By Patrick Emmel

AFC: East | North | South | West

NFC: East | North | South | West

Football used to be known for three things: cold weather, hard hits and low scores. It was a man’s game, played by man’s men and watched by man’s men. Man, man, oh man!

Then came the days of domed stadiums, illegal hits and concussion awareness, and the game changed direction. Some divisions made the change quickly. One of my favorite man’s divisions, the AFC North, has taken its time. That’s okay. The AFC North is like a micro-league of entertainment. It has its high-flyers, heels, upstarts and goats. I could watch these teams play each other every week.

We continue our asinine analysis of NFL teams that you hate to love and love to hate to prepare you for the 2015 season. Our next targets: the teams of the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens

Record: 10-6 in the regular season, 1-1 in the playoffs. If the Ravens had given the Colts a nudge, smile and a wink about Tom Brady’s footballs before the Conference Championship, make that 1-2 in the playoffs.

The Good: It didn’t take long for the Baltimore Ravens to find their Ray Rice replacement. Usually the offensive game plan of a team is crushed when a star running back is suspended (see Adrian Peterson) but the rise of Justin Forsett seemed just a little too coincidental. Sounds like a job for Detective Lester Freamon. If there was a case that could jump-start a continuance of The Wire, this is it.

The Bad: Steve Smith Sr. has stated that this will be his final season playing in the NFL. Usually when a 36-year-old wide receiver thinks about hanging it up, there is an air of nostalgia about his past great moments or relief that he’s leaving before he gets seriously hurt.

In Smith’s case, it is horror in Baltimore. Who will Joe Flacco throw to besides his running back? Can someone tell Marlon Brown to pick up the pace?

The Ugly: I used to think of the Ravens as the team I would be rooting for if I had been born in the vicinity of Baltimore, but not too close to D.C. They were a tough, gritty team with a line of tough, gritty coaches and a strong defense. How can you not love a team who goes out and proves that anyone can be a Super Bowl quarterback with the right defense?

And then Ravens coach John Harbaugh decides to mix politics and football together. Hey, tangents are fine, but when you’re talking about getting refs more time at training camps to hone their skills and then do a one-eighty by invoking Donald Trump and sounding like you’re supporting border control, which is the exact opposite of allowing refs into training camp, then you just confuse me.

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A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals dives in an attempt to catch a pass. A.J. Green (Photo Credit: John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Cincinnati Bengals

Record: 10-5-1. Usually a tie is low scoring, like 9-9 or 13-13. This time, we have a high scoring tie against the Carolina Panthers, 37-37. A tie like this means that the teams must have surprised themselves with how much they scored, and thought they had already won the game. “37 points? Against the Panthers? High five, guys! Let’s go get that steak dinner.”

The Good: A.J. Green is in a contract year. This means that he will be giving his game a little extra push for some of that Dez-Marius Johnson money, which will help Dalton keep his interceptions down a little bit.

The Bad: A.J. Green is in a contract year. This means that he will be giving his game a little extra push for some of that Dez-Marius Johnson money. Really let that sink in. Andy Dalton signed a six-year, $115 million contract last year. The Bengals defense is already showing signs of age. That A.J. money will either turn the Bengals into a Luck-less version of the Indianapolis Colts, or A.J. will be moving to Philadelphia next year.

The Ugly: There is way too much talk about A.J. McCarron to make Andy Dalton comfortable. This is like the Carson Palmer days all over again. Your quarterback consistently gets your team into the playoffs, but fails to win there. So you do what any football team wouldn’t do: pay him a ton of money and trade him away to a lousy team in order to make way for a quarterback who does the same exact thing.

Quarterback Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns passes during the first half against the Washington Redskins. Josh McCown (Photo Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Cleveland Browns

Record: 7-9. I can’t believe it either. There were seven games last year in which the Cleveland Browns were not the worst team on the field. For shame, Bengals, Saints, Steelers, Falcons, Bucs, Raiders and Titans. For shame.

The Good: Have you seen this backfield? As if Isaiah Crowell and Terrence West weren’t enough, the Browns went and picked up running back Duke Johnson to help out. Then they drafted tight end Malcom Johnson and moved him to the fullback position.

At this rate, the quarterback will be replaced by a tailback, and the quarterback issue will come to a close in Cleveland after many years of pain and anguish. You can’t have a quarterback controversy if you don’t have a quarterback, right? RIGHT!?

The Bad: This year, the quarterbacks in Cleveland should get a break from critics. It’s not that the quarterback situation is any good. It’s that they don’t have any decent receivers to throw to. Brian Hartline, Dwayne Bowe, Andrew Hawkins… really? Maybe it’s for the best. By the time the Browns get a decent quarterback under center, Josh Gordon will be able to play again.

The Ugly: To make the drafting of Johnny Manziel last year look at least respectable, the Browns have decided that, instead of making Manziel earn at spot that is supposedly up for grabs like last year, the team brought in Josh McCown, the quarterback for the worst team in football last year. It’s the sort of move that would make anyone double-check the times of their weekly meetings. Maybe next year the Browns will fast-track Josh Freeman or JaMarcus Russell past Johnny Football.

Whoops, I forgot. The Cleveland Browns are planning to gut their stadium and offer college courses so that they can get in on scouting young talent.


It’s the only logical explanation behind these new uniforms.

Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers speak. Ben Roethlisberger (R) (PhotoCredit: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 11-5. Don’t tell the Steelers that they don’t have a chance without a defense. They’ve still got just enough gas in the tank to lose in the first round of the playoffs.

The Good: When two of your position players are flying off fantasy football draft boards as #1 at their position, there’s something good happening on your football team. That’s what we have in Pittsburgh with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Even a two-game suspension wasn’t enough to keep Bell in check. Then we have Martavis Bryant becoming the big hands in the end zone, Markus Wheaton playing to keep up, and DeAngelo Williams as Bell’s break-time back. This is an offense that can move.

The Bad: Ben Roethlisberger has been extending plays for so long, he looks to be about 50 years old already. He’s only 33. Maybe it’s the curse of Steelers quarterbacks. Eventually Big Ben will have a big bald spot and be a co-host on Football Sunday halftime breakdown shows.

The Ugly: James Harrison is taking away his kids’ trophies, and then commenting about it on Instagram:

I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues

I understand the idea of wanting your children to learn to earn things rather than just be given them. I respect that. But taking trophies away from your kids is just mean. When I was a kid, I got participation trophies, and I lined them up on my bookshelves. But if a real trophy came along like “1st Place PAL Champions” or “MVP” or even “TEAM SPIRIT” and I didn’t have any more room for trophies, you better believe that those participation trophies were the first to get thrown into a corner of the attic.

Don’t take away your children’s little trophies. Make them want those bigger trophies more.

Patrick Emmel is better at talking about sports than actually playing them. You can tell him he’s wrong on Twitter @Patrick_AE or see more of his work at Fanosis.

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