Tag Archives: Cleveland Browns

2017 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

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1. Cleveland Browns-Myles Garrett-Defensive End Texas A&M

Entering the 2017 National Football League Draft, Myles Garrett is the best player available which makes this an easy selection for the Browns.

2. San Francisco 49ers-Jonathan Allen-Defensive Tackle-Alabama

The Niners need a quarterback, but they get a value pick in Jonathan Allen while still having the ability to address that issue later in the draft.

3. Chicago Bears-Jamal Adams-Strong Safety-LSU

In a division that features quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, the Bears must get better in their secondary.

Dalvin Cook

4. Jacksonville Jaguars-Dalvin Cook-Running Back-Florida State

As the Jaguars leading rusher last season was T.J. Yeldon with just 465 yards. And with Tom Coughlin entrenched as the Jags executive vice president of football operations, Jacksonville will be a better running team by hook or by crook.

5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)-Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford

The Titans are on the verge of being a playoff team and it’s time to get defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau some more play makers.

6. New York Jets-Marshon Lattimore-Cornerback-Ohio State

The Jets can go in several directions with this selection, but their safest choice could be cornerback.

Jabril Peppers

7. Los Angeles Chargers-Jabril Peppers-Strong Safety-Michigan

Not since the days of Rodney Harrison have the Chargers had an enforcer in their secondary which could change if they draft Jabril Peppers.

8. Carolina Panthers-Leonard Fournette-Running Back-LSU

The Panthers took a huge step backwards in 2016, and in order for them to resemble the team that went 15-1 in 2015, they have to get back to the basics which means a power rushing attack.

9. Cincinnati Bengals-Ryan Ramczyk-Offensive Tackle-Wisconsin

After allowing veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth to leave in free agency, the Bengals need to get more athletic on their offensive line.

10. Buffalo Bills-Marlon Humphrey-Cornerback-Alabama

New Bills head coach Sean McDermott is a defensive minded coach. And after Buffalo allowed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to leave in free agency, this is a chance for them to address that void.

11. New Orleans Saints-Malik Hooker-Free Safety-Ohio State

If the Saints are going to squeeze another title run out of quarterback Drew Brees, they must assemble a defense that can stop opponents.

Deshaun Watson

12. Cleveland Browns (From Philadelphia Eagles)-Deshaun Watson-Quarterback-Clemson

With the luxury of two, first-round picks the Browns can get the best player available along with their franchise quarterback.

13. Arizona Cardinals-Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama

As the Cardinals are looking to bounce back in 2017, the first thing that they need is a leader on the defensive side of the football.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (From Minnesota Vikings)-Derek Barnett-Defensive End-Tennessee

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is working on getting this team back to what it was during the 2000’s which was being a consistent playoff team, and a defensive end like Derek Barnett who can wreak havoc is a step in that direction.

15. Indianapolis Colts-Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan

The Colts have a new general manager in Chris Ballard and it is time for this organization to put more talent around quarterback Andrew Luck.

16. Baltimore Ravens-Zach Cunningham-Outside Linebacker-Vanderbilt

The Ravens have always been an organization that is known for defense and player like Cunningham plays with a nasty disposition.

17. Washington Redskins-Mike Williams-Wide Receiver-Clemson

After the Redskins allowed wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson to walk in free agency, this is an opportunity to keep quarterback Kirk Cousins happy.

18. Tennessee Titans-John Ross-Wide Receiver-Washington

The Titans love to run the football and a burner like John Ross could be dangerous off of play action.

Christian McCaffrey

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Christian McCaffrey-Running Back-Stanford

The Buccaneers front office is showing that they are serious as far as putting a team around quarterback Jameis Winston and here they would get one of the best play makers in the draft.

20. Denver Broncos-O.J. Howard-Tight End-Alabama

The Broncos still have questions at the quarterback position, but bringing in a solid pass-catching tight end will benefit whoever is taking the snaps.

21. Detroit Lions-Taco Charlton-Defensive End-Michigan

As a team the Lions only had 26 sacks last year with no player accumulating more than 8 which makes selecting Taco Charlton here a no-brainer.

