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2020 AFC North Preview

Baltimore Ravens (14-2, lost to Tennessee in Divisional round)

What happened last year

What happened with the 2019 Ravens? Lamar Jackson. Behind the reigning MVP, the Ravens finished with the best record in the NFL at 14-2 and looked like a safe bet to make it to the Super Bowl until Derek Henry and the Tennessee Titans stopped them in their tracks.

In his first full year as the Ravens starter, Lamar Jackson threw for 3,127 passing yards and a 36/6 TD/INT rate while also leading the team in rushing with 1,206 rushing yards and 7 TDs. With a great defense and a top five offensive line, the Ravens improved in wins from 10 to 14.

Key Additions/Departures

Key Additions

G D.J. Fluker, DE Derek Wolfe, DT Calais Campbell, LB Patrick Queen, RB J.K. Dobbins, LB Malik Harrison, WR Devin Duvernay

Key Departures

TE Hayden Hurst, OT James Hurst, G Marshal Yanda, DT Michael Pierce, DT Chris Wormley, LB Josh Bynes, LB Patrick Onwuasor, CB Brandon Carr, S Tony Jefferson

Important Games

Week 1: Browns at Ravens

An important game for both teams to try and start 1-0. The Browns also beat the Ravens 40-25 in Week 4 of last year.

Week 3: Chiefs at Ravens

One of the games of the year on Monday night, a game that was expected to be the AFC Championship match up in 2019 and is again for 2020, could be a high-scoring shootout. The Ravens also look to rebound after losing to the Chiefs in Week 3 of 2019.

Week 11: Titans at Ravens

A rematch of the 2019 Divisional round, could the Ravens find revenge or is Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry Baltimore’s kryptonite?

X Factor – Lamar Jackson and his health

When it comes to mobile, out-of-the-pocket quarterbacks, getting hit is one of the things that comes with the job. For Lamar Jackson, we know he can be dangerous and make the defense sweat with both his arm and legs, but one big hit can end a season. It is important for Lamar Jackson to learn from recent history (see: Robert Griffin III); he should know that sometimes it’s better to just go out of bounds or slide instead of getting hit for that 1-2 extra yards.

2020 Outlook

Behind Lamar Jackson and a stellar defense, the Ravens are a dangerous team that the whole league would hate to see. The Ravens could again be in the 12 to 14-win range and look to challenge the Chiefs for the #1 seed and a bye.

Record: 13-3

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8, missed playoffs)

What happened last year

After losing Big Ben in Week 1 for the season, the 2019 season was a roller coaster year that started with them going 0-3 before heading into the bye at 2-4. They quickly rebounded with wins in 6 out of their first 7 games after the bye but ended up going 0-3 to finish the season, barely missing out on the playoffs.

With a stellar defense, the Steelers led the league in sacks (54) and were top five in yards per game (304.1). With a defense like they had, Pittsburgh was able to go 8-8 with a team ran by the likes of Mason Rudolph and Devin Hodges.

Key Additions/Departures

Key Additions

FB Derek Watt, TE Eric Ebron, C/G Stefen Wisniewski, DT Chris Wormley, WR Chase Claypool

Key Departures

TE Nick Vannett, G Ramon Foster, C B.J. Finney, DT Javon Hargrave, LB Mark Barron, S Sean Davis, CB Artie Burns

Important Games

Week 1: Steelers at Giants

What Big Ben will we see after a year removed from injury? The 38-year-old will answer a lot of questions and will set the tone of what type of year they will have.

Week 6: Browns at Steelers

While this early divisional game might not look much on paper, this is a game that could be tough for both sides as Cleveland looks to be the #2 team in the division behind the Ravens.

Week 7: Steelers at Ravens

One of the best rivalries in the NFL, where almost every game seems to go down to the wire. Going into their bye week, this is an important midseason game which could propel them to the finish or stop them in their tracks.

X Factor – What Big Ben will we see?

Coming off a major season ending injury, what will Big Ben have left in the tank? At 38 years old, it is a question to see what kind of season you’d expect from him. But if he is healthy, the team could make a run for the top spot in the North.

2020 Outlook

With a top 5-10 defense, the Steelers are a high floor, low ceiling type team. As they were able to finish 2019 at 8-8 with no real QB, it goes into question what a healthy Big Ben could do for this team and where their ceiling actually is. If Big Ben still does have stuff left in the tank, look out for them.

Record: 10-6

Cleveland Browns (6-10, missed playoffs)

What happened last year

After Baker Mayfield made his case for Freddie Kitchens to retain the head coach title for the 2019 season, we saw the latter be way over his head and unable to motivate the team and it was shown with their performance and record. After high-expectations for both the team and second-year QB Mayfield, the Browns finished with a 6-10 record despite having a team full of stars and Pro Bowl talent.

