Joy Divisions – AFC North

Before the season starts, myself and good friend of the podcast Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90) will give a summary of each division, how we see it playing out over the season along with some players to target in fantasy in each.

AFC North:

On first look, it may be a simple one to solve, but the Steelers always make heavy weather of things…

TIM

Pittsburgh Steelers:Β 

Steelers have kind of owned the division for a while now and I have sneaky suspicions that they will either blow the division away again, or collapse and fall apart (potentially leading to Big Ben retiring, especially if he continues to self destruct when talk of Mason Rudolph surfaces). Whilst I believe it’s more likely of the former, their defence is not going to be as strong without Ryan Shazier and is a far cry from previous Pittsburgh defences.

On the offence, Martavis Bryant has left for Oakland and they have new shiny draft pick James Washington (a great late round pick in dynasty drafts), who could see the field a fair bit as the Steelers like playing 3 WR sets and were one of the teams with the highest % of doing so last season. JuJu Smith-Schuster is being way overdrafted but you cannot deny his talent, but Antonio Brown is also on the team too so JuJu will have more ups and downs than a theme park roller-coaster.

LeVeon Bell is once again playing under the franchise tag and could start off slowly like last season but expect him to be run in to the ground before he finds a new team next season (I am fascinated to see what he produces in a different scheme and setup, I liken it to Lionel Messi in soccer). QB Big Ben has never been in any of my fantasy teams and only offers value in Bestball leagues because I never can trust him and don’t want the headache each week of whether to start him or not but does have a low ADP in drafts this year.

Baltimore Ravens:Β 

Could be a sneaky playoff team this year and a lot will depend on how many games Joe Flacco plays…and I mean that in a good way.

If Flacco plays 16 games, that means that there are performing well and have a shot at the postseason. anything less than 12 or 13 and you’d expect the Ravens to end up with nothing better than 8-8. I honestly believe that the Lamar Jackson draft selection will prompt Flacco to play some good football because he has been absolutely dire in the last few years (well, ever since he won a Championship ring and got a new contract). Flacco can pretty much be discarded next year and it isn’t far-fetched to say that this could be his last season.

They have decent weapons on offence now though and have acquired Michael Crabtree from Oakland along with point to prove WRs in John Brown and Willie Snead.

I think it’s understated that the Ravens had seemingly a brilliant Draft. They took 2 Tight Ends in Mark Andrews and first round selection Hayden Hurst, both who can catch the ball and should be ready to go. Orlando Brown is a nice addition to the line to help keep that running game going.

Talking of running game, Alex Collins performed admirably at RB last season despite a depleted offensive line and should get a similar workload this year (just beware, Kenneth Dixon is lurking and could be a wildcard) so all things point to potentially an exciting season for Baltimore fans.

Cleveland Browns:Β 

I feel like everyone outside of the AFC North are rooting for the Browns this year. Whether that’s because they have been nothing short of a joke or whether it’s through sympathy. That said, this year they should be aiming for at least 5 wins.

Another team that has gone a major overhaul on offence. Carlos Hyde joins the running back room along with draft pick Nick Chubb to compensate for Isiah Crowell, who travels to the Jets. At WR, Jarvis Landry got PAID to come over and he joins a talented set of players in Josh Gordon (provided his issues stay away) and Corey Coleman (provided he shows his worth). David Njoku will be stellar in his 2nd season and Tyrod Taylor looks to bring some stability at the QB position, though it’s anyone’s guessat what point they bring in #1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield. Similar to Baltimore, if Tyrod Taylor plays 16 games this season, it would indicate the Browns are having a good season (hard to fathom that it’s ever an outcome that is in the range of possibility). If Baker starts a handful, it’s because Hue Jackson is in the hotseat and will try and borrow even more time from somewhere.

Denzel Ward, #4 pick in the 2017 draft joins what could be a sneaky defence but it was a surprise that Bradley Chubb was not on this roster.

From a fantasy perspective, it’s hard to know who will produce the most out of this group. Gordon could prove to be a bust should his troubles stay in touch with him, Corey Coleman could end up being cut if Dez Bryant joins the team (his twitter feed is always worth a watch) and Jarvis Landry will need to improve on his 8.8 yards per catch from last year whilst keeping the sky high number of Touchdowns from last season. I think David Njoku is probably the play as a late TE off the board and Tyrod Taylor is a risk with Baker Mayfield lurking but could be a good Bestball player at the end of drafts.

Key Storyline:Β Can all of these players gel and can they finally win a game?

Cincinnati Bengals:

The Bengals have the players to make a case for wildcard consideration this year but the offensive line needs to hold up, John Ross needs to live up to his billing now back from injury and Marvin Lewis needs to establish the teams identity.

Joe Mixon struggled to get efficiency from his runs last year but could prove a lot better for the experience, though Gio Bernard and draft pick Mark Walton are circling. AJ Green was his usual self (minus the ejection) and should do so again this year. Billy Price should sure up the line a little bit at center for the Bengals, helping Dalton have a bit more time and who knows whether Tyler Eifert will play this season (you could do worse than Tyler Kroft too).

