The AFC North is going to be a wild Division this year to put it lightly. The Browns have added some major pieces and have been the talk of the league since the Odell Beckham Jr. trade. The Steelers will be without Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown after letting them both go, but still have a roster full of talent to make a playoff push. The Ravens are fresh off an AFC North title run from 2018 and Lamar Jackson and company are ready to repeat in 2019. The Bengals are in rebuild mode, but are ready for a fresh start under new head coach, Zac Taylor.

The Browns, Steelers, and Ravens all have playoff potential this year and all three teams are hoping for deep playoff runs. The only issue I see with these teams all making the playoffs is the fact that they all play each other twice and could end up beating each other down the standings by the end of the season.

Cincinnati Bengals

2019 Line: 5 Wins

2018 Record: 6-10 (4-4 Home, 2-6 Away)

Image result for 2019 cincinnati bengals
Image Credit: Cincyjungle.com

The offensive trio of Andy Dalton, Joe Mixon, and A.J. Green have the potential to provide some fireworks for this team who will likely struggle to win some games. The question for this offensive unit is the offensive line. Can they protect Andy Dalton long enough to get the pass off, and will they open enough holes for Joe Mixon to earn some yards? Defensively, this unit ranked 30th and 32nd in points scored against, and yards given up. These statistics do not bode well against the division who will have plenty of playmakers ready to take advantage of a weak defensive unit.

The divisional games for the Bengals this year will be brutal to say the least. All 3 teams will be extremely tough and Cincinnati doesn’t have any positive streaks leading us to believe otherwise. Cincy went 1-5 in the Division last year after stealing a game from the Ravens in Week 2. Pittsburgh has owned the Bengals recently winning the past 8 games and 11 out of 12. Cleveland also swept last year against the Bengals. Though Cincinnati won the previous 7 meeting prior to last season, this Cleveland team will be an entirely different animal. Baltimore, however, tends to split the series with the Bengals recently, having split the season series for the past 3 seasons. It would come to no surprise to anyone if the Bengals ended up going 0-6 within the division in 2019. As we travel outside of the division, the Bengals actually have a reasonable schedule for home games. They face San Francisco (Week 2), Arizona (5), Jacksonville (7), NY Jets (13), and New England (15). San Francisco is projected to be a middle of the road team with a lot to prove which will give Cincinnati a chance to get a win early on in the season. Arizona was the worst team in the league in 2018 and is starting fresh with a new head coach and quarterback giving Cincy another chance to grab a win at home. Jacksonville had a down year in 2018 after making the Conference Championship the year prior, so depending on how the Jags rebound this season with Nick Foles taking snaps this too could be a winnable game. The Jets are not likely to make a deep playoff run in 2019 either, so Cincinnati is faced with another game that they could grab and put into the win column. The Pats will be a heavy favorite against this Bengals squad, so an upset here could pay out big to anyone who is willing to take a risk on this game. Two to three wins out of this group of games could give the Bengals a chance at hitting the over side of the line. Road games will be a bit more challenging for the Bengals in 2019. They face Seattle (Week 1), Buffalo (3), LA Rams (8), Oakland (11), and Miami (16). Seattle and the 12th man will be pretty difficult for the rebuilding Bengals to come away with a win. Buffalo in week 3 is an opportunity, but I see the Bills taking advantage of this matchup at home and handing the Bengals another L. The Rams are poised to make another deep playoff run so this game will be another one where the Bengals are huge underdogs. Oakland is closer to the Bengals level, but the silver and black will be motivated to give the Oakland faithful a good showing in their home stadium before moving to Las Vegas. Week 16 against Miami will likely showcase 2 teams that are way out of the playoff hunt and jostling for draft position. The winner of this game may very well be the loser as it could improve their draft position heading into 2020.

Overall, the best record I can imagine this Cincinnati team putting together lands at about 6-10. Worst case scenario is around 1 to 2 wins and puts them in the Tua sweepstakes in the 2020 draft.

My Prediction: 3-13 (UNDER 5 Wins)

Baltimore Ravens

2019 Line: 8.5 Wins

2018 Record: 10-6 (6-2 Home, 4-4 Away)

Image result for lamar jackson
Image Credit: Forbes

Joe Flacco is no longer suiting up for the Ravens this year, which leaves the offensive success soley on the shoulders of Lamar Jackson. Jackson has an immense amount of talent and is a proven runner as we seen in the 2018 campaign. The offensive scheme in 2019 needs to both showcase Jackson’s talent as a runner, but will also need to provide plenty of protection with a steady passing game to be competitive. If the Ravens run Jackson into the ground like many other running QB’s before him they might be looking at a far different record than they anticipate. On the defensive side of the ball, this team will be a force to be reckoned with. They were one of the top defensive teams in the league ranking 2nd in points against, and 1st in total yards against. The defense will keep them in ball games in 2019. The offense just needs to stay consistent enough to finish off those games.

