Training camp is upon us which means one thing: football is officially back! As teams gear up for their respective seasons, expectations are as high as ever for all 32 teams.
As always, the Wizard of Auzz is here for you to know the outcomes of each division before the regular season begins! The latest division that will be spoiled is the AFC North. This was a very tough division for the Wizard to fortune tell.
The Cleveland Browns have won the Super Bowl off hype alone; the Steelers lost two key pieces to their offence; the Ravens accrued some valuable assets in free agency; and the Cincinnati Bengals… well, the Bengals are there.
Let’s get deeper into each team, shall we?
Getting right into the team everyone is hoping turns things around, the Browns were busy to begin the offseason. Acquiring players like Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon, and a slew of signings that included players like defensive tackle (DT) Sheldon Richardson.
Before the NFL Draft, the Browns’ biggest weakness looked to be their secondary. They fixed that by drafting arguably the best cornerback (CB) in the draft by choosing Greedy Williams in the 2nd round.
GM John Dorsey also took a flyer on the notorious RB Kareem Hunt. While talented, and arguably one of the top dual-threat RBs in the league, Hunt comes with baggage from a hotel incident in February 2018.
Hunt will be suspended for the first half of the season which leaves them with Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson Jr.
Heading into the 2019 season, the Browns are locked and loaded for a run. They have a ton of young talent on offence that includes Baker Mayfield, OBJ, Jarvis Landry, and Nick Chubb.
On defence, it’s a scary group highlighted by Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Sheldon Richardson, and Olivier Vernon.
Assuming Baker Mayfield doesn’t slow down from his record-breaking rookie season, he will lead this team to a place they haven’t gone in ages (2002 to be exact).
On paper, this team is a Super Bowl contender. Unfortunately for the Browns, they are the Browns so that knocks them down to “Playoff Contender” status.
Wizard’s Prediction: 10-6
The Ravens are all aboard the Lamar Jackson express. This team was given to him when they traded Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos for a 4th round pick in April’s NFL Draft.
Last year with Lamar Jackson at the helm, the run-first (and pretty much all the time) offence took the league by storm. The Ravens finished the season with a 10-6 record and won the division after a mediocre 4-5 start under Joe Flacco.
A bizarre approach on offence, the Ravens played to their strengths and succeeded. They knew accuracy was Lamar Jackson’s weakness, and they avoided making it a focal point in the offence. Fortunately, the front office has the foresight to know that an offence of that type will not succeed long-term in the NFL, thus they tooled up for a more balanced attack.
The team built the offence with speedy players, tailor-fitted for this type of offence. They went and got wide receiver (WR) Marquise Brown in the 1st round of the draft, and running back (RB) Justice Hill in the 4th round. The Ravens aren’t going to beat teams with their size; they are going to beat teams with their speed and trickery.
The Ravens have been known for their strong defensive play year in and year out. They lost outside linebacker (OLB) Za’Darius Smith to the Green Bay Packers and middle linebacker (MLB) C.J. Moseley in free agency. However, they paid it no mind as they went and signed OLB Shane Ray and a familiar face in OLB Pernell Mcphee. They also have 3rd round pick Jaylon Ferguson who will be the guy once he acclimates to the NFL. Jaylon Ferguson broke the all-time sack record in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), previously known as Division 1, that was previously held by long-time Raven, Terrell Suggs.
The Ravens also went out and signed safety S Earl Thomas to add to a loaded secondary, and RB Mark Ingram to add to the already vaunted rushing attack.
If the Ravens want to repeat as division champs it will rely heavily on Lamar Jackson taking the next steps as an NFL passer.
The Wizard says Jackson indeed rises to the occasion.
Wizard’s Prediction: 11-5
The Bengals are in trouble.
There was hope for the Bengals before the NFL Draft, but it pretty much died shortly after. The thought was that their new head coach, (HC) Zac Taylor, would draft a quarterback (QB) that would be his guy to groom into a franchise QB. Seeing Dwayne Haskins fall in the draft, right into the Bengals’ lap, it was foretold by some that the Dalton-era would finally be over!
But alas, they wanted to protect Andy Dalton instead, choosing Jonah Williams at 11th overall. Now, this isn’t a terrible pick; it’s a fantastic pick. Jonah Williams was the best all-around offensive lineman (OL) in this draft. The issue is that Andy Dalton is the averagest of average QBs. Protecting him more is not going to make him any better.
Ok, rant over.
Perhaps Cincinnati doesn’t want to embrace the post-Dalton era because the Bengals have a lot of talent on defence. With a front seven that includes Carl Lawson, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Preston Brown, and Malik Jefferson, this defence looks quite loaded. The emergence of William Jackson in the secondary has given the team a glimmer of hope in an otherwise porous secondary.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, the talent on defence hasn’t translated into production. In 2018, the defence finished 30th in points against and 32nd in yards given up/game.
With their recent moves, the Bengals are acting like they believe they can make a serious run for the top of the division. With new defensive coordinator (DC) Lou Anarumo, they hope to take the next steps on defence to get back into relevancy.
With that said, the Wizard has some advice:
Embrace the rebuild.
Wizard’s Predictions: 3-13
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a lot of talent when they lost Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
They gifted AB to Oakland for 3rd and 5th round picks in the 2019 draft and lost Bell to free agency where he signed with the New York Jets. While hope may have been lost for a moment, the Steelers do still have the one and only Juju Smith-Schuster. They also have James Washington, whom many expect to make a huge leap in his second season. What’s more, the Steelers also signed Donte Moncrief as a solid number 2 receiver.
In the absence of Bell, RB James Connor proved that he was able to carry the load as a dual-threat RB. If he can stay healthy, the Steelers offence shouldn’t miss a beat.
Defensively, the Steelers traded up to draft LB Devin Bush, their replacement for the revered Ryan Shazier. Bush is a speedy sideline-to-sideline linebacker that will fill the void that was left last season sans Shazier.
They also added to their secondary by adding CB Steven Nelson from KC, and CB Justin Layne in the Draft. Layne has an interesting background. WR-turned-CB, he showed the traits to succeed at cornerback and did just that at Michigan State. These additions will bring instant impact to the 6th ranked defence of 2018.
At the end of it all, the Steelers are in a rough spot. They are a fantastically run franchise, and those franchises typically succeed. The roster is set up as well as it could be without two of the “Killer B’s”. Unfortunately for them, the rest of their competition simply got better.
The Steelers start the season slow and miss out on playoffs for the second straight season.
Wizard’s Prediction: 8-8
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