1. Texans 2. Colts 3. Jaguars 4. Titans
Houston Texans (12-4)
Despite the dominate headlines of Andrew Luck and the AFC South, the Texans have all tools and personnel to be successful and finally take over this division. Lets start on the dominant side of the ball which is their defense. A vicious pass rush led by Watt and Clowney will guarantee this defense an average of 3 sacks, 10 hurries, 6 knock downs, and 4 pass deflections (at the line). If you think about how most teams have an average of 40 drop backs a game, more than half of those will be disrupted by this defense. If the the back 4 or 5 guys in the secondary can manage to stay close to the receiver they should be in a great position to succeed. Offensively, analysts and fans alike are concerned with the absence of Arian Foster for the 1st half of the season, but that is why Alfred Blue was drafted to eventually succeed him. LSU running backs have had success in the NFL as of late, just ask Jeremy Hill. The Texans have always been a run first ball club, and they have a plethora of weapons on the outside. Despite the QB controversy in camp ask the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and while your at it, ask the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers who their starting QB's were and you will be surprised. A hungry and thorough defense, a tough running game, and possession receivers can have success in this league. In my opinion whoever Bill O'Brien chooses as the starting QB will be just enough to carry the Texans deep into the playoffs.
Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
The Indianapolis Colts are the favorite to not only win this division but possibly this year's Superbowl as Vegas has given them the best odds. There is no doubt that Luck is a top 5 quarterback even at his young age. However he has yet to have even the slightest blemish in his career so far and I am anticipating that to happen this year. Yes, I am aware that Andrew Luck spent the offseason on focusing on limiting his turnovers but he has not proven this. I also am so high on the Texans and so low on the “upgrades” that the Colts have made defensively that I am not sold on their continued progression. Vontae Davis will continue to be an elite corner, but Mike Adams is getting up there in age which makes the deep middle third a vulnerable area in the secondary. Their front seven has a bunch of holes that still have not been filled. This team once again will look to its young quarterback to carry them back to the post season for the 4th year in a row. This will be considered a “down” year for Luck but they will still manage to make the playoffs as a wildcard team.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)
Believe it or not the Jaguars are returning the majority of their interior lineman on both sides of the football. Adding Julias Thomas gives them a more than formidable front line protecting Blake Bortles as well as his first legitimate veteran receiving threat. Speaking of Blake this is an essential year in his development, as the Jaguars will need to find out if this is going to be their franchise quarterback or will need to move on. There are reasons to shout and reasons to be excited in Jacksonville. They have an explosive young core of receivers in Robinson, Hurns, and Lee. All three who bring speed, yards after catch ability, and big play potential. Continuity is the name of the game, and although I’m not sold on Bortles, they should be closer to a .500 team rather than a lottery team by year’s end. The secondary is mediocre at best and unless TJ Yeldon becomes unstoppable at runningback don't expect too much from Jacksonville.
Tennessee Titans (4-12) [1-5]
Marcus Mariota is coming in as a promising rookie who is expected to make life better in Tennessee. We have seen enough in the pre-season to know that he will eventually be a solidified starter in the NFL--but not this year. Zach Mettenberger has looked like the better more polished quarterback so far. The weapons surrounding him are about as just as raw as he is with Justin Hunter, and Kendall Wright. They bring in Harry Douglas and Hakeem Nicks both who are marginal 3rd tier receivers on any given team in the league, but not your go to guy. There is little to have confidence in when it comes to the weapons on offense. It is hard to see this team winning more than 5 games. Defensively, Orakpo brings all-pro talent but an injury-marred past. Devin McCourty has been getting beat often in preseason and don’t get me started about Wreh-Wilson’s performance from last year. Hopefully the lackluster roster does not have a negative impact on Mariota’s development.
Regardless of how many snaps he played, when healthy he is still a top 10 defensive end. Now with a full NFL off season under his belt, and a full year in the presence of JJ Watt, I expect Jadeveon to be a quiet terror for the Houston Texans. Although this is both an easy and safe prediction in terms of a break out player, you never know how someone will come back from injury. I’m not too concerned when it comes to this freakish athlete.
Rookie to watch
Dorsett has off the way measurables, and you are throwing him to an offense that already has T.Y. Hilton and Moncreif. At best Philip will line up against the other teams 3rd, and 4th corners and safeties and he will feast upon them. He can ultimately stretch the field on any type of vertical route and he is a danger in the return game. Given he remains healthy, expect a few offensive rookie of the week and month awards for this receiver in Indianapolis.
Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
The Ravens' season was cut short by the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in what some would call a shoot out in the AFC championship game. The Ravens' staple has been defense being led by Hall of Famers in the past such as Ed Reed, and Ray Lewis. But now, with Haloti moving on to Detroit in the off-season, and a new core of defensive backs the Baltimore Ravens are in search for their new defensive leader that will carry the team year in and year out. Offensively they look to bring all their weapons back and add a new toy in Perriman. And although Flacco has had a more than adequate group of receivers during this reign, he's never had this type of threat on the outside that is making early comparisons to Dez. Steve Smith Sr has announced this will be his last season, so expect an encore and dog fight every game. Barring any defensive back injury set backs the Ravens should fight through but eventually conquer the majority of their AFC competitors.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
Cincinnati has been the most consistent team in terms of expectations in the AFC North. Marvin Lewis has began a winning tradition in Cincy and as result Andy Dalton got paid like an elite Quarterback in the NFL. I believe the same meltdown that Atlanta encountered last year will occur this year for the Bengals. When you have the same mundane voice in the locker room preaching year in and year out, for over a decade it can have a dulling affect in the locker room. Despite Marvin's 2-year extension, complacency will creep in for both Dalton and the Bengals as they take a small step back in the divisional power ranking. This team lives and dies on the play of the defense and the health of AJ Green. And yea they are deep at running back, it ultimately comes down to Andy. At best Andy is a poor man's Matt Ryan and with the prominent number of rising AFC quarterbacks in addition to the "living legends" their is no room for mediocrity.
Cleveland Browns (8-8)
The Browns are due for a few surprises this year, but the playoffs are not one. Defensively the Cleveland Browns return many of their core standout players. Joe Haden ranks among the top 5 corners in the league and is very close to being shut down if not already considered one. Another year of continuity with Mike Pettine at the helm will do some good for the Browns. If your confident in Luke McCown as your starting quarterback in this division than I'm confident in the Browns being a 500 ball team. There is no name worthy ball carrier relieving the pressure Either. If Johnny enters the picture he doesn't have the respectable weapon unless your calling Dwayne Bowe elite. The D will manage to win them 4 games, their kicker will win 2, and Luke and Johnny can net out 1 a piece. If Pettine is not fired by Week 10, he will be by week 16.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-10)
After a brief playoff appearance last year. I predict the Steelers will take a step back. The first season without Polamalu, Dick Lebau, and a locker room full of talented but under-performing, unproven younger players. My main concern outside of the defensive ineptitude is the brutal schedule. Aside from the fact that all AFC North teams play nearly identical schedules. The Steelers post bye week schedule is a gauntlet at the time of year where your 2nd string player are starters due to injuries and they already lack great depth. Antonio Brown will see a lot more man under and double teams forcing the younger Martavias Bryant and rookie Sammy Coates to come up big. Bell is not ready to be a bell-house running back and although he was highly productive so was Doug Martin and Giovanni Bernard. He still needs to grow as a man. Pittsburgh is a few defensive personnel changes from being in contention once again.
Dre Kirkpatrick CB Cincinnati Bengals
High expectations were placed on the corner from Alabama when he was drafted 5 years ago. Since he became a member of the Bengals, they have been particularly deep at the corner position. With the exit of Terrance Newman, and both Hall and Jones being considered "over the hill" 10 year vets, look for Kirkpatrick to take on a larger responsibility in taking on the bigger receivers in the AFC. Marvin has been patient in the development of his 1st round draft pick, and now it is time to put it all together on the field. Whether it be through performance or injury--Dre will be thrown into the mix at defensive back this year and should have some success in the Cincinnati secondary.
AFC North Rookie of the Year
Danny Shelton DL Cleveland Browns
Typically all 1st round draft picks are considered "Rookies to watch" but in the case of Shelton, much is riding on the shoulders of the 6'2", 300 pound defensive lineman. Danny is expected to be the center piece of an elite front 7, and a potential top 5 NFL defense. The Browns have been solid in pass defense so if Shelton can provide the plug in the run defense for coach Pettine than the Browns will be able to play in any game against any opponent. Shelton has every opportunity to be a rookie sensation for the Cleveland Browns in this upcoming NFL season.
Created Hiphop and Home Runs in 2014 out of his broadcasting studio in Queens, NY. Visit daily to find updates and breaking news in the urban sports community
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