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Monday, 21 January, 2019

Verdicts on Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh

Ravens QB Joe Flacco has better weapons

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco
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Baltimore Ravens

2017 9-7 Coach John Harbaugh
QB Joe Flacco RB Alex Collins
Major Ins WR Michael Crabtree, WR John Brown
Major Outs C Ryan Jensen, OT Austin Howard
Top draft picks TE Hayden Hurst (first round), QB Lamar Jackson (first round)

So much of the Ravens' fortunes revolve around quarterback Joe Flacco but this year he has some strong receiving weapons and the knowledge that if he proves not to be up to scratch, last season's Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is waiting in the wings.

Running back Alex Collins is highly thought of and they have a defence who led the league in interceptions last season.

If they have a similarly solid season it would not be a big shock if they squeeze into the playoffs, but Flacco needs to show more consistency to get them over the line.

Cincinnati Bengals

2017 7-9 Coach Marvin Lewis
QB Andy Dalton RB Joe Mixon
Major Ins OT Cordy Glenn, LB Preston Brown
Major Outs C Russell Bodine, RB Jeremy Hill
Top draft picks C Billy Price (1), S Jessie Bates (2)

The Bengals possessed the league's worst offence last season - they sacked their offensive coordinator after just two games - and quarterback Andy Dalton has to step up. In his defence, Cincinnati's offensive line was so poor last term that they didn't really give him a chance and that means running back Joe Mixon could be in for a difficult second season. The defence also hasn't show enough to suggest that a sharp change in fortunes is in prospect and star linebacker Vontaze Burfict is suspended for the first four games.

Cleveland Browns

2017 0-16 Coach Hue Jackson
QB Tyrod Taylor RB Carlos Hyde
Major Ins QB Tyrod Taylor, WR Jarvis Landry
Major Outs DT Danny Shelton, RB Isaiah Crowell
Top draft picks QB Baker Mayfield (1), CB Denzel Ward (1)

With just one win in the last two seasons, there really is only one way for the Browns to go, but there remains optimism with the acquisition of QB Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and running back Carlos Hyde.

Those bold acquisitions of experienced talent contrast with their previous concentration on the draft and they also still selected QB Baker Mayfield and CB Denzel Ward at number one and number four.

There is undoubtedly potential at Cleveland but they found too many ways to lose last season when in good positions and coach Hue Jackson is far from blameless. 

Six wins would represent progress but a tough schedule makes bouncing straight back from a miserable campaign to the playoffs optimistic.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2017 13-3 Coach Mike Tomlin
QB Ben Roethlisberger RB Le'Veon Bell
Major Ins LB J Bostic, S Morgan Burnett
Major Outs OT C Hubbard, S Mike Mitchell
Top draft picks S Terrell Edmunds (1), WR James Washington (2)

The Steelers are undoubtedly still the team to beat in the north and with Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and the league's best receiver Antonio Brown, they have a frightening amount of playmaking talent.

Expect wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster to make a big contribution as well.

On the other side of the ball, traditionally Pittsburgh's strength, they will have to deal with the loss of linebacker Ryan Shazier, which is a big blow, but they are still a strong unit.

Mike Tomlin's team should win the division and they are likely to be a big force in the AFC Championship shake-up.

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The Steelers are undoubtedly still the team to beat in the north
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