In 2018, the Ravens finished 3-3 within the division. They split their series with each other team in the division. Games against Pittsburgh are always tough defensive battles and I expect a lot of the same in 2019. Despite splitting the series last year Pittsburgh has won 4 of the past 5 meetings between the two teams. Cleveland will pose a different type of threat with an explosive offense filled with playmakers. The Ravens need to take advantage of a down Bengals team, as dropping a game here could be enough to count them out of the divisional race or even the playoffs. Surviving this division with a 4-2 record would help this team as they push for the playoffs and beyond. Protecting home field outside of the division will be another key to the success and overall finish for this Ravens team. They face Arizona (Week 2), New England (9), Houston (11), San Francisco (13), and NY Jets (15). Arizona is a must win game, as Baltimore will be a favorite in this matchup. Taking advantage of a rebuilding Cardinals team sets this team off on the right foot in Week 2. Week 9 will be a huge test for this Ravens team against New England. The Pats dis not have a lot of luck outside of Foxboro so if the Ravens want to prove to the NFL that they are for real, a win here makes a statement. Houston and DeSean Watson will challenge Baltimore’s stout defense, but I’m more concerned about Lamar Jackson and company keeping pace as they face off against JJ Watt and the Houston defenders. San Francisco and New York in weeks 13 and 15 respectively, should both be games that Baltimore takes late in the season. They could find themselves in a tight playoff push and needing both games to solidify their spot. Taking 3 wins out of the 5 is a possibility, though I don’t see the Ravens taking much more than that. The road games for the Ravens will be a bit more challenging than what they will see in the comfort of their home stadium. They face Miami (Week 1), Kansas City (3), Seattle (7), LA Rams (12), and Buffalo (14). The Miami and Buffalo games are the only ones I see the Ravens taking out of this batch of games. Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes should put up a ton of points this year, and a trip to Arrowhead will not be a vacation for the Baltimore squad. Seattle is never a place teams want to play when they are fighting for a playoff spot. The Rams will also be a tall order for the Ravens as the season begins to wind down. This batch of away games might yield 3 wins, but the likely scenario lands them around 2.

In order for Baltimore to win the games I laid out above, they will need an efficient, effective, and most important – healthy Lamar Jackson leading the offense. The defense should be able to hold their own and keep this team in most games. The best case scenario I see for the 2019 Ravens lands them at 10-6 and likely repeating as divisional champs. Worse case for this Ravens finds them dropping a divisional game or 2 that they shouldn’t and costing themselves a playoff berth and finishing around 7-9 or 8-8.

My Prediction: 9-7 (OVER 8.5 Wins)

Pittsburgh Steelers

2019 Line: 9 Wins

2018 Record: 9-6-1 (5-3 Home, 4-3-1 Away)

Image result for ben roethlisberger juju smith schuster james conner
Image Credit: Behind the Steel Curtain

Pittsburgh is really hoping that the offense will remain full of explosiveness despite the loss of Bell and Brown in the offseason. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Connor will be their full-time replacements in 2019 and Ben Roethlisberger comes back for his 16th season to lead this team yet again. The offense ranked in the top ten in both points scored and yards earned, and barring any major injuries, should remain within the top ten in 2019. Defensively, this team is going to pressure a lot of quarterbacks and get a lot of sacks. TJ Watt and Cameron Heyward had monster years in the sack department last year and they plan on doing more of the same in the 2019 campaign.