22. Miami Dolphins-Obi Melifonwu-Strong Safety-Connecticut

As the Dolphins continue to bring in play makers on the defensive side of the football, they’ll be out to show that their playoff run last year wasn’t a fluke.

23. New York Giants-Cam Robinson-Offensive Tackle-Alabama

There are several directions in which the Giants can go here, but it might be time for them to move Ereck Flowers to right tackle.

24. Oakland Raiders-TreDavious White-Cornerback-LSU

When quarterback Derek Carr suffered a fractured fibula last year, the Raiders secondary got exposed when the offense wasn’t putting up 30 points per game anymore.

25. Houston Texans-Forrest Lamp-Guard-Western Kentucky

The Texans already have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and it could get better here by adding Forrest Lamp.

26. Seattle Seahawks-Garrett Bolles-Offensive Tackle-Utah

Last year Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked 41 times and that isn’t going to cut it if Seattle wants to get back to the Super Bowl.

27. Kansas City Chiefs-Curtis Samuel-Wide Receiver-Ohio State

In 2016, the Chiefs didn’t have a wide receiver gain 600 yards as they need explosiveness at the position in order to take some attention off of tight end Travis Kelce.

28. Dallas Cowboys-Charles Harris-Defensive End-Missouri

The Dallas Cowboys have everything on offense to be a Super Bowl contender, but until they can improve their pass rush, it won’t mean a thing.

29. Green Bay Packers-Malik McDowell-Defensive Tackle-Michigan State

In three playoff games last season the Packers surrendered 88 points as quarterback Aaron Rodgers cannot bail them out all of the time.

Tim Williams

30. Pittsburgh Steelers-Tim Williams-Outside Linebacker-Alabama

Tim Williams could be the steal of the first round as he goes to a team in the Steelers that loves to have versatile linebackers.

31. Atlanta Falcons-Takkarist McKinley-Outside Linebacker-UCLA

The Falcons had a solid defense in 2016, but after watching the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51, it is clear that they need more pass rushers.

32. New Orleans Saints (From New England Patriots)-Carl Lawson-Defensive End-Auburn

If the Saints are able to fix their defense, a trip to the postseason is very likely here in 2017.

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Where Did It Go Wrong?

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In 2012, quarterback Robert Griffin III could do no wrong as he was the best thing since sliced bread. Griffin was fresh off of winning the Heisman Trophy at Baylor University and he would be the second overall pick of the National Football League Draft by the Washington Redskins. Griffin would be the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year as he helped the Redskins win the NFC East for the first time since 1999 and the sky was the limit for him.

But things changed for Griffin late in the 2012 National Football League season when he suffered a knee injury. Griffin sustained injuries to his ACL and LCL ligaments in his knee, however he would attempt to play through it. Griffin would be under center for the Redskins in the playoffs, but he was merely a shell of the player that lit up the league during the regular season.

Griffin would have off-season knee surgery which would see him miss most of the Redskins organized team activities (OTAs) and this put him behind the curve heading into his season. Griffin didn’t play for the entire preseason, but he was still the Redskins starting quarterback when the regular season rolled around and the time off showed as he struggled with the team’s record being 3-10 in his 13 starts. Griffin would continue to struggle with Washington and when Jay Gruden became the Redskins head coach in 2014, he had seen enough from the former Rookie of the Year as he sent him to the bench. Griffin never even saw the field for the Redskins in 2015 as he wasn’t made inactive by Gruden who made him the third string quarterback.

The Redskins would not pick up Griffin’s option for 2016 which allowed him to be a free agent. And Griffin would find a new home with the Cleveland Browns.

Griffin would be named as the Browns starting quarterback heading into this season, but things didn’t start on the right foot for him when he suffered a shoulder injury in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Griffin would miss the next 11 games, and even when he returned to the Browns, it was still a train wreck.

In five starts for the Browns, Griffin was 1-4 as a starter with his victory accounting for the team’s only win this season. Griffin completed 59.2% of his passes while only throwing a pair of touchdown passes. And as the Browns finished with the worst record in the National Football League, you have to wonder where things went wrong for Griffin.

