Season in Review – Baltimore Ravens

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

In another installment of our NFL series looking back at the 2019 season, it’s time to put the Baltimore Ravens under the spotlight.


entering the season


The shiny new toy of the NFL, Lamar Jackson had a full offseason as starter to help aid his progression. After committing to Lamar Jackson the talk of the off season was could the Ravens be sustainable in their offensive style. An excellent end to 2018/19 came crashing down in the playoffs as the Chargers appeared to show everyone how to stop the offence.

Several key pieces left on the defensive side of the ball as the the defensive turnstile gate was in full swing with the likes of Zadarius Smith going out, but Adding Earl Thomas was a major coup to provide some quality play and veteran leadership in the secondary.

The first season in the post Ozzie Newsome era appeared to be one of offensive development and defensive rebuilding.


during the season


59 points in their opening game of the season was a pretty decisive answer to how this offence would look. Lamar Jackson had time in the pocket and threw to wide open receivers and the ground game looked impressive.

Image result for lamar jackson vs dolphins
Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The next few weeks saw some close contests with the ravens losing 2 games in that stretch, but the season really got its jolt in week 7. Travelling to Seattle the Ravens dominated by a score of 30-16 and then never looked back.

A demolition job of none other than the New England Patriots followed in the following week as the Ravens staked their claim on being the class of the AFC.

The offence then put up 49 against the Bengals, 41 against the Texans and 45 against the Rams in an impressive stretch of production. A huge week 13 win against the 49ers kicked off December and 3 more routine wins wrapped up the number 1 seed in the AFC for the first time in their franchise history. The stellar play in all 3 phases of the game rewarded the team with an impressive 12 pro bowl selections.

Image Credit – Patrick Smith/Getty

Lamar Jackson unanimously won the MVP award as he broke the single season rushing record for a QB, whilst improving his passing game to the point of being a legitimate dual threat by having the most passing touchdowns in the regular season.  The Baltimore Ravens were 1st in points per game scored and 3rd in defensive points given up.

With a 1st round bye secured, it was a shock to everyone when they fell to the Tennessee Titans at home in the divisional round, with some people questioning whether Lamar Jackson can do it in the big games.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK

The exciting thing for the Ravens is that they have a young core to continue to build around offensively. Lamar Jackson will be paired with Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown for years to come and young running back Justice Hill has flashed when spelling Mark Ingram for a series here and there. The future of Greg Roman seems to be secure for another season as he was overlooked for any open HC vacancy, which will be music to the ears of Ravens fans. He and John Harbaugh were winners at the NFL Honours night, picking up Assistant Coach and Coach of the Year respectively.

Defensively, the Ravens will look to get some younger pieces into the group as veterans Earl Thomas and Marcus Peters (acquired this season) can’t go on forever. Adding a veteran pass catcher on the outside would also not be a surprise

The Ravens look primed for a sustained few years of ultra competitive football. Defenses have yet to find a way to consistently stop Lamar Jackson and company and until they do it is hard to look past these Ravens.

The obvious concern is an injury to Jackson. He is such a unique player and the ravens deserve praise for tailoring everything around him but could anyone else be successful in this scheme?

Season in Review – Cincinnati Bengals

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Today’s flashback to the 2019 NFL season is through the lens of Bengals fans. Let’s get to it!


entering the season

All off season it seemed as though the entire NFL was on the hunt for the “next Sean McVay”. Well the winners of that race was to be the Bengals as they snagged Zac Taylor to lead the franchise after finally parting ways with Marvin Lewis.

Was this finally the year that Andy Dalton moved out of the definition of bang average to something better than that? Would the offence have more variety and explosion? Could AJ Green stay healthy?

Defensively there was a lack of firepower going in and the Bengals polarised opinion form being basement dwellers to one of the league’s most under-rated teams.


during the season

On the road in week 1 to Seattle is never an easy assignment but the Bengals pushed them all the way and were unfortunate not to leave with a win.

Some further close defeats followed at the hands of the Bills, Cardinals and Ravens as the Bengals failed to register in the win column before making the trip across the pond to battle the rams at Wembley Stadium. Unfortunately for UK fans the losing streak continued as the Rams took care of business. Attention started to turn towards the 2020 season and if the Bengals could register a win at all during the campaign.

Image Credit – Wilfredo Lee / AP

A move at quarterback followed the bye week with Ryan Finley, who had been impressive in preseason, given the opportunity to start week 10. His 3 game audition bought 3 more defeats to move the record to 0-11 before the ginger prince was reinstated into the lineup for the week 13 encounter with the Jets.

December 1st was the 1st win of the Bengals season and in the coaching career of Zac Taylor as the Bengals caught the Jets on one of their regular an off days to win 22-6. A return to losing ways followed however and a week 16 loss to the Miami Dolphins secured the number 1 pick in the 2020 draft for the Bengals.


offseason outlook

The excitement will now build for the franchise as we head towards the draft. Most draft analysts will have them slated to take Joe Burrow to become the signal caller on a team that has had 10 years of middling play at the position. However, do not be fooled into thinking that the problems on this team all stem from Andy Dalton.