Within the division the Steelers put together a solid record of 4-1-1 and then went 5-5 outside of the division. A successful 2019 will be determined by how they survive within the division first, and then focusing on the other opponents. Cleveland stunned the world in Week 1 last year as they pulled together a tie game with the Steelers. This tie game ended up costing the Steelers a trip to the playoffs. Cleveland is a far better and more experienced team in 2019, and are hoping to knock the Steelers off for more than just a tie. The Ravens plan on making it difficult on Pittsburgh as well. Cincinnati should be the team that Pittsburgh takes advantage of to boost their win total in ’19. A divisional record of 4-2 sets the Steelers up as they try to improve their record against the rest of the league. The Steelers home schedule outside of the division is favorable. They face Seattle (Week 2), Miami (8), Indianapolis (9), LA Rams (10), and Buffalo (15). Both Seattle and LA Rams are not teams that many will want to face this year, but the fact that Pittsburgh gets to play them in the comfort of their own stadium when other divisional rivals have to travel to see them will be their silver lining. Both games will be winnable, but tough ones to close out for the Steelers. Miami is a team that Pittsburgh will be happy to take advantage of in Week 8 after their Bye week. Indianapolis is a much different team now that Andrew Luck has decided to hang up his cleats for good. Only time will tell if this Indy team will be contenders or pretenders without Luck. Buffalo is another team on the rise, but should not be on the Steelers level come week 15. Winning 4 out of the 5 games from this group is not out of the question, and if the Steelers are able to do so they will be on the right track to hit over their win line. The road games start off with a difficult matchup against New England (Week 1), then San Francisco (3), LA Chargers (6), Arizona (14), and NY Jets (16). The Patriots continue to be Pittsburgh’s kryptonite. The Steelers have not won in Foxboro since 2008. San Francisco is hoping to stay healthy and make improvements from past years, but may not be ready to compete with the Steelers in 2019. The Chargers win line sits at 9.5 this year, so they are expected to compete for a playoff spot as well. If Pittsburgh doesn’t take the division, this game may end up being a fight for wildcard rights. The final road games against Arizona and NY Jets are both winnable games for Pittsburgh as they fight to finish the season strong. Claiming three road wins outside the division sets Pittsburgh up for a successful entry into the playoffs in 2019.

This year’s Steelers team has the potential to compete not only for the division title, but potentially a first round bye. Their upside has them sitting around 12-4. However, the division could take it’s toll on the Steelers and their downside puts them around 9-7 which guarantees nothing as far as the playoffs are concerned.

My Prediction: 11-5 (OVER 9 Wins)

Cleveland Browns

2019 Line: 9.5 Wins

2018 Record: 7-8-1 (5-2-1 Home, 2-6 Away)

Image result for baker mayfield odell beckham jr
Image Credit: New York Post

Cleveland is going to get a lot of exposure this year, as they will be featured in a handful of primetime games. Baker Mayfield is going to provide entertainment both on and off the field. Odell Beckham Jr. will surely be a player to watch, and Kareem Hunt will get a chance to redeem himself later on in the year after his suspension is up. Myles Garrett will anchor the defense as they try to slow down the rest of the division. There are incredibly high expectations for this Browns team, and rightfully so. They have done everything right this offseason and they have been talking the talk, but can the back up everything they have promised?

Similar to both the Ravens and Steelers, the Browns are looking at a tough divisional matchups against the aforementioned teams. They should also look to take advantage of the Bengals. As far as we can project from the preseason a 4-2 record would put the Browns on par with Baltimore and Pittsburgh as they fight for the right to claim the AFC North crown. Outside of the normal divisional competition they will face Tennessee (Week 1), LA Rams (3), Seattle (6), Buffalo (10), and Miami (12) at home. Tennessee intends on competing for a playoff spot this year, so knocking off the star studded Browns roster in Week 1 would make a statement for the Titans. The Rams in Week 3 will provide the Browns with a real playoff-esque atmosphere in the Sunday Night time slot. Beating the Rams on this stage could solidify the high expectations many people have for Cleveland. Seattle will give the Browns another tough challenge before their bye week. Buffalo is a team that the Browns will want to leave in the basement as they attempt to make their ascent into the elite. Barring any injuries before the end of the season, Cleveland should be able to make quick work of the rebuilding Dolphins in Week 12. The road schedule starts off with a couple Monday Night matchups in weeks 2 and 5 against the Jets and 49ers. Both games are winnable and could give the Browns the traction they need as they roll into the 2nd half of the year. After their bye week they head to Foxboro to face New England which could ground the high flying Browns for a bit. Right after that they head into Mile High Stadium to face off against Joe Flacco and the new-look Broncos. Denver will be a tough challenge, but if the Browns want to compete at a higher level they will need to take this game. Their last road game outside the division will be against Arizona in Week 15. The Cardinals should be well out of the playoff hunt by this time and simply playing for pride. Cleveland can’t allow this game to get away from them.

Many people expect this team to make a playoff push and some have even called this roster one that can compete for a Conference Championship. I don’t know if I am buying that quite yet, but I do expect good things from this squad. If things work out in favor of the Browns they could wind up in the neighborhood of 12 to 13 wins. However, if the strong personalities can’t overcome the unavoidable adversity of the NFL season, then they may be fighting for their postseason and finish with around 8 to 9 wins. That being said, I’m drinking the Browns Kool-Aid in 2019.

My Prediction: 12-4 (OVER 9.5 Wins)

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