Griffin has fallen into the same category that many quarterbacks who were products of the spread offense in college had to deal with upon joining the National Football League. In college Griffin was an athlete at the quarterback position who’s talent could mask his flaws. And if Griffin didn’t see something, he could improvise. However in the NFL, things are different as a quarterback must make plays from the pocket, while also having the ability to read multiple options in the passing game. For Griffin he has never been able to do that and subsequently he appears to have lost his confidence. Griffin joined the Browns who are led by head coach Hue Jackson who is one of the best quarterback gurus in the NFL. However the stench of the Browns was simply too much for either man to overcome this season. Griffin wants to return to the Browns next season, but the reality for him is whether or not that he’ll be able to take the next step.

In watching Griffin play he is not sure of himself which is never good for an athlete that is seeking to compete at the highest level. And once you factor in that Griffin did not play on a talented team this year, it only makes a bad situation worse. Jackson is a guy that has the ability to make Griffin get back to the basics, but he needs to be on a team that is committed to winning which is something that he won’t find with the Browns. Playing football is something that should be fun and that hasn’t been the case for Griffin since 2012. And if Griffin cannot regain the form that made him “RGIII”, his time in the National Football League could be coming to an end very soon.

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2016 Week 14 NFL Picks

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Quarterback Dak Prescott has the Dallas Cowboys on the verge of an NFC East Title?

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Rock Bottom

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It’s hard to believe that the Cleveland Browns were once the class of the National Football League. Including the Browns time in the All-American Conference, they played in a championship game in each year from 1946-1955, while they were also one of the better teams in the NFL in the 1960’s. The Browns were also a perennial playoff team in the 1980’s before things came to a screeching halt in the mid-1990’s when former team owner Art Modell decided to move the team to Baltimore, Maryland. Modell had to leave behind the team history of the Browns as his team became the Baltimore Ravens. The City of Cleveland did not have an NFL franchise from 1996-1998, but they would receive an expansion team in 1999 as they were the “new” Browns. However the Browns reincarnation into the NFL has been less than stellar.

Since 1999, the Browns have only been able to produce one trip to the postseason and two winning seasons. The Browns last winning season came in 2007, while all but one year since then has seen them lost at least 11 games. Upon returning to the National Football League, the Browns have had three different owners, eight general managers, nine head coaches, and a whopping 26 different starting quarterbacks which gives you a clear understanding in regards to their futility. Hue Jackson is the latest man to have his chance to be the Browns head coach, and he could not have envisioned how 2016 would unfold for him.

As bad as the Browns have been since returning to the National Football League, 2016 is as bad as it has been. Through 12 games the Browns are without a victory, and they are flirting with being the first team since the 2008 Detroit Lions to go an entire season without winning a game. The Browns were competitive in the first half of the season as they lost four games by five points or less. But since the calendar has shifted to November, the level of competition has improved as the Dallas Cowboys, Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New York Giants have all taken turns having their way with the Browns. Cleveland has lost their last four games by at least 14 points with this past Sunday’s home loss to the Giants sounding more like MetLife Stadium as it is difficult for a fan to stay loyal to this team.

Jackson began his tenure with the Browns by trading the second overall pick of the 2016 National Football League Draft to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Browns decided on trading this selection due to the fact that they weren’t sold on picking either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz who were the top two quarterback prospects in the draft. The Browns would continue wheeling and dealing as they moved out of the eighth overall selection after they made a deal with the Tennessee Titans. The Browns would not make a selection until midway through the first round when they tabbed wide receiver Corey Coleman, but they did succeed in obtaining multiple draft picks, which also includes multiple selections in the first, three rounds of next year’s draft. Jackson went for depth and future options for the Browns instead of opting for an immediate impact player. And although that the Browns have potential on their young squad as Jackson has attempted to change the culture in Cleveland, they still don’t know how to win.

This is best summed up by the fact that the Browns have been outscored in the second half by their opponents this season 180-67. The Browns have also squandered a pair of fourth quarter leads as they have become the poster boys for ineptitude.

In spite of the fact that the Browns have not won a game while using four different quarterbacks, they are 16th in the National Football League in total offense which is primarily due to the fact that they are attempting to pad their stats when the final outcome has already been decided.

