Moving onto the AFC North, this division was full of juicy headlines from before the season had already started with all the hype of the Cleveland Browns finally turning the corner and getting out of the basement of the league. The Baltimore Ravens took the league by storm and captured the top seed in the AFC behind their MVP, Lamar Jackson. The Pittsburgh Steelers took a step backwards this season, narrowly missing the playoffs after Ben Roethlisberger was hurt for the season, despite having one of the top defenses. Finally, the Cincinnati Bengals looked disastrous this season, finishing with the worst record in the league and earning the top draft pick in this upcoming draft.
Review: The Ravens came out of nowhere this season and proved to be an absolute juggernaut for the vast majority of the season. They were led on offense by Lamar Jackson, the league MVP in just his second season as a pro. They had the first in points for and second in yards, largely in part to the most rushing yards in the league combined with the most pass touchdowns. The offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, truly put together a masterpiece with this unit. The defense also came to play this season, giving up the third fewest points and fourth fewest yards. They recently made their defensive coordinator, Don Martindale, the highest paid DC in the league after his success over these past few years. The players became household name this year, led by 6 members selected onto the NFL AP All-Pro 1st and 2nd team.
Notable Free Agents: Jimmy Smith (CB), Tony Jefferson (S), Michael Pierce (DT), Patrick Onwuasor (LB), Seth Roberts (WR), Gus Edwards (RB)
Needs: RB, WR, CB, LB, DT
Review: The Browns came into the season hyped up as a team that could FINALLY make the playoffs, for the first time since 2002, yet fell flat once again. They were a dysfunctional unit all around, with several players even reportedly going up to opposing coaches at games and telling them to get them out of the dumpster fire. That goes back to the roots of the leadership of the team, as Freddie Kitchens was just the latest Cleveland head coach to fail. Now Kitchens is out, and Kevin Stefanski is in. His main goal is to find a way to get everyone to mesh together. They certainly have enough talent around to win. The offense was below average, finishing just 22nd in both points and total yards for. One of their biggest areas of concern was quarterback Baker Mayfield threw 21 interception, good for 3rd most in the league, while only having the 19th most attempts. That rate has to improve if they want to seriously be a contending team. The defense also has young talent but lacked execution this season. The pass defense was very solid, even with their top two corners missing several games with hamstring injuries over the season. They finished 7th in pass yards against, yet a putrid 30th against the run. That obviously is an area that must be addressed.
Notable Free Agents: Greg Robinson (OT), Rashard Higgins (WR), Joe Schobert (MLB), Kareem Hunt (RB), Damarious Randall (S)
Needs: OT, LB, MLB, S
Review: The Steelers came into the season with lots of turnover on the offensive side of the ball, officially moving on from Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell and instead going with younger players Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner. This proved to be a mistake, as they finished a lousy 31st in pass yards and 29th in rush yards. This can be traced back to losing quarterback Ben Roethlinsberger for the season and no number two option opposite Juju on the outside. The defense played lights out all season long and kept the team in the playoff race even after their leader went down. The mid season acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick and a defensive player of the year nomination for TJ Watt fueled this unit. They gave up the 5th fewest yards overall, the 3rd fewest pass yards, allowed just 3.8 yards per rush attempt which is good for 3rd best in the league, all the while coming away with the most takeaways. This defense truly had a phenomenal season, but will be criminally overlooked because of the failure of the offense.
Notable Free Agents: Bud Dupree (LB), Artie Burns (CB), Javon Hargrave (DT), Kameron Canaday (LS), BJ Finney (OG)
Needs: QB, WR, LB, LS, DT
Review: Welp, good news for Bengals fans is the disgraceful excuse of a season is finally over. They now hold the first overall selection in this year’s NFL draft and likely will select Joe Burrow of LSU to be their next franchise Quarterback. Unfortunately for Cincy, it will take more than just one player to bring this offense back to its potential. Star wideout AJ Green was out for the entire season due to injuries, clearly having a negative impact on the offense. Due to the negative game script from being behind in so many games, the Bengals finished 25th in rush yards despite having Joe Mixon at running back. This led to an inefficient 6th most pass attempts yielding the 25th ranked pass yards. The offensive line is also a major area of concern. Their primary task on the offensive side of the ball is getting protection for their soon to be franchise QB and finding him some diverse weapons. As bad as their offense performed, the defense was arguably even worse. They were being torched all season long as opponents would constantly have field days in Cincinnati on any given Sunday. They finished dead last in stopping the run and 21st in pass defense. The focus needs to be on just continuing to stock up on young talent and developing the players. Bringing in some vets to help mentor them could prove to be beneficial as well. In all honesty, there’s holes at nearly every position so a sudden spike in wins next season isn’t to be expected.
Notable Free Agents: AJ Green (WR), Darqueze Dennard (CB), Tyler Eifert (TE), Nick Vigil (LB), Andrew Billings (DT)
Needs: QB, WR, OT, OG, LB, DT, S, CB
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