Tired of this series yet? I'm not. Thank you to all the viewers of the NFC North thread, it got up to 500 views in 2 days and for a brand new blog, that's a great turnout. Today we tackle the AFC North, a division with two teams that played at an extremely high level, and two team still figuring things out. The Bengals, despite an injury to QB Andy Dalton late in the season, won the division with ease but were unable to advance past division rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wildcard of the AFC Playoffs. The Steelers were unable to advance past the eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos, and that ended the run of the AFC North in 2015-2016.
1. Ben "Big Ben" Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
When healthy Big Ben is without a doubt the best quarterback in the AFC North. The two time Super Bowl champion spent a lot of 2015 on the season but that didn't stop this Steelers team from winning a wildcard spot. With notable performances throughout the season, specifically the Denver game at home, Big Ben showed his leadership and ability in a huge comeback win after the Steelers gave up 27 in the first half. Ben through a few to many INTs this season in my opinion, but the stats never tell the story on who caused what. All I know is, AB is healthy, Le'Veon Bell is expected back, and free agent signing Ladarius Green is a freak athlete. Expect this Steelers team to compete for the division belt back and a playoff spot.
Stat Prediction: 5,200 yards 30 TDs 12 INTs and the single season receiving record for Antonio Brown, you heard it here first.
2. Andy Dalton. Cincinnati Bengals
This one was tough. Andy or Joe, and honestly I'm going with Andy. I have not forgotten Joe Flacco's playoff performance by any means. The problem is, he hasn't done anything else for me to forget about the playoffs. Andy Dalton, however, has gotten better ever year he has been in the league. Something clicked in him this year. Like for real, he played like a mad man. He went from game manager to game changer this season and almost had this team at the 1 seed had it not been for a late season injury. While the Bengals defense played elite last season, Andy did the best thing he could do, keep them off the field. Dalton threw 10 less interceptions in 2015 than in 2014 and 6 more touchdowns. Mind you, he played 3.5 less games in 2015. Also worth noting, the Bengals lost 2 of their first 12 games, and both those games were to playoff teams in games decided by less than a touchdown. Dalton played well above the well known "Dalton Line" and with the current talent plus second pick WR Tyler Boyd its hard to bet against Dalton this year.
Stat Prediction: 3,700 Yards 30TDs 10INTs and new pair of "totally not stickum" gloves for Jeremy Hill.
3. Joe "Elite" Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Spending most of 2015 on the bench and being unimpressive when he did play, is the reason Flacco is below Dalton on my list. Winning only 3 of their first 10 games, Flacco looked alone out there trying to win games.I have no idea what is going on in Baltimore but every receiver from the Super Bowl team is gone. Boldin, Smith, Jones all gone. The new cast really hasn't been impressive. Steve Smith is still gonna get his, but the rest of this Baltimore team has struggled to make themselves known. First round pick Breshad Perriman has torn his ACL again, and the draft brought only Ronnie Stanley to the offense for Baltimore. I have a lot of respect for John Harbaugh and expect this Baltimore team to do better than 5 wins, but I haven't seen enough from Flacco since the Super Bowl win that makes me feel he is above Andy Dalton at this point. Expect a bounce back in terms of his play, but I don't think they will win enough games to compete for a wild card.
Stat Prediction: 3,800 23 TDs 14 INTs, Ice Up Son.
4. Robert Griffin III, Cleveland Browns
For once I feel Cleveland made a great draft day decision. They secured a ton of picks with the trade back, and really picked up some good depth. Notably, Baylor WR Corey Coleman. It looks like an all Baylor offense if they can get Josh Gordon reinstated, and that instantly turns into a dangerous pass attack. I'm putting faith in Hue Jackson to turn around this offense specifically through the RB position. Jackson loves his RBs and they have a good stable in Cleveland with Crowell and Duke Johnson. If they can get the run going, it will open up doors for RG3 who is excellent in the play action. Getting confidence back into the young quarterback can do wonders for this team but expectations are not high, as there is just too much to fix right now in Cleveland. RG3 better get that confidence back fast though, the AFC North is not a place for weak quarterbacks. They kill each other in those parts.
Stat Prediction: 3,300 Yards 22 TDs 8 INTs and 24 hour coverage of Johnny Manziel.