Robert Griffin III

Heading into this season Jackson announced that Robert Griffin III would be the Browns starting quarterback, but he hasn’t seen the field since the first game of the season after he suffered a shoulder injury. It was then up to veteran quarterback Josh McCown to lead the way for the Browns, but like Griffin, he suffered a shoulder injury which put him on the sideline. Jackson would then rely on a pair of rookie quarterbacks in Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan. In eight starts for the Browns, Kessler did show potential as he has completed 65.6% of his passes, but he took a beating in the process as a concussion currently has him out of action.

Going forward it will be important to provide some protection for Kessler as he appears to be their future at quarterback, while they have hit on converting Terrelle Pryor Sr., from a quarterback to a wide receiver as he provides some explosion for them at the position as he so far has 62 receptions for 855 yards and 4 touchdown grabs.

The Browns are last in the National Football League in total defense, while they are also minus-9 in the turnover margin as they don’t have any play makers on that side of the football which reflects in their record. And even though that the Browns did acquire outside linebacker Jamie Collins from the New England Patriots earlier this season, it is highly unlikely that he’ll re-sign there when he becomes a free agent in March as he’ll more than likely opt for collecting a paycheck from a team that will give him a chance to win.

The Browns enter this week guaranteed of not losing this Sunday due to the fact that it is their bye week. And with just four games left for Cleveland here in 2016, their best chance to win a game will come in Week 14 when they host the Cincinnati Bengals who are currently an injury riddled team.

Jimmy Haslam

But the off-season will be very important for the Browns as owner Jimmy Haslam must decide if Jackson is the right guy to run his team going forward. This season has been a struggle for Jackson, but Haslam cannot afford to start over again as the organization is already on their fifth different head coach since 2009. And to give you an idea of how astonishing that this fact is, only the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills have made as many head coaching changes since then which is illustrated by none of these teams making the postseason over this stretch; although the Bills and Raiders are in contention this year.

Hue Jackson

The Browns must give Jackson an opportunity to develop his young players as the issues within this organization are bigger than him which is reflected in their record since 1999. The Browns must decide if Kessler is their long-term answer at quarterback, while also hitting on all of their draft picks in 2017 if they want any shot at turning things. But this is the elephant in the room for the Browns as they’ve been two years from being two years away since returning to the National Football League. And at this point the only way that you know the Browns are even in the NFL is when the draft rolls around, or when the league force feeds Thursday Night Football down our throats with their mandatory participation for each team.

But for now the paper bags are out in Cleveland in droves for anyone who still thinks that it is important to show up for a Browns home game as this organization still hasn’t figured it out. And as bad as it seems, it cannot get that much worse for the Browns than it already is.

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2016 Week 7 NFL Picks

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Will the secondary of the Los Angeles Rams have an answer for New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. this Sunday in London?

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Rewriting The Book On Futility

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Believe it or not there was a time when the Cleveland Browns were the envy of the National Football League. The Browns began in the All-American Football Conference in 1946 before both leagues merged in 1950. In the Browns first ten years of existence, they played in ten title games which saw them win the AAFC Title four times, and the NFL Championship on three occasions. What helped the Browns was their leadership at the two important positions on the field as they were coached by Paul Brown and Otto Graham was their quarterback. It also didn’t hurt that the Browns also had future Hall of Famers such as running back Jim Brown and offensive lineman Lou Groza suiting up for them then as they were very close to unstoppable.

But the beginning of the end for the Browns came on January 7, 1963 when team owner Art Modell fired Brown was the only head coach in the history of the franchise. In 13 seasons with Cleveland, Brown compiled a record of 111-44-5 which is still the gold standard for the franchise. But the egos of Modell and Brown could not co-exist anymore which led to the messy departure. Under the guidance of head coach Blanton Collier, the Browns would win the National Football League Championship in 1964, but they would soon begin a slow and painful journey into futility.

