The AFC North is a division compiled of four different teams that seem to be heading in the right direction as a franchise. For the past two years, we have seen the Baltimore Ravens take home the crown of division champion. Many believe we will see the same scenario happen for a third straight year. However, an AFC North team has not won the division three straight years since the Pittsburgh Steelers did it from 1995-1997. The Ravens have a very tall, but realistic task ahead of them if they want to accomplish the same feat. Below are my AFC North predictions for the 2020 season.
AFC North Predictions
Of the people who are making their own AFC North predictions for the 2020 season, many are choosing the Baltimore Ravens to take home the division title. With the way the rest of the AFC North turned out last year, many expect another dominant year for the Ravens. Coming off a league-best 14-2 season last year, reigning-MVP Lamar Jackson and Baltimore are poised for another stellar run.
As we all know, Jackson had an all-time great season last year and looks to post similar numbers for their 2020 campaign. The Ravens added some young studs that will add depth to their roster in the NFL Draft. A couple of those players include former LSU linebacker Patrick Queen and former Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins. Queen is a hard-hitting threat that will have a chance to live up to the legend Ray Lewis, who spent his entire 17-year career in Baltimore. With Dobbins, the Ravens are getting a versatile, pass-catching back that will fit nicely with veteran Mark Ingram.
Although I have the Ravens taking home the AFC North crown for the second straight year, I see a potential slight decline when it comes to their record. However, it’s not too much to keep them from securing a higher seed in the AFC playoffs.
Here we go again with the team that seems to always fail to live up to their (many times low) expectations, the Cleveland Browns. In the 2019 offseason, the Browns had a great amount of hype around the team with some even picking them as the Super Bowl champion. There were many AFC North predictions that had the Browns at the top of the division by a landslide. The hype was well deserved with a roster like theirs including a young, up and coming quarterback in Baker Mayfield. On top of Mayfield, they had a ton of weapons on the offensive side of the ball to help. Some of those weapons included Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and Nick Chubb. Oh, and Kareem Hunt was slated to come back after an eight-game suspension.
One would think that this team would at the very least make the playoffs. However, we are talking about the Browns. After getting blown out in week 1 at home to the Tennessee Titans, it seemed nothing was going right for Cleveland. There was much tension in the locker room and it all came back to head coach Freddie Kitchens. After another disappointing season, Kitchens was fired after just one season as head coach.
Can the Browns finally live up the hype?
Regarding this season, the Browns have to post a record above .500, right? They hired former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as head coach and continue to add valuable pieces to their roster. In the offseason, they some beef to their offensive line in Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. They got Conklin in free agency and Wills by way of the draft. In addition, in free agency, they also added Austin Hooper, to join David Njoku to potentially create one of the most lethal tight end groups in the league. I expect the Browns to be hovering over the .500 mark for the majority of the season and to be in the race for the playoffs late in the year. I am still not fully buying into the Browns hype train, however. But, one has to believe they might finally be in playoff contention.
During a week 2 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger for the season after suffering an elbow injury. For the rest of the year, they had to rely on the backs of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. Even with the poor quarterback play, the Steelers still managed to post an 8-8 record and were in the playoff conversation for the majority of the season. One of the main reasons for that was because of their stingy, sixth-ranked defense. If they had more help from the offense, we have to believe that the Steelers would likely have made the playoffs and maybe even put together a run in the postseason.
As for this upcoming year, Big Ben is slated to make his return to the field at 38 years old. In a previous article I wrote called “Three Ideal Landing Spots for Cam Newton“, I had put the Steelers as the number one team who would make the best fit for the former MVP. Since Roethlisberger is getting up there in age and coming off an injury, I thought Newton would help the team more. I am not sure on how effective Big Ben can be under center. Due to the uncertainty, I only gave them a one-win improvement from the 2019 season. I believe both the Steelers and Browns will be in the fight for the first-ever 7th seed in the AFC. If that were to be the case, then the two would be set up for an electric week 17 matchup in Cleveland.
Coming off of a dreadful 2019 season, the Cincinnati Bengals will look like a brand new team for the 2020 campaign. There weren’t many bright spots to talk about from last year’s team as they racked up just two total wins. With that rough of a season, the Bengals even failed the harshest of AFC North predictions last year. There weren’t too many if any at all that had Cincinnati with that few wins for the entire season.
The beginning of the Joe Burrow era
Being the consensus worst team in the league, that earned the Bengals the number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. With that pick, they landed former LSU star quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Joe Burrow. Burrow was a lock for the number one pick and for good reason. Last season, he broke the college football record for touchdown passes in a single season with sixty. Burrow also led the Tigers to an undefeated season including both an SEC and National Championship victory.
The Bengals are clearly giving Joe Burrow the keys to the franchise as they released their longtime starting quarterback, Andy Dalton. Now, the only semi-real competition Burrow has is Ryan Finley. However, barring any injury, it looks like Burrow will be the starting quarterback come week one.
Burrow is joining a team with a healthy amount of weapons at his disposal. He has a running back room that is made up of some really good talent that includes Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. As for his pass catchers, Burrow will be throwing to guys like the veteran A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, as well as fellow 2020 draft pick Tee Higgins. I really like what the Bengals are doing there in southwestern Ohio. With a couple of years, I can see them climbing back towards the top of the AFC North and give the Ravens a run for their money. As for this year, I see them going 6-10 in the first year of the Joe Burrow Era.
The Division Has Potential
The AFC North has the potential to be a top two or three division in all of football. Led by the Ravens, this division as a real shot of sending three teams to the playoffs come January. On top of their AFC North predictions, some analysts are crowning the Ravens as their early Super Bowl favorites for this upcoming season. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens still have a lot to prove in the postseason, however, it wouldn’t be a stretch at all to see them represent the AFC in the big game.
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