Image result for joe burrow
Image Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty

There are issues on the offensive line (seemingly always), AJ Green never saw the field this year and is likely done in the jungle so a new wide receiver is needed.

Upgrades are required throughout the defence and it would be wrong to not at least debate if Zac Taylor is the right guy after a 2 win season.

There appears to be plenty of work ahead in Cincinnati to reshape the Bengals into a competitive unit. I wouldn’t rule out a trade down from number 1 overall if the can find a willing trade partner, with the Dolphins sitting at 5 (and armed with ammo) the most likely candidate in this scenario. 

Season in Review – Cleveland Browns

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Next stop in our whistlestop tour of the NFL 2019 season, today we head to the AFC North and breakdown the laughing stock of the NFL over the last few years, the Cleveland Browns.


entering the season

Has there ever been more hype around a team as there was regarding the Browns this past off season?

Buoyed by an encouraging end to the 2018/2019 campaign and the acquisition of a certain Odell Beckham Jr, big things were expected of Baker Mayfield in his second season behind center.

The trenches on both sides of the ball were a concern going in but the volume of quality skill players meant a first winning season of the decade was the absolute minimum expectation with playoff football being the realistic aim.


During the season

It unfortunately unravelled pretty quickly. The Titans trounced the Browns in week 1 at home was a sign of things to come.

Despite evening up their record at 2-2 with a huge road win against the Ravens no less, the inconsistencies on the team were obvious. Cue a 4 game losing streak and all of a sudden the Browns were in a hole.

Playoff hopes were reignited after wins over the Bills and Steelers but that November 14th game effectively ended the Browns season.

Myles Garrett was suspended for the rest of the 2019 season, at least, in response to the fight he participated in on Thursday.
Image Credit – Ron Schwane / AP

With the game wrapped up a mass brawl ensued on a meaningless garbage time play. It ended with Myles Garrett, who had been the Browns stand out defender on the year, swinging his helmet at Mason Rudolph. An indefinite suspension followed and with it, any realistic hopes that the browns retained of the playoffs vanished.

Further inconsistent play, riddled with baffling coaching decisions and play calling mean the Browns finish the decade as the only NFL team without a winning record. 


offseason outlook

It feels like it is said every off season, but make no mistake this is a huge one for the browns. A coaching change already in the books with Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski replacing Freddy Kitchens. Not quite the veteran presence to control the locker room and stamp out the indiscipline that is required but we’ll wait and see.

They still have unquestionable young talent throughout the roster in the likes of Nick Chubb (NFL rushing leader), Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and assuming no trades, they will bring back OBJ and Jarvis Landry again.

Image result for baker mayfield
Image Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty

The bigger question is who is Baker Mayfield? The cocky and arrogant gunslinger who let his play do the talking in year 1, or the often sulking, off target and off timing thrower we saw in year 2.

The offensive and defensive line should be the priority in the off season. The tackle positions on the offensive line have been a liability all year and 2 quality starters are required there. On the defensive side, it is a case of adding quality depth to the 4 starters, assuming Myles Garrett is reinstated into the league. The browns are likely to move on from a few higher earners in Damarious Randall and Christian Kirksey so look for another aggressive off season from the front office.

Many of the reasons for optimism at the start of this campaign roll over into next year. The Browns have a young core to build around and with the right guidance and additions on the lines, should be primed for a nice bounce back campaign.

This is the Browns though, so please, don’t quote me on that!

Season in Review – Pittsburgh Steelers

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Next up in our NFL series taking a look back at the 2019 season, we travel to Heinz Field where we look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, where there was another Big Ben who was taken out of action for while…


Entering the season

An offseason removing the diva distractions of Antonio Brown and Leveon Bell saw the steelers lose obvious talent, but probably gain some locker room harmony.

They were aggressive in the draft trading up into the top 10 to select linebacker Devin Bush and were hopeful of nice follow up seasons from JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner.

Talk was quiet on the Ben Rothelisberger retirement front and as with most seasons, the Steelers started the year as many experts pick for the AFC North crown.


during the season

How quickly can a season unravel?

An opening Sunday Night Football embarrassment on the road in New England was a bad start. The loss of their starting QB for the season in week 2 was a heartbreaker. An 0-3 start was confirmed with defeat to the surging San Francisco 49ers and many people were getting their pitchforks ready to declare the season over before it had even really began. Do we never learn anything? Winners of 5 out of their next 6, all of a sudden the Steelers had a winning record and hopes of a playoff berth.

An in season trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick proved fruitful as the defence kept the team in games whilst rotating through Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges at quarterback.

JuJu and James Conner through a combination of injuries and poor quarterback play have not reproduced at the level people had hoped for but through good coaching the Steelers have hung around. A 3 game winning streak had them with control over their own playoff destiny but a late season skid sees them just fall short.

Image Credit – Jessie Wardaski / Post-Gazette

A season that the Steelers can be proud of, considering the hand they were dealt. Fitzpatrick has been a roaring success on the back end of the defence. TJ Watt has been a dominant force in the pass rush department and Devin Bush has grown as the season has developed. 


offseason outlook

The offseason focus will surely be on the offensive side of the ball. Will “Big Ben” return is the most pressing of questions.