Jim Brown would abruptly retire in 1965 at the age of 29 after just nine years in the National Football League. The Browns would still put forth quality teams that featured the likes of running back Leroy Kelly, but they could never get over the hump in the NFL during the late 1960’s against the contenders such as the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. And when the NFL merged with the American Football League in 1970, the Browns were placed in the AFC Central Division as they would face none other than Paul Brown who was now the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

After a pair of playoff appearances in 1971 and 1972, it would be a downward spiral the Browns for the remainder of the 1970’s before they won the AFC Central in 1980. But to this day Browns fans will be haunted by “Red Right 88” which was the play that was called when Cleveland quarterback Brian Sipe threw an interception that secured the team’s 14-12 loss to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. The Browns would suffer more playoff heartache during the 1980’s as they were done in throughout the decade by the likes of the Denver Broncos and their quarterback John Elway who beat three times.

But the Browns death blow would come on November 6, 1995 when Modell decided to move the organization from Cleveland to Baltimore after he was unable to secure the new stadium that he was seeking. Modell’s decision caused a huge uproar as he became the most hated man in Cleveland. And following the Browns final game of the 1995 National Football League season which was a 24-21 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, it marked the end of an era as Cleveland would not get a new franchise until 1999.

However as the folks in Cleveland were happy to welcome the new Browns, the results have been putrid to say the least. Since 1999, the Browns have only had two winning seasons, while becoming the laughing stock of the National Football League. Upon returning to the NFL, the Browns have had three different owners, seven team presidents, eight general managers, nine head coaches, and a whopping 26 different starting quarterbacks.

Hue Jackson

The Browns began the current National Football League season with a new team president in Paul DePodesta, general manager in Sashi Brown, head coach Hue Jackson, and starting quarterback in Robert Griffin III. But unfortunately for the Browns they are nowhere close to being a contender.

Through two games here in 2016, the Browns are a train wreck waiting to happen. In Week 1, the Browns were throttled by the Philadelphia Eagles 29-10. In the contest Griffin would suffer a fractured shoulder that would see him placed on injured reserve, while the Browns defense wouldn’t have an answer for Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz who was 22-of-37 passing for 278 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

This past Sunday, the Browns would jump out to a 20-point, first quarter lead on the Baltimore Ravens (the original Browns), and it appeared that Cleveland was on their way to the upset victory. But on the ensuing extra point by the Browns following their third touchdown of the game, the kick was blocked by the Ravens and rookie cornerback Tavon Young who returned it for two points for Baltimore. The Ravens would shut down the Browns offense for the rest of the afternoon, while they would steadily chip away at the Cleveland lead. And when it was all said and done the Ravens would defeat the Browns by the score of 25-20 as another vintage dose of Cleveland futility was complete.

The Browns are preparing to face the Miami Dolphins this Sunday in a battle of 0-2 teams, but you wouldn’t know that as Miami is favored by 9.5 points. The Browns being 9.5-point underdogs sums up their season along with the expectations around them as they might as well begin preparing National Football League’s Scouting Combine in February as the draft cannot get here quick enough for them.

Cody Kessler

The Browns lost Griffin in Week 1, and his replacement at quarterback in Josh McCown suffered a shoulder injury during Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. Now the Browns will turn to rookie quarterback Cody Kessler as the revolving door at the most important position on the football field continues.

So far Jackson appears to be the right guy for the Browns, but he needs time as this isn’t a problem that can be easily fixed. The Browns are in need of a culture change that is going to take some time as they must find a way to contend with the Ravens, Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers who have all taken turns using Cleveland as whipping boys in the AFC North. Through various trades the Browns had 13 draft picks during this year’s National Football League Draft as Jackson is seeking to build depth, while also finding players that fit into his system. But hopefully Jackson has the opportunity to see things through for an organization that hasn’t had a good history recently of being patient.

Of the Browns nine head coaches since returning to the National Football League in 1999, no coach has lasted more than four years, while the last four coaches haven’t gotten more than two years. It hasn’t been that much better for the Browns when it comes to drafting either as only four of their ten, first-round picks this decade are still on the roster. And it’s not getting any better for the Browns as wide receiver Corey Coleman who was their first-round pick this year is out for the next four-six weeks with a fracture in his hand.

