2023 NFL PREVIEW- AFC NORTH

2023-08-29 · 5 min read · NFL/Football
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Hayden Hurst and Marquise Goodwin

2023 NFL PREVIEW- AFC NORTH
Teams in the AFC North have a reputation for rebuilding quickly, and we will soon see if that’s the case for the likes of Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Those were the only two teams in the division to miss the playoffs in 2022-23, though the AFC North was also the only one in the conference where three clubs (Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers) had a winning record.
Cincinnati is the favourites to capture the division crown once again, and should they do so, they’d achieve something no one has done since the Steelers from 1994-97, win the AFC North for the third successive occasion.
That will be a tall order given the new additions in Baltimore, along with Deshaun Watson preparing for his first full season with the Browns and Kenny Pickett maturing into a solid QB near the tail end of the previous campaign.
With that in mind, here’s a look at each team in the division and my predictions.
Cincinnati Bengals
Key Additions
  • Orlando Brown- Offensive Tackle- Kansas City Chiefs
  • Nick Scott- Safety- Los Angeles Rams
  • Irv Smith- Tight End- Minnesota Vikings
Key Subtractions
  • Hayden Hurst- Tight End- Carolina Panthers
  • Eli Apple- Cornerback- Miami Dolphins
  • Jessie Bates- Safety- Atlanta Falcons
Biggest Strength
After leading Cincy to the Super Bowl in his sophomore campaign, Joe “Cool”, aka Joe Burrow, showed no signs of a let-down in 2022-23, throwing for 4,475 yards in the regular season, good for fifth in the league.
The first overall pick in 2020 sustained a calf strain during training camp, which has Bengals’ fans on pins and needles, given how much of an impact he’s had on this team, throwing for a franchise record 35 touchdowns last season and completing 414 passes, as Cincinnati finished 12-4, their best record since 2015 (12-4).
If he’s healthy, this team should be among the most dangerous offensive units throwing the ball, with the precision of Burrow, combined with the breakaway speed and soft hands of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
Biggest Weakness
Having Orlando Brown should give Burrow some reassurance; however, pass protection is still an area that could plague Zac Taylor’s crew in 2023-24, as they gave up 44 sacks in the previous regular season and allowed five to the Chiefs in the AFC title game.
Burrow is a tough customer and has shown that he can still be effective even with all the hits he’s taken; however, not having to operate in second or third-long situations too often could mean the difference between another Super Bowl appearance or an early playoff exit for this team.
Prediction- First in AFC North
The Bengals are set up well to be among the favourites to contend for the Super Bowl in the foreseeable future, and this team, as good as they’ve been, will be fuelled by the disappointments suffered over the past two seasons.
Cleveland Browns
Key Additions
  • Dalvin Tomlinson- Defensive Tackle- Minnesota Vikings
  • Marquise Goodwin- Wide Receiver- Seattle Seahawks
  • Juan Thornhill- Safety- Kansas City Chiefs
Key Subtractions
  • Jadeveon Clowney- Defensive End
  • Kareem Hunt- Running Back
  • Za’Darius Smith- Defensive End- Minnesota Vikings
Biggest Strength
Combining the scrambling ability of Watson alongside the sheer power of Nick Chubb out of the backfield, we should see the Browns in numerous short-yardage situations this year.
Chubb was third in NFL rushing yards last season (1,525) and has been to the Pro Bowl in each of the past four campaigns.
His consistency and ability to break tackles should help open the playbook and make this offence more dynamic when combined with Watson.
Biggest Weakness
The Browns were 27th in sacks last season, registering just 34, and they need to make it harder on opposing quarterbacks this year if they want to contend for a playoff berth in what promises to be a very close division.
Prediction- Fourth in AFC North
Cleveland has some more established veterans along the line of scrimmage this year; however, teams in this division have also bolstered their offensive line.
That being said I don’t believe the Browns have enough to make a run at the division this year.
Baltimore Ravens
Key Additions
Odell Beckham- Wide Receiver- Los Angeles Rams
Rock Ya-Sin- Cornerback- Las Vegas Raiders
Laquon Treadwell- Wide Receiver- Baltimore Ravens
Key Subtractions
Calais Campbell- Defensive End- Atlanta Falcons
Josh Oliver- Tight End- Minnesota Vikings
Demarcus Robinson- Los Angeles Rams
Biggest Strength
Since Baltimore regained an NFL franchise in the 90s this club’s identity has been its stingy, tough-as-nails defence, and that should be the backbone of this team in 2023.
Roquan Smith helped shore up a linebacking corps that allowed a mere 92.1 rushing yards in the previous regular season, one of only three teams to allow under 100 per game on the ground.
If Patrick Queen can stay healthy and draft pick Trenton Simpson lives up to his billing, this should be one of the hardest units to run the ball against in 2023.
Biggest Weakness
Having Lamar Jackson locked up makes this team a playoff contender; however, I have questions about who will emerge as the favourite target down the field.
Odell Beckham is the most likely to fill those shoes, but coming off a torn ACL, has he lost a step?
Outside of him, Zay Flowers showed lots of promise in college, and Laquon Treadwell can add some depth, but overall, I don’t see enough quality pass catchers that’ll make this team all that dangerous aerially.
Prediction- Second in AFC North
Even though their upgrades at the receiving position for me were minor, Lamar’s athletic ability and that stingy defensive unit should be a recipe for, at the very least, a spot in the wildcard round this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers
Key Additions
  • Allen Robinson- Wide Receiver- Los Angeles Rams
  • Patrick Peterson- Cornerback- Minnesota Vikings
  • Isaac Seumalo- Guard- Philadelphia Eagles
Key Subtractions
  • Cameron Sutton- Cornerback- Detroit Lions
  • Devin Bush- Linebacker- Seattle Seahawks
  • Robert Spillane- Linebacker- Las Vegas Raiders
Biggest Strength
The veteran addition of Patrick Peterson and the drafting of Joey Porter Jr. should improve their pass coverage, an area that was relatively solid in 2022.
Bringing in Keanu Neal to compliment three-time Pro Bowler Minkah Fitzpatrick should make it difficult to throw the ball against this group.
Biggest Weakness
Pickett grew a lot in the second half of last season; however, his receiving corps is far from top-notch.
Diontae Johnson and George Pickens are good, and Allen Robinson has potential, but the way I see it there are no marquee pass catchers on this roster that can be depended on in the clutch.
Prediction- Third in AFC North
Kenny Pickett doesn’t have a lot of extraordinary personnel to help him out this season, so I project they’ll keep games close defensively, but I don’t see them putting up many offensive points.
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By: Joel Lefevre

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