All of the noises indicate that he wants to return and if that is the case some new weapons will be required. JuJu may not be the number 1 receiver they had hoped for so help is needed out wide. James Conner has struggled when healthy this year so an upgrade in the backfield would not go amiss either.

The line is solid and the defence is always competitive. Mike Tomlin should have a mention for coach of the year honours (he will not win it) so a restocked roster will see the Steelers primed to go again in 2020.

Half-Term report – AFC/NFC North

It’s just about the half way point in the NFL regular season. Sad times.

In this series of articles, we take a look back over those 8 glorious weeks of pigskin action and also project how the 2nd half of the season will play out.


AFC North

By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)

Current Standings

  1. Baltimore Ravens 5-2
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers 2-4
  3. Cleveland Browns 2-5
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 0-8

*BALTIMORE RAVENS*

Midseason grade: B+

How has it gone so far?

The Ravens came flying out of the blocks with bug wins against the Dolphins and Cardinals. Back to back defeats to the Chiefs and the Browns raised questions about if this team was “for real” but a subsequent 3 game winning streak including an impressive road win in Seattle sees the Ravens with a healthy lead in the division. 

Lamar Jackson is on historic pace for yards on the ground and has shown progress throwing the football in year 2. The defence isn’t as feared as it once was but still ranks highly and is 11th against the pass and 2nd against the run respectively.

Rest of Season Outlook

It’s fair to say that the schedule stiffens for the Ravens down the stretch. With games to come against opponents with a plus 500 record in the Patriots,Texans, Rams, 49ers and Bills. A weak division means this commanding lead would appear to be extremely secure however with a divisional game against each opponent and the lowly Jets providing the other contest. Even on a “worse case scenario” basis you have to fancy the Ravens getting to at least 9-7 from here and that should be ample to win the division.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 10-6 – Division Winners


*CLEVELAND BROWNS*

Midseason grade: D

How has it gone so far?

The product has certainly not lived up to the preseason hype. Steamrolled by the Titans and 49ers along with close losses to the Rams and Seahawks the Browns face an uphill tussle to get back to relevance in the division. A defeat coming out of the bye week to the Patriots has again raised questions about discipline and preparation 

A big road win at Baltimore was the lone bright spark on what has been a disappointing campaign. The promising end to the 2019 season seems like a distant memory and Baker Mayfield appears to be regressing in year 2.

Rest of Season Outlook

Ironically despite the record, everything is still in play for the Browns. The schedule is such that 5 divisional games remain and as stated earlier, they have won the only game of such nature to date. The plan will be to go 6-0 in the AFC North and hope that tie breakers enable them to find a way into a wildcard berth. For that to happen though they need to improve massively, reducing turnovers and penalties, a category that they lead the league in with an average of 10 per game.

The talent is there, can they turn it around?

Regular Season Record Prediction: 7-9 – Miss Playoffs


*PITTSBURGH STEELERS*

Midseason grade: C

How has it gone so far?

Smashed by the Patriots on opening night and losing your starting quarterback part way through your 2nd game isn’t exactly the way the Steelers drew up the plans for this season. The reality is though that the Steelers season was probably over before it had even really began following the QB injury. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges have anchored the squad to some respectable performances and with a turnover differential of plus 7 they are getting opportunities within games.

Big names JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner have struggled to reproduce anything close to what they did a year ago and the offence lacks weapons outside these 2. Defensively the rank middle of the pack but an in season trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick signals intent to improve the playmaking on the back end.

Rest of Season Outlook

Similar to the Browns in that the division schedule is heavily back loaded so 4 games still to play in that regard and an opportunity if they can build momentum to make a late run. Difficult to trust that Mason Rudolph will be able to get them there however. Ranked 30th in both team passing and rushing there just isn’t enough production from this unit. The defence ranks 6th in points allowed so the Steelers will stick around in games but its hard to see anything better than a 500 record at this point.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 6-10 – Miss Playoffs


*CINCINNATI BENGALS*

Midseason grade: E

How has it gone so far?

A record of 0-8 will pretty much answer that question. With the worst record in the NFL at the week 8 stage the Bengals can’t get any worse. Ranked 28th offensively and 27th defensively, unfortunately there is not an obvious quick fix as the poor play is on both sides of the ball. 

Offensively AJ Green has not been able to dress after picking up an injury in the preseason and Joe Mixon has not been able to get anything going on the ground. Defensively the pass rush has been a little non-existent with only 9 sacks and they have not taken the ball away with any regularity.

Rest of Season Outlook

There are some winnable games on the schedule with games against the Browns, Dolphins and Jets all on the horizon so nobody should be panicking around a 0-16 season just yet. Unfortunately for the Bengals, wins will now likely only hinder draft capital as the season is well and truly lost. 

The remaining games need to be used as an assessment of the roster and a decision needs to be made with regards to the long term future of Zach Taylor. The Bengals are very likely to pick high in the upcoming draft and now that Ryan Finley is in the driving seat, his performances over the back nine will determine how high up in the rounds they take their next QB (if at all).

Regular Season Record Prediction: 2-14 – Top 3 pick

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NFC NORTH

By Chris Todd (@ctdk1980)

Current Standings

  1. Green Bay Packers (7-1)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (6-2)
  3. Detroit Lions (3-3-1)
  4. Chicago Bears (3-4)

*GREEN BAY PACKERS*

Midseason grade: A

How has it gone so far?