Things will keep getting worse for the Browns as they’ll host the New England Patriots in Week 5 in what will be the first game of the season for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady following his four-game suspension for “Deflategate” and you can expect him to have a point to prove. The Browns still have five divisional games on the slate and it isn’t looking good for them as the Ravens, Steelers, and Bengals all look poised to make a run towards the postseason while making Cleveland the unofficial “homecoming game” for the division.

At some point the Browns will have to find a winning formula, but in the meantime they are just three years away from being three years away.

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2016 AFC North Projections

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X-Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4

When you think of the history of the National Football League, you can’t go that long without recognizing the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have been an NFL franchise since 1933, and since 1972, Pittsburgh has only had seven losing seasons which is remarkable. Some other outstanding traits that are displayed by the Steelers organization is that they preach patience and consistency with their head coaches as they’ve only employed three head coaches since 1969, which is a far cry from the majority of the other franchises around the NFL where there is constant turn over at the head coaching position. Mike Tomlin set to begin his 10th year as the Steelers head coach, and like his two predecessors in Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, he has led Pittsburgh to at least one Super Bowl Championship. The last two years have seen Tomlin get the Steelers to the playoffs, but he has a team in 2016 that is more than capable of adding a seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions to the display case in Western Pennsylvania.

Ben Roethlisberger

As long as the Steelers can keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger healthy, they have a legitimate shot of winning it all. Roethlisberger has been the Steelers starting quarterback since 2004, and all he has done is win while displaying a toughness that the folks in Western Pennsylvania can relate to. At the age of 34, Roethlisberger isn’t showing any signs of slowing down while he still can throw one of the best deep balls in the National Football League. Last year with Roethlisberger at the helm, the Steelers had the third ranked offense in the NFL, and you can expect more of the same in 2016.

Very rapidly Antonio Brown has become one of the better wide receivers in football. In the last three years Brown has gained nearly 5,000 yards of receiving yards and he has become Roethlisberger’s most dependable target in the process. The Steelers will miss the contributions of wide receiver Martavis Bryant who will have to sit out the entire 2016 National Football League season after a failed drug test, and tight end Heat Miler who retired after spending his entire 11-year career in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers are hopeful that wide receivers Sammie Coates, Markus Wheaton and Darius Heyward-Bay can step up to make contributions in the passing game to offset the losses of Bryant and Miller.

The Steelers are also hopeful to have a healthy pair of running backs in Le’Veon Bell and De’Angelo Williams. Last year injuries limited Bell to just six games and he’ll miss the first three games of 2016 after being suspended by the National Football League due to the fact that he missed a drug test. But the Steelers need the combo of Williams and Bell in the backfield as each are solid at picking up the blitz for Roethlisberger, while also having the knack to be receivers in the passing game.

The Steelers should once again have one of the better offensive lines in the business as long as center Maurkice Pouncey and guard David DeCastro can remain healthy as this unit has a high level of physicality attached to them.

As the Steelers defense is set to begin its second year under defensive coordinator Keith Butler, you can expect the term “Blitzburgh” to once again be used to describe this unit. Last year the Steelers amassed 48 sacks which was third in the National Football League, and with the likes of inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and veteran outside linebacker James Harrison back on the scene, Pittsburgh is ready to show that they are still the bullies of the AFC North.

As a rookie in 2015, outside linebacker Bud Dupree totaled 4 sacks, but if he is able to become the pass rusher that the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him, their defense could become very stingy. Rookie inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich was the Steelers seventh-round pick this year and after being an All-American last year at Temple, his strong work ethic and determination will be a welcomed sight to Pittsburgh’s blue-collar work ethic.

Cam Heyward

On the Steelers defensive line, defensive end Cam Heyward is turning into a star and fellow defensive end Stephon Tuitt is no slouch either as ability to rush the passer and stop the run opens up Pittsburgh’s linebackers to make more plays.

The Steelers have a chance to make a statement in Week 2 when they host the Cincinnati Bengals as there is no love lost between these two AFC North rivals; especially after last season’s wild card game which was won by Pittsburgh. Overall four of the Steelers first five games in 2016 are against teams that finished last season with winning records. But the Steelers chances to win the AFC North will come down to their final three games of the season as they’ll face the Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns in consecutive weeks.

