2024 Division Preview: AFC North

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NFC East (and Introduction)

NFC North

NFC South

NFC West

AFC East

1. Cincinnati Bengals

 

The more things change the more they stay the same in the AFC North. Once again it’s a tough choice at the top between the Bengals and the Ravens. I keep getting this coinflip wrong (my excuse is injuries), so congrats to the Ravens on another division championship!

The Bengals last year were held back by Burrow’s injuries. First the one he suffered in the offseason that prevented him from playing well for most of the season. Then as he was hitting his stride he suffered another injury that knocked him out of the lineup for the rest of the year.

Burrow is quietly quite injury prone. He has played 4 NFL seasons and has suffered 3 major injuries that caused him to either miss significant time or dramatically decreased his level of play for several games. It doesn’t take a math genius to see that, if that continues, you have to go into any season assuming he will more likely than not be injured as some point.

The good news here is that Browning showed that Burrow isn’t the one holding the team up. Burrow is better, but Browning showed the gap wasn’t that big. Instead the Bengals simply have a really good team.

Which brings us to the second concern. While I marked them as improved because of Burrow’s health, the rest of the team may have declined. They lost Jonah Williams, who I’ve long believed is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. They did manage to replace him with a 1st round pick, but you can never really know there. 

Losing Tyler Boyd could also be an issue. I can’t believe how cheap he signed, as he’s a decent receiver. I believe that having competent players at these key depth positions is incredibly important and gets overlooked. In isolation losing Tyler Boyd isn’t that big of a deal, but having a guy as your 3rd receiver who can go out there and play at a competent NFL level adds that little extra to the whole group and really makes the offense work.

All that being said, I expect the Bengals to still be a good team this year and I feel confident that, short of another injury to Burrow, they will easily make the playoffs even if they don’t win the division.

2. Baltimore Ravens

 

 

The Ravens were incredible last year, the advanced stats saying they were one of the best teams ever. They were unfortunate (and a bit unlucky) to lose in the AFC Championship Game, but they had a good thing going.

Unfortunately for them things won’t be as good this year.

They lost a couple key players on defense, with Clowney actually probably being more important than Queen given the position he plays. But they got killed on offense outside of adding an old Derrick Henry. They lost a couple decent receivers in Duvernay and OBJ (see above for the importance of quality receiver depth), but worse their offensive line got completely gutted. They lost both starting guards and their starting right tackle, with the only real quality replacement being a 2nd round rookie.

On top of that they decided for some reason that Jackson should go back to his old skinnier playing weight. Coming off an MVP season where he was healthy for the first time in years, of course you’re going to suddenly change everything!

I think that, combined with the Henry signing, indicates that they’re going to focus more on the run. That doesn’t seem like a good decision in a passing league when you just lost 60% of your offensive line, but what do I know? I’m not getting paid millions of dollars to make these decisions.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

 

Every year seems like it will finally be the year the Steelers have a losing record, but despite a negative point differential they managed to be above .500 once again.

This season is actually a bit more optimistic going in. They finally made the correct decision to dump Pickett, and while Russell Wilson isn’t a great replacement he might actually be better. And they also managed to mostly improve the roster as well. There’s every reason to believe the Steelers will once again be mediocre enough to be the 7th seed before losing in the wildcard round to a real contender.

4. Cleveland Browns

 

As a Watson hater since before he was outed as a pervert this season offered definitive proof that he sucks. With the same exact team and equal opportunity he couldn’t put up better numbers than Joe Flacco coming off his couch. 

Normally you would assume that it’d mean they’d dump Watson and make Flacco the starter, but the Browns so desperately wanted the bad PR that they gave Watson a contract that all but forces them to make him the starter once again this year. 

It’s true, they were good last year despite horrible quarterback play. But I firmly believe that it pays to bet against a team with an expensive quarterback who sucks.

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Team Player
06/12/2024 2:54 pm

I get some of it but this absolutely torching the quarterbacks in this division.

I’m no Russ fan but “Wilson = Pickett”?

And cherry picking the biggest worry about Lamar and Joe? That’s as unfair as assuming they will be better than ever

Cleveland absolutely deserves their bonfire tho. Shame in a way, that’s a fine roster to be anchored down by such a singular poor decision.

Nasrani
Reply to  Team Player
06/12/2024 4:11 pm

Did someone say Wilson Pickett?

Team Player
Reply to  Nasrani
06/12/2024 5:09 pm

Nas nose pickett

upamtn
06/12/2024 11:54 am

flip the top 2 teams and I think it’s good

Ravens >>>>>>>> Bengals

upamtn
Reply to  Tony Sommer
06/12/2024 2:59 pm

oh, that wasn’t a “relative” indication … just that Ravens are better than Bengals

maybe just Ravens > Bengals

Burrow is really, really good (when healthy) but Ravens are still gonna have Jackson + Defense (and now Derrick Henry, too)

as always, time will tell

KCChef
Reply to  upamtn
06/12/2024 10:15 pm

So long as the Crows lose their First Regular season Game … )

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