Sunday, September 6, 2015

AFC North: Biggest Questions

        We take a look at a division that surprised a lot of people last season in the AFC North. This division featured an air-tight race that went down to the wire. Once again, it's a division that could be up for grabs.

Baltimore Ravens: Is Baltimore a sleeper pick to get to the Super Bowl? The Ravens have fairly impressive players on both sides of the ball. On offense, they have a running back who broke out last season in Justin Forsett (235 carries, 1,266 yards, eight touchdowns) and a veteran going into his last season in Steve Smith (1,065 yards, six touchdowns). Defensively, they have a sack master in Elvis Dumervil, who had 17.5 sacks last season. Their defense also allowed 1,412 yards last season, 4th-fewest in the NFL, and had the 2nd-most sacks in the NFL with 49. If Baltimore is to be a potential Super Bowl candidate, they need to fix their secondary up quite a bit.
Cleveland Browns: Will these new acquisitions make a difference? This offseason was a busy one for the Browns. Now, they didn't acquire any big names through free agency or through trade. However, they added players like receivers Brian Hartline, Terrelle Pryor, and Dwayne Bowe to help with Johnny Manziel. They also added Randy Starks (28 tackles, 4.5 sacks) from Miami to boost a defense that was not only the worst at stopping the run (2,265 yards), but also was 27th in sacks (31). Cleveland also had a good give/take ratio at +6.
Cincinnati Bengals: Can Andy Dalton win a playoff game? Quarterback Andy Dalton seems to be haunted by the task of trying to win a playoff game; he is 0-3 for his career in the playoffs. Dalton wasn't exactly solid during the regular season, either. He threw for 3,398 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. His 19 touchdowns were 14 down from the previous season, which might indicate that he's having problems. This is considering that Cincinnati has a fairly solid 1-2 receiver combo in A.J. Green (1,041 yards, six touchdowns) and Mohammed Sanu (790 yards, five touchdowns).
Pittsburgh Steelers: Can the Steelers survive while Martavis Bryant and Le'Veon Bell are gone? Two key players for the Steelers are out due to suspension to start the season. One of them is Martavis Bryant (549 yards from 28 receptions, eight touchdowns in just his rookie season), who was suspended by the NFL four games for violating its NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. The other player gone is Le'Veon Bell (290 carries, 1,361 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 83 receptions, 854 receiving yards, three receiving touchdowns), who's been suspended two games by the NFL for the same thing. The Steelers still have Antonio Brown (129 receptions, 1,698 yards, 13 touchdowns), who's emerging as one of the best receivers in the NFL. But Pittsburgh's first four games consist of road contests against New England and St. Louis and home games against San Francisco and Baltimore. It'll be interesting to see how Pittsburgh handles this stretch, although a 3-1 stretch isn't out of the imagination.

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