On the defence, Burfict is suspended yet again and will be missed but the defence is a middle of the road type defence and should follow recent trends in terms of efficiency and production. I think it will be a few years until we see the Bengals in the palyoffs unfortunately.

Summary:

TM-

Not going to predict anything too drastic for the division but it would surprise me to see the Ravens get within 1 or 2 wins of the Steelers. Whether that’s because the Steelers implode or the Ravens get the grit between their teeth and improve. The Ravens have a good shot at January this year all things going well and it will certainly be interesting to see how many wins the Browns get (surely 1?!?!). I dont see the Bengals troubling anyone too much but Joe Mixon could be a top 5 running back in fantasy (contrarian hot take).

All the Steelers players you are paying for in drafts due to the high scoring potential, but Vance McDonald could be one to watch out for if you stream Tight End. The Ravens could provide some value by selecting their players in the later rounds (not Flacco though guys, let’s be real). The Browns probably wont return many points this year so would probably avoid most of those

Predictions:

1st – Pittsburgh Steelers,

2nd – Baltimore Ravens,

3rd – Cleveland Browns (!),

4th – Cincinnati Bengals

Lee

The AFC is going to be a really interesting division for the coming season. Every team has some storylines that will be worth keeping an eye an as we work through the season.

The least interesting storyline is that atop of the division is still the Pittsburgh Steelers. They still have the best players and best roster in the North but what’s going on with Le’Veon Bell? It’s pretty clear to see that there’s some bad blood between Bell and the front office and the star running back will most likely be playing his last season in Pittsburgh. How will this affect things? Well, I feel like the Steelers will try to get their money’s worth out of Bell and he’ll be looking at 400+ total touches through the regular season. Now, obviously giving your best players more opportunities means more opportunities for big plays but how much will that wear Bell down? How does it affect the offense overall? Is it putting him in the line of fire in terms of injuries?

Obviously with Bell, Ben, Brown and a top offensive line, the Steelers are going to score some point but can they keep other teams out? The defense doesn’t match up to the other side of the ball but they’re still going to be number 1 in the North. From a fantasy perspective, you can’t go wrong with Brown or Bell. Roethlisberger will stink a few weeks and probably get injured for a short time but a decent streaming option.

Next, a team who I personally find really interesting, the Cleveland Browns. On paper the Browns look like a really competitive team. Looking through their depth chart there are blue chip players throughout the roster. Yes, really. They also have some young players who they have drafted in the past couple of years who could grow into some of the better players at their positions.

I think what a lot of fans struggle to get past in the Browns name and recent history and because of that, they talk Cleveland down. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Browns will be the next best team in the North. Todd Haley and Gregg Williams are top co-ordinators and now that Cleveland have moved away from moneyball, you can treat them as a normal football team again. I’ll come on to the Bengals and the Ravens soon but these team a excite me less than Cleveland at this moment in time. I’m not saying they’ll make the playoffs but they’re going to be better, much better. Fantasy wise; Landry is going to be gobbling up catches, if Josh Gordon has his mind and body in sync he could be a top 10 receiver. The back field is going to be a committee so wait and see who emerges and maybe try to get one off of waivers if you don’t fancy betting on one guy come your draft. My one to watch would be David Njoku, the super athletic tight and will be looking to become a big weapon in year two.

When it comes to the Bengals, I’m looking at that revamped offensive line. I’m seeing if they can help Joe Mixon break out, I’m seeing William Jackson can cement himself as one of the best corners in the game and can John Ross make positive yardage?

I think Mixon has a good chance to breakout and become a top running back. He’s definitely worth targeting in your fantasy drafts, some goes for A.J Green. Both late first to early second round players depending on the size of your league.

One thing that holds the Bengals back, to me is coaching. I was shocked when they kept Marvin Lewis on. He’s been in the job for a long time and really not yielded much success; didn’t Einstein say something about insanity and repeating stuff over and over and expecting different results? Hmmm.

The least interesting team in the division, to me, is the Ravens. Aside from Lamar Jackson, I didn’t like their draft, I don’t feel like they added much or improved very much at all. I feel like we’re just waiting for Lamar Jackson to unseat Joe Flacco and then things may get interesting. Then we’ll all be watching to see how the Baltimore offense evolves from a drab Flacco offense into something potentially really exciting with Jackson at the controls. At this point I feel like Flacco is only in a job because of the respect he’s earned through winning a Superbowl.

Jackson could be a nice pick up for you dynasty league by the way. Aside from him I’m not going anywhere near Ravens players in my drafts. The wide receiver room is awash with β€œmeh” players and none of the tight ends interest me at all. Alex Collins could be a decent pick up but not someone worth targeting in my book.

This could seem pretty wild to some but my prediction is:

  1. Steelers
  2. Browns
  3. Bengals
  4. Ravens