Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Crystal Balls: Pittsburgh Steelers dominate North

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Big Ben Roethlisberger rules the AFC North once again. Our NFL crystal balls find the Steelers rising back on top. Dan Salem and Todd Salem debate in part one of this week’s TD Sports Debate. Two brothers from New York yell, scream and debate the NFL and sports.

 

DAN:

The AFC North looked very similar to the East last season, as far as records are concerned. But this division just feels plain old. I’m not sure where exactly this comes from, but either we are in store for an all out dog fight showcasing the renewed vigor of these teams, or more average football. I’d like to say I’m optimistic, but in the case of the AFC North I am not.

Here’s how the division ended things in 2013:

Cincinnati Bengals 11-5 (division crown)(playoffs)
Pittsburgh Steelers 8-8
Baltimore Ravens 8-8
Cleveland Browns 4-12

I’m going to start at the bottom with the Browns, which is right where they are staying this season. I see a significant improvement from Cleveland this season. They could finish right around .500, which would be a huge jump from just four victories a season ago. But in last place they will remain.

I was an early supporter of letting Johnny Manziel ease into the starting job. He just seemed like he needed the extra time. And with Cleveland in full rebuilding mode, they have no reason to start him until he is truly ready to go. Let this serve as a development year and the Browns may have a brighter future down the road.

The other three teams in the North are perplexing. Each has a notable quarterback at the helm, but none inspire much confidence heading into 2014. In Baltimore I see another season of missed opportunities. Joe Flacco needs more help around him for this team to succeed. Without it they won’t get anywhere near double digit wins.

It’s a similar story in Pittsburgh, but Ben Roethlisberger is a better quarterback. I like the Steelers to bounce back and win the division, but it might be with a 9-7 record. There are just too many question marks with this team. Add in the potential suspensions of its running game and Big Ben will have his work cut of for him.

This leaves the Bengals, who have overachieved these past few seasons. I can’t deny the fact that they have made the playoffs consistently. Yet Cincinnati feels like an injury away from mediocrity. They will be a strong team, but not an eleven win team like last season. Something about them says no, don’t you dare bet on me.

In what amounts to a bunch of good teams with major holes, the Steelers find a way to win the division and return to the playoffs.

 

TODD:

I think you were just trying to be nice to appease the bandwagon Browns fans. There is no way this team reaches a .500 record this season. They are going to challenge someone as perhaps the worst team in the NFL. This has little to do with their recent decision to start Brian Hoyer at quarterback. I actually like Hoyer and was of the opinion that he SHOULD be the starter if Cleveland was actually trying to win as many ballgames this season as possible.

But nothing else is going the Browns’ way. First, there’s the Josh Gordon business. He is by far their best and most talented player. He is most likely missing the entire season, although a ruling has still not been made on his appeal. With Gordon incapacitated, this offense becomes Jordan Cameron at tight end and a lot of misplaced pieces. There’s Miles Austin; Ben Tate will finally be given a chance to be a starting running back; people are high on Terrance West as his backup and Andrew Hawkins as Gordon’s starting replacement. To me, that is a mishmash of parts that would make success for Hoyer or Manziel hard to come by.

Then there’s the Browns’ schedule which does them no favors. They may start the season 0-5 before traveling to Jacksonville week 7.

As for the rest of these teams, I agree that Roethlisberger is the best quarterback in the division. I also agree that may be enough. Baltimore has the whole Ray Rice saga hanging over them in two parts. One, the actual events and the fact that he’s public enemy number one around the league these days. Two, the fact that he was truly terrible last season before any off-field problems arose.

Cincinnati has the whole Andy Dalton saga hanging over them. While Dalton is, by all accounts, a fine human being and has done nothing of note off the field and it is in poor taste/tongue in cheek to compare him to Rice like this, boy did the Bengals put all their eggs in one basket. Paying quarterbacks in the NFL has become a case of ‘good enough.’ Dalton is just good enough to be given an opportunity to play week after week, which is good enough to be named the franchise guy. There just aren’t any viable alternatives to turn to.

I’m worried about this team even outside of their richly mediocre starting QB. It sounds like they still refuse to make Gio Bernard a full-time back, which may be good for his long-term value but hurts the team this season. The defense is also questionable behind the returns of Geno Atkins and Leon Hall. Cincy needs both men to return to Pro Bowl form for that unit to gel.
 

[Part two - Big Ben's Steelers triumphant]

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Tags: 2014 NFL Predictions AFC North Baltimore Ravens Ben Roethlisberger Cincinnati Bengals Cleveland Browns Johnny Manziel NFL Pittsburgh Steelers

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