With sky-high expectations, the Browns flopped in almost all aspects. Kitchens lost the locker room, Mayfield had a 22/21 TD/INT ratio, and Beckham Jr. looked like someone else since coming over from the Giants. One of the few bright spots was Nick Chubb and his 1,494 rushing yards.

Key Additions/Departures

Key Additions

QB Case Keenum, OT Jedrick Wills, FB Andy Janovich, TE Austin Hooper, OT Jack Conklin, DE Adrian Clayborn, DT Andrew Billings, LB B.J. Goodson, CB Kevin Johnson, S Karl Joseph, S Andrew Sendejo

Key Departures

OT Greg Robinson, G Justin McCray, OLB Christian Kirksey, TE Demetrius Harris, LB Joe Schobert, CB T.J. Carrie, S Damarious Randall, S Juston Burris, S Morgan Burnett, S Eric Murray

Important Games

Week 2: Bengals at Browns

This is a battle of young QBs and an interesting marker to see who slots in as the 2nd-best young QB in the division behind Lamar Jackson

Week 6: Browns at Steelers

First game back versus the Steelers for Myles Garrett. He might have a chip on his shoulder since the game that ended his season prematurely last year.

Week 14: Ravens at Browns

This late season Monday night game is one of only two primetime games for the Browns (Week 2 against Cincinnati being the other) and it’ll be an important one to see if the Browns are for real or not; a win here in front of a national audience would certainly help the team’s image.

X Factor – Head Coach Kevin Stefanski

With a talented team in almost every position group, first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski inherited a team with not only talent everywhere, but a team full of characters and personalities. This team was a stable-headed head coach away from taking that next step. If he is able to control the locker room and keep Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckman from self-destructing, this team has loads of potential.

2020 Outlook

With an important year for the development of Baker Mayfield where he is surrounded with talent and a head coach who isn’t incompetent, he has no more excuses not to succeed. This team has arguably the biggest margin of error; they could have as high as 12 wins to as low as 4. Could this finally be the Browns year? Probably not, but hey, anything can happen in 2020.

Record: 8-8

Cincinnati Bengals (2-14, missed playoffs)

What happened last year

Under first year head coach Zac Taylor, the Bengals were in year one of a rebuild. The team started at 0-11 before finishing with the worst record in the NFL and had the luxury to draft the QB that had the best season in college football history in LSU’s Joe Burrow.

With only two wins on the season, it is hard to find any bright spots on the season. Rookie QB Ryan Finley was quickly shown that he isn’t the long term answer behind center, their defense struggled to keep teams out of the end zone, and longtime Bengal Andy Dalton was shown he was on the way out of Cincinnati.

Key Additions/Departures

Key Additions

QB Joe Burrow, WR Tee Higgins, G Xavier Su’a-Filo, DT D.J. Reader, LB Josh Bynes, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, S Vonn Bell

Key Departures

QB Andy Dalton, TE Tyler Eifert, OT Cordy Glenn, G John Miller, DT Andrew Billings, LB Nick Vigil, CB B.W. Webb, CB Darqueze Dennard, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, S Clayton Fejedelem

Important Games

Week 1: Chargers at Bengals

With the debut of Joe Burrow, it’ll be interesting to see him in his first real game action. Unfortunately, it won’t be a match-up of the first and sixth overall picks in the 2020 draft, as Justin Herbert recently lost the starting QB competition to veteran Tyrod Taylor.

Week 2: Bengals at Browns

An early division battle where we could see how Joe Burrow can handle the competitive AFC North.

Week 15: Steelers at Bengals

Joe Burrow under the lights on Monday night. As he always was able to handle the pressure at LSU, it’ll be interesting to see where he and the team are late in the season.

X Factor – QB Joe Burrow

It is always unfair to give the #1 overall pick sky high expectations, especially with picking a QB. It made it even worse when Joe Burrow’s first offseason was cut short due to COVID-19. How much did he get to learn about the offense both on his own and from the Bengals coaching staff? While expectations should be downsized on Burrow, the young QB was the most NFL-ready QB coming out so the season starts and ends with him.

2020 Outlook

With a team that has some decent talent, particularly on offense (A.J. Green, Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd), Joe Burrow is going to have some talent around him to where he can do some stuff. The question relies on their young defense. This team has the potential to go in the 7 to 9-win range, especially if Joe Burrow is as far along as people say he is. The defense, though, will struggle to stop the likes of Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, and even the old Big Ben.

Record: 6-10

(Cover Photo: design by Ryan Waldis, photos via USA Today Sports and the Cincinnati Bengals)

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