One of the most intriguing storylines to follow at the beginning of the season was the union of new HC Matt Lafleur and franchise QB Aaron Rodgers, so far the results have been good with the offence improving with every game.

In the early part of the season, it was the defence that was leading the team, DC Mike Pettine’s unit looking vastly improved from the previous year. Free agent signees Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith have contributed hugely, added to standout corner Jaire Alexander and leading tackler in the NFL Blake Martinez, have led to a unit that may have conceded yards but has stood up when needed.

Given the injury suffered by leading receiver Davante Adams, Rodgers has entered one of his hot streaks at precisely the right time.

Rest of Season Outlook

The Packers look well set for a playoff run, time will tell whether it will take them all the way to Miami in February. With the head to head wins vs all their division opponents thus far, they are looking quite rosy to maybe even push for a wildcard round bye.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 12-4

*MINNESOTA VIKINGS*

Midseason grade: B

How has it gone so far?

Behind the leading rusher in the NFL in Dalvin Cook, the Vikings have bulldozed their way into the playoff discussion. Beyond this though, there has been some discord within the group, notably receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen expressing frustration with the offence. Kirk Cousins’ improved play of late has helped to quell these noises, with Diggs especially going on a tear of late to the tune of 453 receiving yards in the last 3 weeks. The defence has continued to perform at a high level throughout, with Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Eric Kendricks particularly impressing.

Rest of Season Outlook:

With the talent throughout on the defensive side of the ball, and if the offensive line can support Dalvin Cook, this team can compete with anyone. They’ll need continuing support from Kirk Cousins though, where for some, the questions remain. They’ll need to settle the score with the Packers in the return fixture and also negotiate a tough stretch immediately starting with the Chiefs and then the Cowboys. Negotiate that, they could look at a first round bye.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 11-5



*DETROIT LIONS*

Midseason Grade: C

How has it gone so far?

The Lions have been competitive in every game this season and could easily find themselves right in the mix for a playoff spot. However, poor execution at crucial times have led to a middle of the pack record. They have lost late leads in 2 of their losses to the Chiefs and the Packers as well as in the tie with the Cardinals, with redzone inefficiency plaguing them in the Packers loss in particular.

There have been high spots for the team with QB Matthew Stafford having a very good year. Kenny Golladay and Kerryon Johnson have also been playmakers this year before the latter’s injury, TJ Hockenson has hinted at what might be to come from the TE position too.

Perhaps surprisingly, given HC Matt Patricia’s pedigree, the defence has been the bigger issue. They have struggled especially against the run, where Mike Daniels’ injury has been especially problematic.

Quandre Diggs’ recent trade to Seattle has been met with scepticism too, depriving the back end of the defence with one of their key players.

Rest of Season Outlook

Judging by the 2 teams that preceeded them in this Half-Term report, it is probably a long shot that the Lions taste January football this year, but as a long term view, the Lions fans must be optimistic about some playoff football sooner rather than later. That being said, their schedule does not look too tough with games against Oakland, a double header vs the Bears along with tussles against the Broncos, Redskins and Buccaneers.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 8-7-1


*CHICAGO BEARS*

Midseason grade: D

How has it gone so far?

The expected step forward for the Bears offence in the second year of HC Matt Nagy’s reign has yet to come to fruition. The offence currently ranks 27th in PPG, with both the run and pass games struggling to get out of second gear.

While QB Mitch Trubisky has yet to prove his pedigree as a starting calibre player at this level, playcalling has also been an issue at times. The coaches have seemed to go away from the run too early at times, placing too much pressure on the young signal caller. While Trubisky’s development is crucial to the future success of the Bears, at the moment the best chance of success would surely involve committing fully to the rungame and using Trubisky to take judicious shots downfield to keep the defences honest.

The defence is still performing at a very high level (if not quite the league leading unit of 2018), Mack, Trevathan, Floyd, Goldman, Clinton-Dix, Fuller et al are still a fearsome unit, although lineman Akiem Hicks is a big loss after his loss to IR following his elbow injury.

It wouldn’t be a Bears season without kicking troubles either, following Eddy Piniero’s potential game winning missed kick in week 8.

Rest of Season Outlook

While this team certainly could go on a run, they have a hard road back to the playoffs with games remaining against fellow NFC playoff hopefuls Eagles, Packers, Cowboys, Rams. Possibly the best case scenario for the Bears would be that week 17 at the Vikings ended up a playoff eliminator, they have a lot of work in front of them to get that far.

Regular Season Record Prediction: 7-9

The Browns need their “Hollywood Receiver”

Article by Shaun Blundell – @Shaun_F10Y

A fine effort from the Browns on Sunday Night Primetime was undone by one of the league’s most reliable duos.“Jared Goff complete to Cooper Kupp”, rinse and repeat. It was an all too familiar tale as arguably the league’s best slot receiver had a field day against the depleted Browns secondary, missing all 4 of its assumed starters. The Rams have a fabulous trio of weapons with Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods to compliment the aforementioned Kupp and the Rams have been consistently good on offense since the dawning of the Sean McVay era. Watching the game with my orange and brown tinted lenses I couldn’t help but think to myself “wasn’t this supposed to be what we looked like this season?”

