Early Predictions in the AFC North 

For years, the AFC North has become one of the more competitive divisions within the NFL. With the help of playoffpredictors.com, the Athletes Hub is going to try to see into the future and predict the final standings in each division for the 2017-18 season. Here are the results for the AFC North:

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Pittsburgh Steelers
1st in AFC North (#3 Seed)
12-4

I don’t believe this was really a surprise to anybody. With possibly the best running back in the league in Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers should have a potent rushing attack. Bell had over 1,200 yards rushing last year, and added another 600+ receiving. Add in All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, promising young rookie Juju Smith-Schuster, as well as Martavis Bryant, and you have a decent receiving core as well.

Also on offense, you have future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, who should be able to reach 4000+ passing yards and 35 touchdowns. All together, the Steelers will have one of the most complete offenses in the AFC.

On defense, you have the likes of Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, an aging (yet still physical) James Harrison, and a first-round draft pick in T.J. Watt, all of whom could make this defense great next season. All in all, the Steelers should clinch the AFC North because they are the most balanced team in the division on both sides of the ball.

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Baltimore Ravens
2nd in AFC North (#6 Seed)
10-6

One of the main concerns I see for this organization is the rushing attack. The Ravens finished 28th last year when it came to rushing yards last season, and they didn’t really address that concern this offseason. The team did go out and sign Danny Woodhead,  but it should be noted that he suffered a torn ACL early in the 2016 season. Woodhead is also 32-years old, and has never had more than 600 yards rushing in a single season, so I wouldn’t get too excited about their running game this year.

Another position the Ravens didn’t address was their offensive line. The franchise didn’t sign anyone in UFA for the offensive line, and they waited until day three of the draft to select any help.

The defense looks like it could be almost as great as last year, with Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, and Chris Wormley all potentially becoming starters in this upcoming season.

The Ravens biggest weakness is perhaps the receiving core. Aside from Mike Wallace, who has shown flashes from his Pittsburgh days, Baltimore doesn’t really have any big threats. If someone like Perriman can step up, this offense could be solid.

Overall, this team has plenty of weaknesses, but their defense looks great. If the defense can do its job, and Joe Flacco can be consistent, the Ravens are a team that could sneak itself into a wildcard spot.

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Cleveland Browns
3rd in AFC North
5-11

I’ll say it right now; the Browns look good enough to win more than one game this season. In fact, in this simulation, they wound up winning four more. The Browns draft has been praised for getting key athletes all over the board, but as we all know, the Browns have a history of messing things up.

The struggling franchise waited patiently and took a first-round quarterback in round two (Kizer), and took three very efficient starters in Myles Garrett, David Njoku, and Jabrill Peppers.

The Browns even signed veterans across the board that could possibly make this team a little better. Kevin Zeitler was a desperate pickup to help at the guard position, and Jason McCourty can potentially help an aging Joe Haden at cornerback.

Terelle Pryor isn’t coming back to Cleveland this season, but the Browns did sign Kenny Britt to replace him. None of these veteran signings are outstanding, but considering they were the worst team in the NFL last season, the Browns will take what they can get.

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Cincinnati Bengals
4th in AFC North
4-12

Outside of having to play the Steelers twice a year, the Bengals also have to go against the AFC South as well. Outside of the AFC South, the Bengals will also be forced to play against both the Denver Broncos, and the Green Bay Packers.

All of that aside, I think Cincinnati has a great roster. Andy Dalton isn’t a top tier quarterback, but he has a great arm. One of the problems last year was the receiving core for the Bengals.

A.J. Green almost had 1000+ yards before going down in week 11 of the regular season, and Tyler Boyd had just over 500 yards receiving. Hopefully Boyd can elevate his play, and Green should be back to healthy form. If you add possibly the fastest player in John Ross, Dalton will have a lot to work with.

On defense, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins should be able to do their job, but the Bengals don’t have any depth when it comes to linebackers. Kevin Minter should do well in a new system, but Burfict causes too many issues off the field, and Marquis Flowers is average at best.

In the offseason, the Bengals didn’t do very much. I approve of the signing for Minter and Andre Smith, as both should contribute over time. Overall, it’s not very good when the biggest story of the offseason is about your second-round pick, but there’s no need to further discuss that issue at this time.

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