Y-Cincinnati Bengals 11-5

The last five National Football League seasons have seen the Cincinnati Bengals reach the playoffs. But each time the Bengals have been unable to win a playoff game. Last year’s playoff loss for the Bengals stung more than the others as they had the Pittsburgh Steelers on the ropes until they came apart at the seams. A fumble by Bengals Jeremy Hill late in the contest gave the Steelers life. And when Pittsburgh got the ball back, Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones made sure that they did their part in helping the Steelers win. The Bengals began last season with a record of 8-0 as they finished the regular season with a record of 12-4 for their best mark since 1988 which marked their last trip to the Super Bowl. However as good as the Bengals were in 2015, what does head coach Marvin Lewis have up his sleeve to motivate this team to not only make the postseason for a sixth consecutive year, but to also win their first playoff game since January 1991?

Andy Dalton

In each of the last five years Andy Dalton has been the Bengals starting quarterback and he has a career record of 50-26-1. But Dalton’s career playoff record of 0-4 record, along with the fact that he typically comes up short when the Bengals need him the most have made him a lightning rod for controversy in the Queen City.

Last December, Dalton suffered a fractured thumb which put him on the shelf for the rest of the season as he is looking to get back on track here in 2016. But Dalton will miss the guidance of his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson who is now the head coach of the Cleveland Browns as former quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese will be calling the plays in Cincinnati.

Behind a strong offensive line that features left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals have a solid running game with their tandem of running backs in Hill and Giovanni Bernard. And if Bernard and Hill can combined to get 400 carries this season, it should symbolize another trip to the postseason for the Bengals.

In the past I have talked about the need for Dalton to not play “hero ball” in order to help the Bengals win games. And although that wide receiver A.J. Green is one of the better wide receivers in the National Football League, Dalton shouldn’t try to force feed him the football, while another receiver such as tight end Tyler Eifert needs to step up and become a consistent option for Cincinnati in the passing game.

After the Bengals finished 2015 11th in total defense, there’s nothing that can stop them from being a top-five unit this season except themselves as they have a wealth of talent. The Bengals can rush the passer with defensive end Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, while the interior of Cincinnati’s defensive line is stout with defensive tackles Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, and Pat Sims. There’s plenty of talent in the Bengals linebacking unit with Burfict, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, and outside linebacker Vincent Rey, while picking up a veteran middle linebacker in Karlos Dansby could help the Bengals finally get over the hump and win a playoff game. In the secondary, the Bengals can cover with the likes of veteran cornerbacks Adam Jones and Kirkpatrick, but it just a matter of this unit staying focused under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

The schedule makers were not kind to the Bengals as they’ll begin the upcoming season with consecutive road games against the New York Jets and Steelers, while they will have their home opener against the Denver Broncos who are the defending Super Bowl Champions. And if the Bengals get off to a slow start, they will be fighting an uphill battle in the AFC North against the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens to win the division.

Y-Baltimore Ravens 10-6

You have to go back to the 2005 National Football League season to find the last time that the Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons. Injuries derailed the Ravens chances in 2015 as they went 5-11. And for Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, they’ve been hard at work this off-season to get Baltimore back on track in the AFC North.

Joe Flacco

Last year marked the first time in the National Football League career of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco that he missed time due to an injury. In Week 11, Flacco suffered a torn ACL which put him on the shelf for the remainder of the season. As the Ravens starting quarterback, Flacco has a career record of 75-47 while also sporting a 10-5 mark in the postseason which includes leading Baltimore to a Super Bowl Title. Flacco has been rehabbing from his knee injury, and the Ravens are going to need him to be fully healthy when they take the field in September.

Aside from Flacco, the Ravens must get more continuity from their rushing attack that was ranked 26th in the National Football League last season. Baltimore’s leading rusher in 2015 was veteran running back Justin Forsett with just 641 which isn’t going to get it done in the NFL; even though that the league is now very pass happy.

Injuries also hurt the Ravens offensive line last year as they were unable to provide protection for Flacco or open up holes in the running game. The Ravens would use the sixth overall pick of the 2016 National Football League Draft on offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley who has the potential to be an anchor on the offensive line for the coming years. The Ravens also have veterans on the line in the form of center Jeremy Zuttah and guard Marshal Yanda that will need to find cohesion early in order to provide blocking the skills players in Baltimore’s offense.