Three weeks in and the Browns have simply stuttered on offense. Short of the opening drive drive of the season against the Titans that provided so much hope and optimism it’s been tough going for Baker and co. Through 3 games the combined stat line for Baker reads 62/109, 805 yards, 3 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. It’s a full 7% drop in terms of his completion percentage from last season and essentially a flip on TD to INT ratio. Whichever way you dress it up, it hasn’t been great. So just what has gone wrong since that season opening drive?

Image Credit – David Richard / AP

That leads me back to the Goff and Kupp connection. Most quarterbacks develop a favourite target, think Phillip Rivers to Antonio Gates, Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison, Tom Brady to anyone! That security blanket that is always there when all else fails, the connection to bail the quarterback out when a play breaks down. When it comes to Baker Mayfield the sample size is small, but without doubt his go to guy is Rashard Higgins. When was the last time we saw Higgins effectively on the field? The opening drive of the season. 

Higgins was targeted 3 times on that opening drive and caught 2 balls including the big catch of 35 yards to set the Browns up for Dontrel Hilliards rushing score. He has built up a rapport with Baker stretching all the way back to last training camp when he worked exclusively with the number 2 offense. Think back to camp this year, OBJ and Jarvis Landry were effectively wrapped in cotton wool and didn’t play a snap in preseason. Antonio Callaway turned up out of shape and is still serving his 4 game suspension. Damion Ratley spent most of camp injured. The other receivers, Jalen Strong, Ish Hyman, DJ Montgomery, Derrick Willies all either cut, placed on IR or the practice squad.

Baker is having to build chemistry on the fly in a real game environment. I was frustrated at the lack of preseason game time the “starters” received and the early results have vindicated that frustration. There is no denying the obvious talent that OBJ and Jarvis posses but it doesn’t just work overnight and they need complementary pieces to garner some defensive attention away from them as well. The 2 receivers the Browns did add at the end of camp Tawan Taylor and KhaDarel Hodge have been almost exclusively used on special teams.

Image Credit – John Kuntz / cleveland.com

There are obviously other legitimate questions for the Browns to answer. The offensive line, particularly at the tackle position has been poor. The poor play appears to have left Baker with zero trust or confidence in the guys up front and he is now bailing out of clean pockets as he is feeling footsteps that aren’t even there. The tight end position could do with an upgrade, and in my opinion that is regardless of the status of David Njoku. It may be an unpopular opinion but I haven’t seen enough from him into his now 3rd season to convince me he will turn into anything other than an extremely physically gifted athlete.

The playcalling question probably deserves an article all on its own but I will keep it simple. Freddie Kitchens may or may not be the problem, but it is on him to provide the solution. If that means handing duties over to Todd Monken then so be it. His offense in Tampa was certainly not the issue in Florida last year so he shouldn’t be afraid to hand over the reigns. Whoever is calling the plays, I would expect things to get better as the season progresses as everyone adjusts into a new system.

Despite all of this the Browns enter Sunday Night against the Ravens with an opportunity to take the divisional lead, so it certainly isn’t all doom and gloom. This is the last game without the legitimate deep threat that Callaway will provide to the offense (expect Taylor to be cut then) and Higgins has a shot to be back as early as this week, being called at the time of writing this article “day to day”. I’m still holding out hope that Dorsey swings a trade to bring Trent Williams over from the Redskins to sure up the line and who knows maybe talk Gronk out of retirement to come and play tight end?

The last point was obviously in jest but I don’t think the Browns are a million miles away. If Baker can be reunited with his comfort blanket I’m sure we will all feel much better about things. A precise route runner, Higgins has become an extremely valuable part of the wide receiver core, and as the saying goes “you don’t know what you have got until it has gone”.

Image Credit – Ron Schawne / AP Photo

AFC North Breakdown

By Thomas Rowberry (@Rowberry_)

Last Season

Baltimore Ravens 10-6

Pittsburgh Steelers 9-6-1

Cleveland Browns 7-8-1

Cincinnati Bengals 6-10

Baltimore Ravens

Draft Selections: Marquise Brown, WR (1.25), Jaylon Ferguson, OLB (3.85), Miles Boykin, WR (3.93), Justice Hill, RB (4.113), Ben Powers, G (4.123), Iman Marshall, CB (4.127), Daylon Mack, DT (5.160), Trace McSorley, QB (6.197)

Offseason Key Additions: Earl Thomas, S (Seattle Seahawks), Mark Ingram, RB (New Orleans Saints), Seth Roberts, WR (Oakland Raiders)

Offseason Key Departures: Terrell Suggs, OLB (Arizona Cardinals), CJ Mosley, LB (New York Jets), Eric Weddle, S (Los Angeles Rams), John Brown, WR (Buffalo Bills), Za’Darius Smith, OLB (Green Bay Packers), Joe Flacco, QB (Denver Broncos), Michael Crabtree, WR (Free Agent)

Super Bowl Odds: 40-1

Analysis: Eric DeCosta’s first offseason as ‘the guy’ was spent overhauling the Ravens roster to fit the skills of their young signal caller. DeCosta completely overhauled the offensive threats around Lamar Jackson, ridding the team of starting receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree whilst adding former Saints running back Mark Ingram to be a bell cow back and drafting college standouts Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown and Miles Boykin as downfield threats.

