary. Nick Chubb still has to prove himself, but he may be able to get some goal-line touches early in the season. The wide receiving corps is solid as well. Jarvis Landry is the wideout that will make plays early and often in 2018, as his ability to get open on every down, on nearly any route, will prove very useful. Antonio Callaway is a potential breakout star, and the guy with the most variety in his potential results is obviously Josh Gordon. Gordon could be the team’s best receiver, or he could not play in a single game. Tight end David Njoku will score a bunch of touchdowns this year, and by next offseason he could be considered one of the league’s top tight ends. Hopefully, the offensive line progresses as well.

Defensively, Myles Garrett should wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. His speed and athleticism off of the hedge will boost him to a double-digit sack season. Emmanuel Ogbah and Larry Ogunjobi are two defensive linemen that could explode onto the scene if teams want to double Garrett. The secondary will be interesting since it was so bad last year, but I think Denzel Ward and the other newcomers will make this a position of strength in 2018. The linebacking corps will be led by Christian Kirksey but suffered an unfortunate loss recently with Mychal Kendricks finding himself in legal trouble. If Jamie Collins can become the pass rusher and playmaker that he used to be in New England, the Browns can quietly have a scary defense.

  • Jake Leicht

Pittsburgh Steelers

Last season was a very successful and promising one for the Steelers. They won the AFC North and were the second seed in the AFC. Unfortunately, they fell short to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs, finishing the season at 13-3. The positive is that the Steelers return almost all of their key contributors from last season, making them a top contender once again this year.

On offense, the Steelers will feature their “Killer B’s”: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Bell has sat out during camp due to contract issues but is expected to return this week. This may be the last season we see Bell in a Steelers uniform, but I would still expect a huge season out of him. Roethlisberger and Brown are one of the top QB/WR duos in the league and are joined by rising star Juju Smith-Schuster. The Steelers traded Martavis Bryant during the offseason but rookie James Washington looks to be a very promising replacement. Add in those pieces behind a very talented offensive line, led by David DeCastro, along with two reliable tight ends in Vance McDonald and Jesse James, and you can bet that the Steelers will have a top 5 offense once again this season.

Defensively, the Steelers are still trying to figure things out with some nice young talent, along with a couple veteran newcomers. Cameron Heyward is a stud on the defensive line and is joined by Stephon Tuitt at the other end spot and Javon Hargrave at nose guard. At inside linebacker, Vince Williams will continue to fill in after Ryan Shazier’s injury. He will be joined by veteran Jon Bostic, who was signed as a free agent this offseason. I also expect Tyler Matakevich and undrafted rookie Matthew Thomas to rotate in. On the outside, the Steelers have one of the best young pass rushing duos in the league in TJ Watt and Bud Dupree. In the secondary, Artie Burns and Joe Haden will be the starting corners once again, with Sean Davis starting at strong safety with recent free agent signing Morgan Burnett at free safety. Mike Hilton will be the main nickelback, and I look for rookie Terrell Edmunds to see some time at safety.

With all that being said, I strongly believe that Steelers fans have a lot to look forward to this season!

  • Ryan Lippert

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