This series looks at the eight divisions in the NFL, predicting the win-loss records of each team. In total, 256 games are played in an NFL regular season, as 32 teams play 16 games each across a 17-week season.
The AFC North had a combined record of 29 wins and 35 losses in 2017-18, but owed 16 of those to the Cleveland Browns. It was a year that went according to script, as the Pittsburgh Steelers claimed the division for the third year in the last four.
A 13-3 record, crafted by key play-makers on the offense, led them to the second seed in the AFC. The Baltimore Ravens, led by a defensive core of C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle, managed a 9-7 record, just missing the playoffs. The Cincinnati Bengals seemed to see their playoff window close, as they stuttered to a win-loss ratio of 7-9, continuing a downward trend from 2016-17. For the Cleveland Browns, it was another season to forget. A 0-16 record, recorded for just the second time in NFL history, ensured drastic steps were taken in the 2018 off-season.
Will the Steelers retain the division title in 2018-19? How will the balance between present and future affect the Ravens? Can the Bengals reverse the downwards spiral? Is there hope for the Browns?
Let’s look into the crystal ball for the 2018-19 regular season.
Division Champions: Pittsburgh Steelers
Predicted record: 12-4
Predicted seed: 2
The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t make any huge changes in the off-season. They effectively flipped wideout Martavis Bryant into quarterback Mason Rudolph through a string of trades, and also lost tackle Chris Hubbard to the Cleveland Browns in free agency. However, it’s the loss of offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, that seems their biggest loss. Nonetheless, Juju Smith-Schuster is emerging as a top receiver, as he learns from and partners with Antonio Brown. Le’veon Bell and a still-capable Ben Roethlisberger fill out the other skill positions, leaving the Steelers with one of the most potent offenses in the league. If they slide in 2018-19, it won’t be far. Expect the Steelers to continue to dominate the division for a while.
Division Runner-Ups: Cleveland Browns
Predicted record: 6-10
Predicted seed: 10
In what seems to be a turning point, the Cleveland Browns are set to earn a few wins in 2018-19. Key acquisitions at key positions have been made, a fresh batch of rookies seem promising, and hope is in the air. The Browns upgraded at quarterback (Tyrod Taylor), receiver (Jarvis Landry), tackle (Chris Hubbard), running back (Carlos Hyde), linebacker (Mychal Kendricks), and drafted Denzel Ward to improve their cornerback depth chart. Oh, and don’t forget about the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, quarterback Baker Mayfield. A young team with a lot of potential, the Browns are bound to improve at some point. With the acquisition of former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, expect a new and revamped approach. It sounds crazy, but I’m backing the Browns for six, count them, SIX (6) wins in 2018-19.
Division Third Place: Baltimore Ravens
Predicted record: 6-10
Predicted seed: 11
The Baltimore Ravens are in a state of transition. Although they claimed second place in the division in 2017-18 with a record of 9-7, they failed to beat any teams that finished with a winning record. They forfeited a position in the playoffs in their final home game, a 27-31 loss to the Bengals at home. Now, having drafted their quarterback of the future, Lamar Jackson, it’s clear that the Ravens are set for a period of rebuilding. Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco and Eric Weddle have all reached age 33, and prospects Alex Collins, Marlon Humphrey, Orlando Brown Jr. and Hayden Hurst are still developing. The Ravens will be back, but for the next couple of years, they may just slide down the standings in the AFC. Hey, at least kicker Justin Tucker is one of the best players at his position in the NFL!
Division Fourth Place: Cincinnati Bengals
Predicted record: 4-12
Predicted seed: 15
The Bengals are firmly declining, having missed the playoffs in their last two seasons. Although they boast talent in A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and Tyler Eiffert, each of those players is coming off a poor year. It doesn’t get much better from there either, as the supporting cast lacks excitement and potential. Geno Atkins and Cordy Glenn bolster both the offensive and defensive lines, but the Bengals are a mediocre team. A lack of movement in the roster and coaching staff seems odd, given the slide of the team. In a league that is constantly changing, the worst sin is to be static. That’s what the Bengals have done this off season, and it doesn’t read well for them for 2018-19.
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