What coach is on the hot seat? Which coordinator could ascend as hot coaching prospect?
There are many obvious answers in play here, between Marvin Lewis and any number of the Browns’ coaching staff. A name that might surprise more of the NFL fandom is John Harbaugh. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti admitted in early February that he had considered firing Harbaugh after the 2017 season. Why not in 2018, if the Ravens once again miss the playoffs and look underwhelming along the way?
If firing Harbaugh seems too drastic come season’s end, the Ravens might look next to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. They have Lamar Jackson’s future to consider, after all – they will want a good schemer to bring him along properly.
Which team will have the best offense? Defense?
Even if Le’Veon Bell continues his hold out into the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers still have the best offense in the AFC North. Ben Roethlisberger still has go to guys at wide receiver in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. If Bell remains out, second year running back James Conner becomes the starting running back. If Conner can put up decent rushing numbers, the Steelers offense will be fine. Expect the Cleveland Browns to be much improved on offense under former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The Ravens and Bengals have question marks on offense entering 2018. If those questions can be answered early, the AFC North could be an interesting race down the stretch.
The Steelers will still have the best defense in the AFC North, even with linebacker Ryan Shazier sidelined for the season. Cameron Heyward should lead the black and gold in sacks along the defensive line. Secondary is always a concern. Once again, keep your eyes on the Browns defense. Myles Garrett is healthy to start 2018. He will make a huge impact in his sophomore season. Expectations are also high for rookie cornerback Denzel Ward. The Ravens and Bengals will have good games and bad games on defense throughout 2018.
Which coordinator could ascend as hot coaching prospect?
In all honesty, Todd Haley looks to succeed Hue Jackson. Haley could slide in the top spot, tutor Baker Mayfield, and get Cleveland rolling. In addition, the Cleveland offense will flourish under Haley and the vast array of weapons.
Which rookie will have the best season in 2018?
When looking to see the top AFC North rookie, first I pulled the player I thought could be the top rookie for each team. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was James Washington. With Terrell Edmunds being behind Morgan Burnett and a lot of depth pieces drafted later, Washington is the obvious choice. The Bengals will start Billy Price and Jessie Bates right away.
Due to Bates playing the free safety role and having the potential to change the game with turnovers, I chose him over Price, who is also coming off an offseason injury. For the Browns, Denzel Ward seems evident as a top-five pick that will start next season at cornerback. The Ravens present Hayden Hurst, but Hurst is dealing with foot injuries and is competing with rookie Mark Andrews as well as Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle for time at tight end.
Therefore, I went with Kenny Young, who could turn into an excellent cover linebacker next to C.J. Mosley. Therefore, the answer may be Ward, but statistically, it would be Washington. Washington is going to get most of Martavis Bryant targets last season, and 60 receptions as a rookie are not out of the question. However, Ward has Defensive Player of the Year potential with his shut down ability as a press cornerback. If he can overcome his height issue, he will be the top rookie in this group.
Who is getting too much love? Too little?
I am not sure anyone in the AFC North is receiving ‘too much’ love. Fans seem appropriately hesitant regarding the Steelers – they do not deserve to be crowned this early with what they are dealing with. What hype there is around the Ravens and Bengals has not gotten ahead of realistic expectations. With the Browns, it is hard to say. ‘Loving’ them might just mean hoping that they win four to six games. Some fans think they are a playoff team, but they already know how bold that belief is.
As far as not receiving enough love, that might be the Bengals – even if the preseason has changed some minds. It was not until recently that the Bengals’ betting odds to win the AFC North (or anything) moved closer to those of the Ravens than the Browns. On offense, they have a quarterback, enough of a line, and several weapons. On defense, they have a great pool of edge rushers and cornerbacks. If any individual player has not received enough love yet, his name is William Jackson III. That will change sooner than later.
Which offseason acquisition will be the best? The worst?
When the Ravens signed Michael Crabtree, no one blinked. However, Crabtree gives Joe Flacco a receiver with the ability to run the entire route tree. Moreover, Crabtree’s strong hands navigate through traffic. Although not the fastest, the stutter go will beat corners deep.
While TJ Carrie showed versatility in Oakland, his 31 million dollar contract screams reach. Granted, Carrie can line up anywhere, he lacks one particular outstanding trait. At best, his play appears above average.
Who will be the offensive and defensive MVP of the division?
The offensive MVPs would likely come from Pittsburgh. Whether it is Antonio Brown or Ben Roethlisberger, the two will be collecting stats together and will probably be leading their group into the playoffs. A.J. Green of the Bengals could make some noise that he has some talent around him to take the pressure away. Jarvis Landry also may be peppered with targets. However, while they are excellent receivers, Brown is on an all-time great type of run right now. Knocking him off his throne would be tough.
The Baltimore Ravens get more involved in the discussion when you talk about defensive MVP. They bring C.J. Mosley, a genuinely elite linebacker to the table. The Bengals have a duo in Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap who deserve recognition, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have Cameron Heyward coming off a 12-sack season as a 3-4 defensive end. Even the Browns possess the sleeper in this group with Myles Garrett having all of the tools for a breakout season.
As for the winner, it should come down to Atkins with his new contract, and Heyward fresh off finally getting national recognition last season. Sometimes in the media, voters tend to overrate a player a season after a breakout season, to make up for underrating him for so long. With sacks being such a substantial determining factor amongst voters, it will almost certainly come down to these two, with Atkins seeing the slight edge due to long-term name recognition
What will be the best game (assuming standing and importance) within the division in 2018?
We may not have to wait long to watch the best game in the AFC North in 2018. It will take place this Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. There is a lot of excitement for the Browns and Steelers. Cleveland could be catching Pittsburgh at the right time. Cleveland has not beaten Pittsburgh since 2014. The Browns have not won a season opener since 2004 and are 1-18 in season openers since 1999. Pittsburgh could be without Le’Veon Bell on Sunday. The Browns played the Steelers tough in both games in 2017. The X-Factor could be Todd Haley. Will his offense he ran in Pittsburgh come back to haunt his old team? It should be an exciting game to watch on Sunday.