Last year was supposed to be wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.’s final hurrah in the National Football League. But after Smith suffered an Achilles injury which abruptly ended his campaign, he is back for one more go at it in 2016. Smith has been one of the better pass catchers of this era as he has the potential this season to become just the sixth player in National Football League history to record 15,000 receiving yards.

Terrell Suggs

The Ravens were eighth in total defense in 2015, but the unit’s issues began in Week 1 when outside linebacker Terrell Suggs suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon which robbed Baltimore of their defensive leader. Suggs is back for the upcoming season, and the Ravens have picked up former San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle, but will there be enough play makers on this side of the football to get Baltimore back to the post season?

In recent years punter Sam Koch and place kicker Justin Tucker have been vital to the Ravens success. Last year Koch had a net average of 42.9 as his kicks can change field position, while Tucker is one of the better field goal kickers from within 50 yards. And special teams will be a huge factor for the Ravens; especially when the temperature begins to drop in the months of November and December.

If the Ravens want to be a playoff team in 2016, they must take care of business in the first half of the season as only one of their first seven opponents made the playoffs last year. The Ravens last two games of the season will be on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals as Baltimore will have its work cut to make the playoffs in January.

Cleveland Browns 5-11

It’s the same old song for the Cleveland Browns as they are beginning another National Football League season with a term attached to the them which is “starting over”. Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, they have had three different owners, eight general managers, nine head coaches, and they are working on their 25th different starting quarterback. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam didn’t help himself in his most recent front office hires as he hired a new team president in Paul DePodesta and general manager Sashi Brown. Neither man has a football background as DePodesta has worked in the front offices of Major League Baseball franchises, while Brown has a law background.

Hue Jackson

At least the Browns hired a football guy as their next head coach in former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson. In one season with the Raiders, Jackson posted a record of 8-8 as he was charged with changing the culture there. And that is exactly what Jackson is attempting to do with the Browns as they’ve only had two winning seasons since 1999.

As the Browns are coming off of a 3-13 season, the only way for them to go is up. The Browns resisted selecting a quarterback early on during the 2016 National Football League Draft and instead of drafting a quarterback early on in the proceedings, they instead decided to try their hand at a reclamation project.

Robert Griffin III

Quarterback Robert Griffin III was the second overall pick of the 2012 National Football League Draft by the Washington Redskins and he took the league by storm. In 2012, Griffin became the NFL’s Rookie of the Year as he helped the Redskins win the NFC East. But a knee injury towards the end of the 2012 season, along with missing the entire training camp for the following campaign put Griffin behind the eight ball. And when Jay Gruden became the Redskins head coach last year, he never warmed up to Griffin being his starting quarterback which made him expendable. The Redskins would part ways with Griffin this off-season and he is looking to re-kindle some of the magic from 2012 now with the Browns.

Jackson has been known to develop quarterbacks and the main thing that Griffin needs to work on is his pocket awareness, but he will be a welcome sight in Cleveland after the Browns parted with another quarterback from the State of Texas this off-season in Johnny Manziel.

Last year the Browns were 25th in total offense in the National Football League and they are in need of more consistency. The Browns still have nine-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle in Joe Thomas anchoring their offensive line, but he is becoming disgruntled with the team’s inability to win. Longtime Browns center Alex Mack left this off-season to join the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland is hopeful the center Cameron Erving who was a first-round choice of the team in 2015 is ready to fill the void.

With Jackson running the show in Cleveland, the team is in the process of a roster overhaul which means that there is a competition at nearly every position and somebody has to step up and become a play maker on offense.

The same can be said on defense where the Browns need to be more aggressive under first-year defensive coordinator Ray Horton. The Browns must find a way to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks with their front seven as their 29 sacks in 2015 were 28th in the National Football League.

Jackson is attempting to change the culture for the Browns and he will spend 2016 simply weeding out the guys that don’t fit his system. But hopefully Jackson gets the chance to establish himself with the Browns as they don’t have patience with their head coaches.

X-Division Winner

Y-Clinched Wild Card

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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