Defensively the Ravens lost as much talent as any team in the league, losing stalwarts Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosley and Eric Weddle as well as pass rushing specialist Za’Darius Smith. That being said they may now have the best defensive backfield in the league thanks to the addition of former All-Pro Earl Thomas who joins Marlon Humphrey, Travon Young, Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson. The one area that remains a concern for the Ravens is the front seven, the losses of CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith haven’t really been addressed in the offseason meaning the likes of Tyus Bowser, Kenny Young and third round pick Jaylon Ferguson are going to need to have big seasons to cover the losses.

Don’t get it wrong, Baltimore still have one of the best situations in the league. There is talent at the offensive skill positions, they have one of the best offensive lines in the league and arguably the best defensive backfield in the league. Baltimore will be good.

Look Out For: The thing everyone is looking out for regarding the Ravens is the evolution of Lamar Jackson, will he take the steps to become a true passer in the NFL or will the Ravens zig whilst the league zags and lean into the running game that served them so well last year? One team played the Lamar Jackson led Ravens last year, the Los Angeles Chargers, they figured the Ravens out and forced Jackson to throw the ball to disastrous results so unless Jackson has improved the Ravens could struggle offensively even with the talent around him.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Draft Selections: Devin Bush, LB (1.10), Diontae Johnson, WR (3.66), Justin Layne, CB (3.83), Benny Snell Jr, RB (4.122), Zach Gentry, TE (5.141), Sutton Smith, LB (6.175), Isaiah Buggs, DE (6.192), Ulysees Gilbert III, LB (6.207)

Key Offseason Additions: Donte Moncrief, WR (Jacksonville Jaguars), Mark Barron, LB (Los Angeles Rams), Steven Nelson, CB (Kansas City Chiefs)

Key Offseason Departures: Antonio Brown, WR (Oakland Raiders), Le’Veon Bell, RB (New York Jets), Morgan Burnett, S (Cleveland Browns), Jon Bostic, LB (Washington Redskins)

Super Bowl Odds: 20-1

Analysis: Has a team ever lost two of the best players at their respective positions in one offseason before? Because that’s what happened to the Steelers this offseason. Following a 9-6-1 season that saw Le’Veon Bell sit out the year and Antonio Brown ‘quit on the team’ the Steelers parted ways with both, allowing Bell to sign as a UDFA for the New York Jets and trading Brown to the Oakland Raiders for a pair of draft picks (2019 third and fifth round picks).

In Bell and Brown’s absences last year the Steelers saw running back James Conner and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster breakout as two of the best young players at their respective positions, they’re hoping for similar jumps from their supporting casts. Ben Roethlisberger remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league so with Conner, JuJu and a supporting cast that features Vance McDonald, Eli Rogers and James Washington the Steelers offense should remain one of the best in the league.

In Devin Bush the Steelers have one of the most highly touted rookies in the league and look to have finally found someone to have filled the gap created by Ryan Shazier’s devastating injury a few seasons ago. Reports suggest that Bush is already showing up as a leader for the Steelers defense, a unit which has been missing a true leader in the middle of the field.  The Steelers defensive backfield should be much better in 2019 with the additions of Steven Nelson from the Chiefs and rookie Justin Layne, both of who should feature somewhat heavily after seeing disappointing play from the likes of Artie Burns in 2018.

Look Out For: In order for the Steelers to be great this season they’re going to need Big Ben to have one of his best seasons, their schedule looks one of the most difficult in the league with them typically facing three tough games to every ‘easy’ game this season – First four quarter of the season see them play the Patriots, Seahawks, 49ers and Bengals, the second quarter sees them play the Ravens, Chargers, Dolphins and Colts, the third quarter they play the Rams, Browns, Bengals and Browns before finally ending the season with games against the Cardinals, Bills, Jets and Ravens.

This team is still one of the most talented in the league, and they still haven’t had a losing record with Mike Tomlin as Head Coach but the schedule is rough, the offensive skill position players surrounding Conner and JuJu are mostly unproven at this point so if Big Ben doesn’t have a big season the Steelers could be in for a long season.

Cleveland Browns

Draft Selections: Greedy Williams, CB (2.46), Sione Takitaki, LB (3.80), Sheldrick Redwine, S (4.119), Mack Wilson, LB (5.155), Austin Seibert, K (5.170), Drew Forbes, T (6.189), Donnie Lewis Jr, CB (7.221)

Key Offseason Additions: Odell Beckham Jr, WR (New York Giants), Kareem Hunt, RB (Kansas City Chiefs), Olivier Vernon, DE (New York Giants), Sheldon Richardson, DT (Minnesota Vikings), Morgan Burnett, S (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Key Offseason Departures: Kevin Zeitler, G (New York Giants), Jabrill Peppers, S (New York Giants), Emmanuel Ogbah, DE (Kansas City Chiefs), Brien Boddy-Calhoun, S (Houston Texans), Breshad Perriman, WR (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Super Bowl Odds: 20-1

Analysis: After a 7-8-1 season that saw Hue Jackson, Todd Haley and Gregg Williams given their marching orders and Baker Mayfield break the rookie touchdown passing record the Browns & John Dorsey have spent the offseason building arguably the most talent laden roster in the entire league. This offseason has seen the Browns acquire arguably the best receiver in the league in Odell Beckham Jr, one of the best but most troubled backs in the league in Kareem Hunt, beefed up a defensive line that already featured Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi with the additions of Olivier Vernon & Sheldon Richardson.

