The Pittsburgh Steelers seek their third straight divisional title in 2018. The Cincinnati Bengals last won the AFC North in 2015, but have yet to win a playoff game since the 1990 season. The Baltimore Ravens have missed the postseason in each of the past three years and have not won the division since 2012—the year they hoisted their second Lombardi Trophy. The Cleveland Browns, winless in 2017, were busy in the offseason and hope to challenge their AFC North foes after a decade of incompetence. A preview of the AFC North is detailed below:
Le’Veon Bell, unhappy with his current contract, missed all of training camp for the second year in a row. He will eventually return, though, and help the Steelers secure their third consecutive AFC North crown. That said, this might be Bell's final season with the Steelers as the relationship between the two sides has strained significantly due to contract disputes over the past couple seasons.
The 36-year-old Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and the elusive Bell at his disposal in what should be one of the league’s most dominant offenses.
This could be the final season the trio of Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown play together. — by AP Photo
The Ravens augmented their receiving core in the offseason, signing Michael Crabtree and John Brown in an attempt to rejuvenate Joe Flacco’s slipping career.
The Ravens were strong defensively last year—particularly proficient in forcing turnovers—so the playoffs remain a possibility through the Wild Card, even if the division becomes unattainable.
But reviving Flacco’s quarterback play seems like a long shot, even with a revamped offensive cast. After all, there’s a reason they drafted Lamar Jackson in the first round.
It’s baffling that Marvin Lewis still coaches the Bengals. News broke last year that he was planning to leave the team at his own will at season’s end, but those plans fell through. Lewis has returned to coach the franchise for the 16th straight season. He has reached the playoffs in seven of his 15 seasons with Cincinnati, but has yet to win a single playoff contest. It begs the seemingly annual question: what will it take for owner Mike Brown to fire Lewis?
For those with a glass-half-full mindset for the Bengals, it was encouraging to see Andy Dalton play so well in the preseason. The veteran QB and A.J. Green must carry the Bengals offense, which could also get a boost from second-year wideout John Ross if he builds off his preseason success.
The Browns are certainly an entertaining team and proved to be a terrific choice for HBO’s Hard Knocks. Veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor could turn around this anemic offense (before Baker Mayfield likely takes over in 2019), which features receivers Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon, rookie Antonio Calloway and a capable backfield trio of Carlos Hyde, rookie Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson.
But the NFL is a coaching league, and as long as Hue Jackson—owner of a 1-31 record with Cleveland—is making the final calls for the franchise, the playoffs are a pipe dream.