Last season, the AFC North was the strongest division in the entire NFL. Not just the conference, but the whole league itself.
That’s right! The Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and even the Cleveland Browns made the AFC North the only division to send three teams into the playoffs. The wildcard round game became a bloodthirsty rivalry battle instead of one of those consolation playoff games that people forget is on Saturday night.
Does the division look like it will repeat that success? Considering this analysis, probably not.
Asinine Analysis continues its critical summary of the good moves, bad moves and hopeful moves for each and every team this offseason, leading into the 2015 NFL Draft.
Our next targets: the teams of the AFC North.
The Good: At first, running back Justin Forsett seemed to be a placeholder for the hole Ray Rice left in the Ravens’ backfield. When you play a backup role for five teams over the span of six years, expectations are pretty low.
Now Justin Forsett is the main back with a three-year, $9 million contract. Okay, it’s not a bank-breaking contract but, considering Forsett was expected to make Baltimore the last stop on his way to coaching a Pop Warner, the running back situation becomes more manageable than it was.
Add in the demotion of Marc Trestman from Chicago Bears head coach to Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator, and we may have a decent offense on the field.
The Bad: Matt Schaub.
You can look at the loss of Torrey Smith or the fact that Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are still retired, and signing Matt Schaub is worse. Your whole team can come down with walking pneumonia, leading to the signing of an entire team for the 2015 season from college graduates who didn’t get drafted. And having Matt Schaub on your team is probably worse.
Okay, at least Matt Schaub makes people feel something, unlike Boring Joe Flacco. Unfortunately, that feeling is probably all-out rage.
Matt Schaub. Geez…
The Hopeful: Depending on how well Marlon Brown is progressing this offseason, the Ravens should probably be looking for a big receiver for right now, and a slot receiver to replace Steve Smith Sr. for later. If I were cashing that big GM check, I’d opt for the former and take Jaelen Strong in the 2015 draft.
The Good: As far as offseason turnover, the Cincinnati Bengals are one of the least changed teams coming into 2015. This may not seem all that great considering the team was bounced out of the playoffs in the wildcard round, like usual, but this was a team that had injured players at what seemed like every position except “red-headed quarterback.”
If the Bengals stay healthy, watch out. They may take the AFC division with enough wins to skip the wildcard round and lose in the divisional round. I know, there are still the Patriots, Broncos, Chiefs, Colts… I said, “may.”
The Bad: The position of “Red-headed quarterback” is still held by Andy Dalton, who made it to the Pro Bowl as a third-string quarterback after being a fifth-tier alternate. This means that Dalton is a decent quarterback, good enough to keep a team around him and not look for a replacement, but bad enough to lose the big games.
To help in this quest for another playoff near miss, the Bengals signed wide receiver Denarius Moore, who blessed the Oakland Raiders with his pass-dropping skills for the past four seasons.
The Hopeful: With Jeremy Hill carrying the backfield load, and Giovanni Bernard taking pass-catching duties, the Bengals look like they finally have the two-headed running back monster that head coach Marvin Lewis always dreamed about. Picking up an offensive tackle like Andrus Peat could keep this monster going beyond next season. Yes, this draftee looks big and quick enough to warrant him hanging out on the bench to learn a thing or two.
The Good: The Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West backfield union may drive fantasy football managers insane, but it works beautifully for the Cleveland Browns no matter who they start at quarterback.
The defensive side of the ball still looks as scary as it was last season. Nothing much added or gained, but the fact that I don’t want to list off the entire defensive roster should be telling in how good this defense is.
The Bad: Anyone have a quarterback for rent?
Yeah, Cleveland has had an issue choosing a starting quarterback since the team was reformed in 1999. Johnny Manziel is back from rehab to go up against Josh McCown, who used his time in Chicago to fool Tampa Bay into thinking he was a decent quarterback.
Then there is wide receiver Josh Gordon, set to miss another season due to substance abuse. How do the Browns correct this? Sign Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe off the bargain bin cut list and hope that someone can throw the ball to them.
The Hopeful: The hope of all Browns fans is that the team’s GM Ray Farmer doesn’t show off his acrobatic draft-trading skills to pick up Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson at the end of the first round. “It’ll never happen,” you say. Yeah, and no one thought that a football team could abandon a city, either.
The Good: When it comes to offensive balance, no one does it like the Pittsburgh Steelers. LeVeon Bell is a big, quick, pass-catching back that can scrunch himself up to the size of LaDainian Thomlinson to get through holes. Antonio Brown can run a screen or an out route. Miss Emmanuel Sanders? Nah, we got Markus Wheaton to go get those Roethlisberger lobs down the field.
Bill Cowher’s chin would be proud of the building of such a team.
The Bad: The defensive pride of the Pittsburgh Steelers is really going to be put to the test this year. Defensive coordinator and unofficial mascot Dick LeBeau left for Tennessee. Troy Polamalu retired. Ike Taylor retired. James Harrison came back, probably just to retire.
Then there’s the whole issue with who is going to be able to run the ball with LeVeon Bell being suspended for a few games, which we all expected ever since he and LeGarrette Blount were pulled over last summer.
The Hopeful: At least the Pittsburgh Steelers know what to focus on for the 2015 draft: defense. Marcus Mariota drops down to #22? Draft defensive back Byron Jones. Maybe trade the pick for as many second and third rounders as the other team has. Sometimes it’s quantity, not quality, especially with the quantity of players leaving the Steelers defense.
Patrick Emmel is a sports humorist who once punted a soccer ball fifty yards to his teammate, who then scored the only goal for his college intramural soccer team’s season. Seriously, that kick was placed PERFECTLY. He is also still a believer that Colt McCoy is going to break out as an NFL quarterback. You can read more of his obnoxious commentary at This Jeer In Sports and heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.