The Browns offense has the potential to be one of the best units in the league, Baker Mayfield threw 27 touchdowns in just 13 games last season as a rookie. With a full offseason working as ‘the guy’ in Cleveland it’s fair to expect him to make a leap this season, especially when you look at the talent Dorsey has put around him. Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway, David Njoku as receiving targets, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the backfield…. There isn’t a more talented offensive roster in the league.

The Browns defense isn’t to be laughed at either, Dorsey and his staff have put together a defense that could be every bit as good as the offense. There aren’t too many defensive lines better than the Browns in the league right now, the linebacking group is solid without having a true superstar and now their secondary has a cornerback tandem that could develop into one of the best in the league with rookie second round pick Greedy Williams partnering sophomore Pro Bowler Denzel Ward.

Look Out For: Is it wrong to say the Browns as a whole? A team that went 7-8-1 last year probably shouldn’t be as high on people’s radars as the Browns are but they became one of the most fun teams to watch once Baker Mayfield took over last year and now have a roster full of blue chip talent. This Browns team could go onto win the Super Bowl as early as this year BUT they also have the potential to implode.

As good as Mayfield has been he runs his mouth a lot and could rub his teammates, will Odell Beckham continue to be as divisive as New York media would have you believe he was for the Giants? Can he co-exist with Jarvis Landry? Is Freddie Kitchens up to being a Head Coach after only a handful of games experience as an offensive co-ordinator? Will suspensions for Kareem Hunt and Antonio Callaway hurt in the early part of the season? And will the weight of expectations be too much for the Browns young roster to handle?

Cincinnati Bengals

Draft Selections: Jonah Williams, OT (1.11), Drew Sample, TE (2.52), Germaine Pratt, LB (3.72), Ryan Finley, QB (4.104), Renell Wren, DT (4.125), Michael Jordan, G (4.136), Trayveon Williams, RB (6.182), Deshaun Davis, LB (6.210), Rodney Anderson, RB (6.211), Jordan Brown, CB (7.223)

Key Offseason Additions: John Miller, OG (Buffalo Bills), Kerry Wynn, DT (New York Giants), B.W. Webb, CB (New York Giants)

Key Offseason Departures: Vontaze Burfict, LB (Oakland Raiders), Michael Johnson, DE (Free Agent)

Super Bowl Odds: 100-1

Analysis: Has a team had as bad an offseason as the Bengals this offseason? The Bengals FINALLY made a good move in letting Marvin Lewis leave, replacing him with 36-year-old Zac Taylor but since then they have done very little to inspire confidence going into this season.

They spent very little in the offseason, John Miller will likely start at guard for them but he isn’t exactly great. Kerry Wynn and BW Webb were both backups for the Giants and will likely struggle to get into the Bengals rotation in the defensive line and secondary respectively. Many have questioned the quality of the Bengals draft class, which is now under more scrutiny with top pick Jonah Williams likely missing the entirety of the 2019 following surgery on a torn labrum. Star receiver AJ Green suffered ligament damage in a preseason practice session and will now likely miss 6 to 8 weeks, oft-injured speedster John Ross was expected to have a bigger role this year but he’s been out with a hamstring injury since July.

There just isn’t a lot to talk about with the Bengals, their draft was underwhelming, their offseason additions don’t inspire confidence and they’ve suffered injuries to two of their most important players this season. The only real positives for this team is that they do have talented young players and have one of the best running backs in the league in Joe Mixon. This could be a long year.

Look Out For: The Bengals aren’t going to be good in 2019, I know it’s a bit harsh to be so blunt but they play in a division that features the Ravens, Steelers and much improved Browns. In Andy Dalton you could argue they have the worst starting quarterback in the division and a have an unproven 36-year-old at Head Coach, that’s just not a recipe for success in 2019.

2019 Season Prediction

Browns 10-6

Ravens 10-6

Steelers 8-8

Bengals 3-13

Worst to First Candidates

By Andy Goddard (@godsy1985) – 16th June

The National Football League is meant to be one of parity (tell that to Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots). In 2018 the Chicago Bears, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts all reached the playoffs after having losing records in 2017. It is one of the great things about the NFL, the possibility of going from being the worst team to lifting the Lombardi trophy is real. So who are our candidates this year? Let’s look at four teams that finished at the bottom of their respective divisions.

