The first football game of the 2014 NFL season is now only a little over a day away. That means it is time for the first edition of the 2014 AFC North Power Rankings. This version will be based mostly on my predictions for how the team’s will perform. I will also take into account how the starters performed during the preseason. Here We Go!
4. Cleveland Browns
Who else would land in the basement of the AFC North than the Cleveland Browns. The defense has become much improved over the last few
years, but it still has a little ways to go before it can carry a team with as bad of an offense as the Browns have. Every time I watch Johnny Manziel play I get more and more confident about my evaluation of him. That being that he isn’t a franchise quarterback. Bryan Hoyer isn’t franchise caliber quarterback either.
That means that the Brown’s offense will have to rely on a sub-par quarterback, and oft injured running back, and a very disappointing group of wide receivers. The offensive line is really the only positive on the offensive side of the ball. To even be good enough to contend for a pick outside the top ten will take a monumental step by the offense and progression by a lot of players on the defense.
Next Game: vs Steelers
3. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are always at least a decently good team and I think they will be just that again, but I don’t think they have what it takes to be
anything more than that in 2014. All around they aren’t anything more than average on offense. On defense is where they could separate themselves from being average.
Despite what anyone says, Joe Flacco is by no means an elite quarterback. It looks like he might have trouble getting help from his running backs, too. Unless Gary Kubiak is able to get the full potential from his offense, it could be all up to the defense. That defense is the same one that has aging outside linebackers and inexperience at key positions in the secondary. If the Ravens are going to be able to reach 10 wins and make it back to the playoffs, they are going to need the defense to be strong and the offense to have a bounce back year
Next Game: vs Bengals
2. Cincinnati Bengals
The past three years the Bengals have made the playoffs, but they have failed to win a single game once they got there. A lot of that is due to the
fact that Andy Dalton has been less than stellar in those games. It also has to do with Marvin Lewis. Lewis is, for some reason, touted by some to be among the best coaches in the NFL. But in his entire tenure as the Bengals head coach he has hat little to no playoff success. The Bengals also had one of the worst offseasons by any team in the league. They lost a few key pieces an failed to replace them through free agency or the draft.
The Bengals offense is somewhat limited with Andy Dalton under center. Especially with AJ Green being his only formidable target. Although, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones should provide as nice backup targets. The running backs feature a nice one-two punch from Bernard and Hill, but they won’t be able to do it on their own if Dalton decides to turn the ball over. On defense they should still be good, especially with Geno Atkins back, but they lost Michael Johnson and took Darqueze Dennard, who I am not a fan of at all, in the first round of the draft. Because of that their defensive line and secondary could be less effective in 2014.
Next Game: vs Ravens
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
This may come across as a homer pick, but I truly believe that the Steelers are the best team in the North this season. Big Ben is as good as just about anyone in the league at quarterback. The running backs are better than they have been since The Bus and “Fast” Willie Parker were in
town. Antonio Brown is poised to have another huge year at receiver and I believe that Markus Wheaton is better than either Emmanuel Sanders or Jericho Cotchery. Heath Miller is once again one of the most underrated tight ends in the NFL coming into the year. The offensive line should be as good as it has been in a very long time.
On defense, the line may look sub-par, but I expect Cam Heyward to build upon his breakout year last year. Steve McLendon should also build upon his first year as a starter, and John Mitchell should get Cam Thomas’ full potential to show. I expect Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds to perform much better than expected if both can play healthy and we know that the Timmons-Shazier combination will be a force to be reckoned with. The secondary is the big question mark, where Troy Polamalu has been the only solid player this preseason.
While the team certainly has question marks, I expect the coaches to get the best out of their players. In a division where the Bengals and Browns got worse, and the Steelers certainly improved, I think they are well on their way to making it out of the division and onto the playoffs.