Following The AFC North Storylines

The AFC North was once considered one of the toughest divisions in football, even when it was just the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers throwing haymakers at each other two the three times per season.

Even with the Ravens winning the Super Bowl two seasons ago, however, the division as a whole hasn’t been very impressive in recent years. The Cincinnati Bengals have made strides in recent years, but they remains 0-3 in the playoffs with Andy Dalton at quarterback.

The Cleveland Browns haven’t come close to a winning season in a while now, and don’t necessarily appear to be poised to break that streak any time soon.

So what exactly have these teams been up to this offseason to help improve the division’s fortunes for 2014? Marc Sessler has a training camp preview up, detailing the three main story lines for each team in the division heading into September.

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably a follower of this site, and thus are already well aware of what the Steelers have been doing, so we can safely move on to their competitors.

Starting with the Ravens, they retain just two players on defense from their Super Bowl season of two years ago. Like the Steelers, they expect to start a rookie at inside linebacker in C.J. Mosley, while they plan to move last year’s first-rounder, Matt Elam, to his natural position of strong safety.

New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is expected to install more of a short passing game with Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta, while the running game could get a jolt from more zone running. A possible suspension for Ray Rice could be a setback, though.

The Bengals, meanwhile, plan to run the ball with their two young running backs drafted in the past two seasons, with rookie Jeremy Hill doing much of the pounding and grinding and Giovani Bernard being more agile. Hue Jackson reportedly has had them on the field at the same time on occasion.

Jackson’s offense is also expected to take some of the pressure off of Dalton, who tends to receive most of the blame for the Bengals’ inability to get over their playoff hurdle. They’ve been there in each of his three seasons, but haven’t cracked the win column yet.

Meanwhile, the defense will have a new defensive coordinator after Mike Zimmer took a head coaching job. He has been widely credited for the success they’ve had in the last few years. The Bengals have stockpiled some talent on that side of the ball, however.

Of course, the Browns rebooted just about their entire organization short of the owner this year. They drafted quarterback Johnny Manziel, though as of now Brian Hoyer is expected to start at quarterback.

Like the Bengals, the Browns are hoping to grind out a lot of yards on the ground. They signed running back Ben Tate in free agency and drafted Terrance West, both of whom are expected to carry the load this year.

New head coach Mike Pettine comes in with a defensive pedigree, and the hope is that he will help get that unit to finally play up to its potential. With two first-round cornerbacks and high-pedigreed pass rushers, the pieces seem to be in place.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    It’s going to be a dog fight, once again


    AFCN…every team has questions, but also some strengths they bring to the table…PIT, BAL, CIN…all have the ability to win the DIV imo.

    BAL…I expect them to struggle a bit on OFC with a new OC, and no true #1 WR…Steve Smith has lost more than a step…T. Smith is still a very dangerous player but still mainly a deep threat…DEF should be solid again as I think they have a very strong DL which helps the younger LBs…they get a fairly soft schedule…out of DIV road gms are not brutal…IND,TB,NO,MIA,HOU. My guess…9-7

    CIN…As Matt mentioned…new DC, and new OC, I think is a lot to overcome, but they have a lot of high draft picks on that squad…Getting the big fella back, Atkins will definitely help the edge rushers…per norm their season will depend on how Dalton plays…on the road especially because they have the DIV winner schedule…My guess 9-7

    CLE…Two steps forward, one step back…DEF will have to carry this team again…imo the OFC will struggle on the road w/o their best WR…cannot pin their hopes on Manziel…I think they will be 0-3 out the gate, and Manziel might be the starter by week 6 for the rematch and they will continue to struggle..aside from JAX, I don’t see a road win on their schedule…7-9, at best.

    PIT…being totally honest…we have questions as well, but I expect a faster DEF, and a more balance OFC with the ability to control the game until the DEF is all in sync…imo the most favorable out of DIV road schedule…Tomlin can’t let this team fall @ JAX, TN, or NYJ…if they can handle @ CAR & ATL…11-5 is feasible…my guess, 10-6 and the 3rd seed.

  • Virdin Barzey

    We had better win the division because it may only be one team coming out this division. Every division game is a must win. As long as the Bungles have Andy and the Ratbirds have Flaccid, I like our chances every time if our defense shows up.

  • JohnB

    I think the Ravens offense is going to be more potent this year even without Ray Rice and their D is always good.
    The Bengals arnt doing much in the playoffs but they’re getting wins during the regular season. And although they’ve been consistent lately, Its only a matter of time before they make or break.
    The Browns are a decent QB away from being a problem for this division, but there in lies the rub. They have a good D, great O line, and… well we’ll see with Josh Gordon.
    The Steelers I could see struggle a lil bit before the bye but I see a return to the playoffs.

  • treeher

    We can’t lose the games we’re expected to win, period.

  • AzheDraven

    I’m still pissed off that PFT has the steelers at 15 on their stupid preseason power rankings and the ravens higher, but then again, it’s PFT.
    I don’t see how anyone can consider the ravens better with just 2 players from their Super Bowl defense, flacco’s last year and their bad quality of their receivers. And their shaky running backs, pierce injured, rice suspended. Their OL sucked and they chocked big time when they had the playoffs on their hands (7-41 vs NE and 17-34 vs Cin) and the steelers were screwed at their playoff berth, they went 6-2 at the last games and just gave 7 sacks I believe on the final games.

  • Steve

    Matt – If you remember the Brownies do have a new owner Jimmy Haslam, who used to be part owner of the Steelers but had to sell this. This may be one the reason for so many changes. One positive we have on our side is no regular season games are being played by the Steelers on the west cost, where we always have trouble.

  • Chris Ranieri

    Flaccid…I may be late but I have never heard that one… but boy do I like it lol