New York Giants

The Giants had an awful 2018 season with a 5-11 record but the emergence of Saquon Barkley was a big plus with his 1307 rushing yards and 721 receiving yards. The play of Eli Manning was much maligned but when you look at the stats, he may not have been as poor as advertised. Eli’s QB rating was 92.4 which was the forth best of his career and his 66% completion ratio (for 4,299 yards) was the highest of his career. (http://www.nfl.com/player/elimanning/2505996/careerstats). There is no doubt that Manning has lost some mobility though. He was sacked 47 times in the 2018 season (a career high) and the offensive line needs some attention but it is fully expect that the Giants will be a run heavy team in 2019. Barkley is primed for another phenomenal season and with the addition of Golden Tate at wide receiver they still have weapons even without Beckham Jr. In 2018, the Giants lost eight games by 7 points or less and lost their final two games of the season by just a single point! When you look at their 2018 season in more detail, they weren’t far away from a 9-7 record which could have seen them reach the playoffs!

The Giants also have two big advantages in 2019. Their strength of schedule is ranked as the 27th most difficult and the NFC East is wide open. Whilst the Philadelphia Eagles should improve (as long as Wentz stays healthy), the Dallas Cowboys may go backwards and the Washington Redskins are potentially starting a rookie quarterback. If they can upgrade the pass rush (which ranked 30th in sacks) they should have a great shot at reaching the playoffs in 2019!

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have a talented roster that have been under-utilised for years but with new head coach Zac Taylor now at the helm, could the Bengals improve of their 6-10 record in what is normally a tough division? The AFC North has lost a huge amount of talent from the Pittsburgh Steelers, has gained a mass of talent in Cleveland and has a seemingly sketchy playbook and an ageing defence in Baltimore. There doesn’t appear to be a clear favourite in the division and this may open the field up for the Bengals to surprise a few people. For this to happen the Bengals will need to improve massively on what was one the weakest defences (yardage wise) in NFL history, ranking fifth all time in yards allowed (https://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny.fcgi?id=xNW3M). Cincinnati will be hoping that the coaching change can address this situation. There is plenty of talent of the offensive side of the ball with the serviceable Andy Dalton throwing to A. J.  Green, Tyler Boyd and Tyler Eifert as well as having Joe Mixon in the backfield, they seem to have a balanced attack if it can be exploited to its full potential. 

With the AFC North in a stage of transition its very easy to see the Bengals finishing at the top of the pile, however, it is also very easy to see them finishing in last place once again!

New York Jets

The New England Patriots may have won the AFC East in 16 out of the last 18 seasons but they can’t win forever, can they? Coming off of a 4-12 season, Adam Gase is now the head coach (replacing Todd Bowles) and the team have made some great moves in both free agency and the draft. Le’Veon Bell is a stellar running back with his patient style but questions remain over whether sitting out the whole of last season will have impacted him in any way. Then there is second year QB Sam Darnold who, at times last season, looked very much like the franchise player that the Jets needed. Darnold did have his struggles (as most first year QB’s do) but if he does make the transition to the second year, similar to that of Mitch Trubisky at the Bears, the Jets are well primed to cause teams problems. With the drafting of Alabamas Quinnen Williams (defensive tackle) ‘Gang Green’ may have found a run blocker to play at nose tackle in a 3-4 defence that’s Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams is reportedly staying with.

The New York Jets also have one of the easiest schedules in 2019, tied at 27th. The only problem here is that they are tied with the New England Patriots (https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/2019-nfl-strength-of-schedule-patriots-and-redskins-have-it-easiest-raiders-face-roughest-ride/). Winning the AFC East maybe very difficult in 2019 but it wasn’t long ago that the Jets went into Foxboro for a divisional playoff game and came out victorious. The 2019 season may be slightly too early but the Jets are building a strong team for the future and it would not surprise me to see them in the playoffs in 2019.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags plummeted after reaching the 2017 AFC Championship Game finishing last season with a 5-11 record. However, there is no last-place team that is better equipped to rebound. They still have a talented defence that finished fifth in the NFL in 2018 (http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?tabSeq=2&defensiveStatisticCategory=GAME_STATS&conference=ALL&role=OPP&season=2018&seasonType=REG&d-447263-s=TOTAL_YARDS_GAME_AVG&d-447263-o=1&d-447263-n=1) and they have upgraded where they needed it most, quarterback! For the last two seasons many people have wondered what this team could be with more functionality at QB. Nick Foles has shown that he can produce on the biggest stage and the 2017 Super Bowl MVP can also call on running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette had a poor 2018 season that was hampered by injury, suspension, and by his own admission, being in ‘sub-optimal shape’. With a healthier o-line and improvement in fitness, the LSU man will need to produce with more consistency for the Jaguars to have a chance. 

Head coach, Doug Marrone has also had a big change up of his coaching staff with 8 coaches either joining the Jags or being promoted from within (https://www.jaguars.com/news/official-defilippo-named-oc-staff-finalized). One major problem for the Jaguars could be the strength of the AFC South. The Texans, Colts and Titans all had winning records in 2018 with two of the three making the playoffs. Whilst the division is relatively open, it’s up for grabs because all of the teams are good. However, if Foles can reproduce his performances from Philly and Fournette can get back to his 2017 form, the Jaguars should get back to the playoffs.

Best Chance?

For my money, the Giants and the Jaguars have the best chance but what do you think? Will any of these teams even make the playoffs or is there a better candidate out there? Let us know @Full10Yards