AFC NORTH POWER RANKINGS- MARCH 20 2020
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Friday, March 20, 2020
Where Does Each Team In The AFC North Stand As Free Agency Opens And The Road To The Draft Begins?
Prior to the 2019 season, the AFC North was arguably the most intriguing division in football. Cleveland won the 2019 offseason by adding Odell Beckham Jr, Baltimore entered the year giving QB Lamar Jackson full-time duties and the Steelers were poised for a bounce back year after finishing 2018 in disappointing fashion. And then there’s the Bengals--who have lost themselves in the shuffle of the AFC North and spent 2019 as the irrelevant squad of the bunch.
As the 2020 offseason opens and activity around the league remains busy, the AFC North should provide the same amount of intrigue entering 2020 as it did a year ago. And for the power rankings, the order of the teams remains the same as it did when the season ended.
AFC NORTH POWER RANKINGS:
Pending the results of the draft, the Bengals should walk out of Vegas with a franchise quarterback in LSU product Joe Burrow. Cincinnati was a mess in 2019. Offensively, the story became about how the offensive line couldn’t protect Andy Dalton under centre. Dalton has quarterbacked the Bengals since 2011, but in 2020, that will be no more. Exit Dalton and enter a new face of the franchise, Joe Burrow. All signs point to the Bengals selecting Burrow with the first pick in the upcoming draft.
Protection for Burrow will be vital, and will be the first step in ensuring the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner can start his career on the right path. The Bengals offensive line allowed 48 sacks in 2019, and ranked 30th overall in 2019 according to Pro Football Focus. In the early goings of the 2020 offseason the Bengals added former Cowboys RG Xavier Su’a-Filo. The turnover amongst the offensive line has been large in Cincinnati over the last five years, as Su’a-Filo will be the fifth RG to start at the position in as many years. Among other notable moves made by the Bengals thus far is franchise tagging WR A.J Green, who was a subject of a lot of trade talk throughout the 2019 campaign. Green will act as Burrow’s number one target, but expect the 2020 edition of the Bengals to be eerily similar to Arizona in 2019--Heisman winner under centre, transitional phase of the franchise, and lots of pain early on. The Bengals are simply not ready to compete.
WR Odell Beckham Jr. remains on the Browns for now, amid all the trade rumours as Cleveland will look for its first playoff appearance since 2002 in 2020. The Browns addition of Hooper makes him the highest paid TE in football. RT Jack Conklin and formidable back-up QB Case Keenum make the Browns off-season a successful one so far.
The Freddie Kitchens experiment in 2019 was a failure. Almost nothing went right for Cleveland. Out goes Kitchens in comes former Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski to take over the reigns as head coach. The Browns won six games in 2019, but it felt worse than that. Super Bowl aspirations were shattered early after offensive expectations were not met. Stefanski will have his hands full with a roster filled with personalities on and off the field--something Kitchens could not deal with. The addition of Hooper only adds to the dynamic offensive group on paper, as he will join receivers Jarvis Landry and Beckham Jr. as well as Nick Chubb in the backfield. But the laurels will rest on QB Baker Mayfield who took a step back in 2019 after showing signs as a franchise cornerstone in his rookie year of 2018. Mayfield threw double the interceptions in 2019 and saw his QB rating drop from 93 to 78. Despite the drama the Browns seem to create off the field, Mayfield’s performance on the field will determine if the Browns can return to contention in 2020, after spending much of the 21st century as the doormats of the NFL.
Despite playing with several injuries all across the roster, including a season ender to QB Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers were a tough opponent in 2019 thanks to a stellar defense. T.J Watt, and Devin Bush will highlight Pittsburgh’s defence in 2020. Pittsburgh will look to bounce back in 2020 with a healthy Roethlisberger, and newly signed TE Eric Ebron. The Steelers addressed its biggest need with the signing of the former Lions and Colts TE, after struggling to fully incorporate Vance McDonald into the offence a year ago.
Mike Tomlin’s coaching job in 2019 was extraordinary. If not for John Harbaugh’s masterful coaching performance in Baltimore, Tomlin was the best coach in the AFC North in 2019. He received two first place votes for coach of the year, and with a healthy offence and inspiring play on defence, his team should be well positioned to contend for a wild card spot in 2020.
If Lamar Jackson takes another step as a passer and remains healthy, the Ravens will be a force in the North and make a case to be the next great NFL dynasty. Baltimore acquired former Jags DE Calais Campbell on Monday, only adding to the already formidable defence. The Ravens are well coached, and possess one of the top rosters in football. But it is difficult to ignore what happened the last time the Ravens played--a 28-12 loss in the Divisional Round to the Titans, in a game where Tennessee executed a game plan against Baltimore that no one else did all throughout the season. Adjustments will be made, and trust John Harbaugh to do so. Baltimore is far and away the best team in the North.
Lamar Jackson doesn’t need to repeat his MVP caliber performance from 2019 for the Ravens to run away with the division, but they will surely need the former Louisville product to keep the opponents defence guessing every time he steps under centre. Jackson is a weapon in the backfield, along with Mark Ingram, an area of the team that will be too much to handle for their AFC North foes.