X-Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6
In their 81 years of existence as a National Football League franchise the Pittsburgh Steelers bread and butter has been their toughness and they appear to be on the verge of getting back to that in 2014. For the first since 2000, the Steelers missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons which is something that doesn’t sit well in Western Pennsylvania.
Last year the Steelers were tied for 27th in the NFL in rushing. But this season you can expect the Steelers to get back to their blue-collar reputation which means that they will get off of the bus running the football. This season the Steelers might have the two most physical running backs in pro football in Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Both Bell and Blount will remind Steeler fans of Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis as far as their size and running styles. For Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin he his hopeful that his offensive line along with Blount and Bell will wear down opposing defenses through the first three quarters while being able to take over in the closing stanza.
This side of Terry Bradshaw, Ben Roethlisberger is the most decorated quarterback in Steelers franchise history. Roethlisberger is entering his 11th season with the Steelers and he should benefit from Pittsburgh’s run-heavy approach this season. Roethlisberger has a career completion percentage of 63.3 percent and he will be doing a ton of play action passing this season as long as the Steelers are able to run the football effectively.
Defensively the Steelers are younger at the linebacker position, but they are expecting big things out of second year outside linebacker Jarvis Jones as he could be the next dominant edge rusher in the Steel City. Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu is set to begin his 12th season in Pittsburgh and he was named as a captain for the first time. At the age of 33, the six-time Pro Bowler Polamalu still has a ton of range and he’ll be a leader for the black and gold.
Tomlin and his crew will get things started at home this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and a fast start to the season could be just what the doctor ordered as far as Pittsburgh returning to the postseason in 2014.
Y-Cincinnati Bengals 10-6
The Cincinnati Bengals have made the National Football League Playoffs in four of the last five seasons, but they have still be unable to win a postseason game since 1990. The Bengals probably have the most talented team in the AFC North, but talent alone will not get the job done in the National Football League. Cincinnati has been able to put it together in the regular season, but there are oh so many times that they will be able to get past the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.
In three seasons as the starting quarterback in Cincinnati, Andy Dalton has never missed a start, but quarterbacks are unfortunately going to be judged by their success or lack thereof in the month of January. The Bengals signed Dalton to a six-year, $115 million extension this off-season which raised some eyebrows around the NFL. Dalton has the talent and the ability; now it is just a matter of him being able to take his game to the next level.
Last year the Bengals had the 18th best rushing game in the NFL. As a rookie in 2013, running Giovani Bernard gained nearly 700 yards. But after running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was released last week by the Bengals it will be Bernard who will be the feature back in 2014.
Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is one of the best in the game at catching passes as he has the ability to lead the league in receptions and receiving yards this season. But Dalton cannot simply just focus on Green in the passing game as the Bengals have two good tight ends in Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham.
Under head coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals always have one of the better defensive units in the National Football League and you can expect more of the same in 2014. Defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Robert Geathers each have the potential to reach double figures in sacks while defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Domata Peko will plug up the middle. Linebackers Vincent Rey and Vontaze Burfict have a ton of instincts and they can also cover ground which is vital in Lewis’ scheme. Cincinnati has a good blend of veteran experience and youth in the secondary, but you can expect cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to have a big impact this season.
The Bengals will get things going this Sunday on the road against the Ravens and a victory on the road will be huge for another playoff push.
Baltimore Ravens 9-7
After winning the Super Bowl in 2012, the Baltimore Ravens took a step backwards last season as they had their first non-winning season since 2007. One of the reasons why the Ravens struggled in 2013 was due to the fact that they were 30th in the NFL in rushing. The Ravens did not have the best offensive line last season which has carried over to 2014. It doesn’t help Baltimore’s situation either that starting running back Ray Rice will miss the first two games of the regular season due to a suspension by the league for domestic violence which means that the onus will fall on running back Bernard Pierce.
For Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco he must improve this year as a passer. Flacco threw just 19 touchdowns last year to 22 interceptions and he has not had a completion percentage for a season over 60 percent since 2010. This season Flacco will have veteran wide receiver Steve Smith to throw to who has been extremely dependable throughout his NFL career.
The Ravens will run the 3-4 defense and they’ll have one of the bigger defensive lines in football that features nose tackle Haloti Ngata, along with defensive ends Chris Canty and rookie Timmy Jernigan who will free up the linebackers behind them to make plays.
In the first three games of the season the Ravens will play each of their foes in the AFC North which will give us an idea of how things will go this year in Baltimore.
Cleveland Browns 4-12
The last six National Football League seasons have resulted in double-digit losing seasons for the Cleveland Browns and once again they are starting another new chapter in 2014. Mike Pettine is entering his first season as Browns head coach. Pettine will become the Browns eighth different head coach since 1999 which is a good indication as to why they’ve only had two winning campaigns over that stretch. Pettine must find a way to make the Browns more competitive as they have been the whipping boys in the AFC North. Of the Browns twelve losses last season, seven of them were by double figures.
The Browns used a first round pick at the NFL Draft this past spring on quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel is a captivating individual, but he has not done enough on or off of the field to earn the trust of his coaches and teammates to be a starter which means that it will be Brian Hoyer’s job to lose. Regardless of who will the Browns starting quarterback this season they will not have the luxury to throw the football to wide receiver Josh Gordon who will be suspended for the entire 2014 NFL season after he failed a failed drug test. Prior to the NFL Draft, the Browns knew that their was a possibility that Gordon would not be available for this season, but they failed to address it by adding another receiver which will hurt the passing game severely.
When things go wrong for the Browns this season, the fans in Cleveland shouldn’t get too upset because they will be witnessing the same old Cleveland Browns.
Y-Clinched Wild Card