The Steelers are still the best team in the division, but the other teams have reasons to look forward to this year as well. Here are five things to look for in the AFC North in 2018.
The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl back in 2012 as part of the Ray Lewis retirement tour. Ever since then, things haven’t been overly pretty for the AFC North.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have remained respectable – even been pretty darn good – reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2016 and coming up a win short of getting back there the following year. But for a division that shared three Super Bowl winners in an eight-year stretch from 2005 to 2012 (two for Pittsburgh, one for Baltimore), as well as an additional Super Bowl appearance by the Steelers in 2010, the AFC North has taken somewhat of a hit.
Of course, the 0-16 Cleveland Browns and playoff-winless Cincinnati Bengals haven’t done much to help that situation either. 2018 looks to feature more of the same for the Bengals, but for the other three teams in the division, things might be looking up a bit.
With that being said, here are five things to look for in the AFC North in 2018…
5. Phase 1 of John Dorsey’s rebuild plan in Cleveland
Things might indeed be looking up for the Cleveland Browns, but a lot of that stems from the fact that they simply couldn’t look any more down than they already are. For the Browns, up is the only direction to go.
Cleveland suffered through a miserable 0-16 season last year, bringing head coach Hue Jackson’s record to a horrendous 1-31. There have been a lot of lows for this organization over the last two decades, but it hit rock bottom in 2017.
New general manager John Dorsey has a plan to get the Browns back to respectability, but it’s going to take a few years for the results to start paying off. In 2018, Cleveland is simply looking to pick up a few wins. That will be the first phase of this rebuild.
The Browns have acquired some pieces to do that. They traded for Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo for a little bit of stability at the quarterback position – something Cleveland hasn’t had in ages. In three years as the starter for the Bills, Taylor went 22-20 and even led them to a playoff appearance last season.
Taylor isn’t going to be winning any Super Bowls for the Browns, but they’ll at least have a respectable starter in 2018. They also drafted Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in the draft, who went 33-3 as a starter at Oklahoma. Once the Browns are moving in the upward direction, Mayfield will take over as the team’s franchise quarterback of the future.
The Browns also acquired wide receiver Jarvis Landry from Miami, and they are hoping to get a full season out of star receiver Josh Gordon, who has missed a lot of action over the last few years due to off-the-field issues. Browns fans shouldn’t hold their breath on Gordon – he’s constantly disappointing them – but Cleveland might also be a landing spot for former Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant. Adding Bryant to the mix would be a big impact move by Dorsey, and would give the fans another thing to be excited about.
Either way, the Browns are in the process of getting back on the right track. It’s just going to take some time to build. We’ll see what kind of strides Dorsey’s team can make in the first year of this rebuild.