The reputation for this division is long-standing. Tough, hard-nosed, gritty, and cold are all attributed to the AFC North, and for good reason. The division has shifted over the past few years. The Steelers and Ravens have long been the two teams usually in the mix, but until recently - Pittsburgh was always the blue-blood team to beat. The Ravens with Lamar Jackson have completely flipped that narrative, and with Pittsburgh in the midst of a transition, there was little to stand in their way last year. But the division should be more competitive in 2020. The Browns had the roster last year, and this year believe they now have the coach too. The Bengals are chomping at the bit to unveil their brand-new rookie quarterback in Joe Burrow, and expect to take a big step forward in his debut season. In the end, the Bengals are probably still a year or two away, but for the other three teams - the time is now.
Baltimore Ravens (O/U 11.5)
The Ravens enter 2020 with Super Bowl aspirations. They've been a playoff team in each of the last two years since Lamar Jackson became the starter, but they've also gotten their lunch stolen from them in both playoff games. Baltimore is hungry to take the next step, and they should have everything in place to do just that. The Ravens were unbelievably explosive last year running the ball, but it's led to a misconception that they were unable to throw it. Jackson grew drastically as a passer from year one to year two, throwing 36 TD passes - which led the entire league. The league should catch up to some of offensive coordinator Greg Roman's run schemes and slow down the rushing attack a little, but the Ravens are more balanced than most realize. Expect this offense to dominate again. Their main concern is staying healthy.
My Prediction: 12-4
The Ravens shouldn't be quite as dominant through the regular season, but I still see no reason why they can't win 12 games. They have the best roster in the division by a wide margin, and in fact should have a personnel advantage in most games they play in. They'll need Lamar to continue to progress as a thrower, because some regression in their running game is coming. But if he can take even a fraction of the stride he took between the '18 and '19 season, Baltimore will be just fine.
Cleveland Browns (O/U 8.5)
Key Additions: QB Case Keenum, T Jedrick Wills (1st RD Pick), FB Andy Janovich, T Jack Conklin, TE Austin Hooper, S Karl Joseph , DI Andrew Billings, CB Kevin Johnson, S Andrew Sendejo, EDGE Adrian Clayborn
The Browns are an interesting post-hype team coming into 2020. They disappointed greatly last year when many considered Cleveland a playoff team following their flurry of offseason moves. QB Baker Mayfield was worse last season than as a rookie and their coaching staff was atrocious. But with a new direction under GM Andrew Berry and HC Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland's coming out party could just be a year later than everyone thought. Stefanski led Kirk Cousins to his best season yet in Minnesota last year, and he walks into a locker room filled with talent. If Baker Mayfield can make a jump in his third year and a few things break their way, the Browns just may challenge for the division.
My Prediction: 9-7
I thought Cleveland was bound for a wild card last year, and I was wrong. But similar to Dallas, it was never about the personnel. Sure, Mayfield wasn't good - but the chief problem in Cleveland was the coaching staff, and has been for some time. I could easily be wrong, but I finally think the Browns have solid leadership. Stefanski's track record is solid and the front office's first offseason and draft went well. After all they hype in 2019, there isn't a lot of buzz in Cleveland right now, and I think there should be.
Pittsburgh Steelers (O/U 9.5)
The Steelers are in a very weird space in their franchise right now. They're in the midst of a transition, but it's not a rebuild in the classical sense. The days of the killer bees are gone, save for one, and even Big Ben is one hit away from retirement. Throughout a 2019 season that saw Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges start 14 games combined at the quarterback position, the Steelers were still very competitive finishing 8-8. With the re-emergence of their defense, if Roethlisberger can stay healthy the ceiling is the roof for this team. But what's the likelihood of that happening? Statistically - not good. But if Pittsburgh can get 16 games of worthwhile quarterback production, they have enough pieces to make the north very interesting.
My Prediction: 8-8
I just don't see any way Big Ben plays sixteen games. Even if he does, who's to say he's any good still? The elbow surgery he underwent last year was significant, and players like Drew Brees and Tom Brady have distracted us from what's normal at the end of a career. Maybe he has one last run left in him, and if he can find a way to empty the tank, the team is good enough to contend for the whole thing. It's just hard to envision the offense consistently scoring many points this year.
Cincinnati Bengals (O/U 5.5)
Cincy has to be thanking their lucky stars. It was always likely they'd move off Andy Dalton and pick a QB, but to have Joe Burrow land in your lap? From the state of Ohio no less? What a gift. Even so, the Bengals still face a steep uphill climb to catch up to the rest of the division. They're a distant fourth in terms of talent, and for as good as Joe Burrow was at LSU last year, this isn't the SEC and OC Joe Brady isn't walking through the door. He'll have his ups and downs, but the ultimate question mark is the coaching staff. Second year HC Zac Taylor inherited such a brutal team last year it was impossible to get a read on his coaching ability. Depending on how things go this year, that may still be the case a year from now. Either way you slice it, the Bengals have a long road ahead.
My Prediction: 4-12
The team may be headed in the right direction, but Joe Burrow likely had better coaching AND pass catchers a season ago in college. I think he'll have ups and downs and struggle like any rookie. The Bengals aren't concerned with winning this season, as much as they are positioning themselves for the future. Couple that with the fact the other three teams in the division are quite talented and I think it equals a big number in the loss column for Cincinnati this fall.