What Next for 2018 … Division by division – AFC North
Guest Writer Popa ‘T’ for Couchpotato GM
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had this division under lock & key for some time, with their only real threat being the Baltimore Ravens. All said however, this division has always been a battle of attrition, with the only clear separation of power, currently being the Steelers potent offense.
Pittsburgh Steelers – The ‘Terrible Towels’ were ambushed by the Jaguars in the division round of the playoffs, thus denying us all, that re-match with New England. But as the old saying goes, “On any given Sunday.” You still have to play the games. Suspect coaching decisions in that game by HC Mike Tomlin & now ex-OC Todd Haley, along with stud ILB Ryan Shazier on the shelf, put a dark cloud on what otherwise was a great season. Questions abound however, the need for o-line upgrades & depth to keep Ben Roethlisberger up-right, Tomlin’s job security, RB Le’Veon Bell and his threat to sit out if he gets the ‘Franchise Tag’ again and the aforementioned Shazier’s health. First, Pittsburgh would be foolish to let Tomlin go. This franchise has a proven track record of drafting & developing players. They also will not be held ransom by Bell. The WR & TE spots are solid with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant & rookie Juju Smith-Schuster and TE Vance McDonald. If they move on from Bell, RB will be addressed early in the draft which is deep at a variety of positions … RB being one. On defense, a ball hawking FS to team with rising SS Sean Davis, ILB & OLB/DE starters needed given questions about Shazier & Bud Dupree’s status ‘5th year option’ going into next season. Regardless of all the current drama surrounding the ‘Black & Gold’, they are still the belle of the ball in the North.
Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens seem to always be in the hunt for a post season berth. No team in the division, more over the conference depends more on its defense & special teams for any of its success. Wait a minute … I’ve seen this flick before. Talk about the Twilight Zone or being caught in a time loop. Really!? Look, I’m a die-hard fan of Ozzie Newsome, but, it’s time to turn the reigns over to ‘GM-in waiting Eric DeCosta. HC John Harbaugh is in the last year of his contract, and his teams have missed the play-offs in 4 of the last 5 seasons. This team, offensively, with QB Joe Flacco & OC Marty Mornhinweg, has been pedestrian at best for some time now. As no change is forth-coming on either front, the Ravens need an immediate infusion of reliable WRs who can consistently get separation & catch the ball. 37 year old TE Benjamin Watson & WR Mike Wallace have been the most reliable & consistent, Jeremy Maclin continues to have injuries derail his potential productivity & WR Breshad Perriman has not justified his high draft position … both could be cut. RB is loaded with solid bodies, although no pure stud. Help on the o-line is sorely needed … only 2 standouts to speak of, LT Ronnie Stanley & RG/RT Marshal Yanda who is getting up there in age. The defense is led by stalwarts C.J. Mosley ILB, the ageless OLB/DE Terrell Suggs, OLB/DE Za’Darius Smith, Carl Davis 5T & CB Jimmy Smith before injury, along with 2017 defensive draft picks CB Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser OLB, Tim Williams & 5T Chris Wormley. This team needs an offensive identity, it can sustain, if it is to challenge Steelers’ division supremacy.
Cincinnati Bengals – If you had told me that the Bengals would miss the play-offs again & Marvin Lewis would still be the HC heading into 2018 … I would have said … put the glass down please. Add in the botched attempted trade of QB A.J. McCarron to Cleveland, only to have the QB become a FA after winning his grievance against the team. This is a team that has enough talent on both sides of the ball to compete with anybody, but they invariably get in their own way and self-destruct. That falls on the HC … Lewis has to get back to coaching basics … where everyone is held accountable … No free passes. OC Bill Lazor & new QB Coach Brad Van Pelt, have to get Andy Dalton to do a better job of protecting the ball. You can look up & down this roster, and there are top notch skilled players at every position. From WR A.J. Green, RB’s Joe Mixon & Giovani Bernard, DE Carlos Dunlap, DT Geno Atkins & young CB’s William Jackson III and Darqueze Dennard. The only group in my view that is lacking is the O-line. They spent 2 high picks in 2015 on OT’s Cedric Ogbuehi & Jake Fisher, which was to stabilize this unit for the next 5 years. Why they haven’t progressed is a mystery. If the Bengals are to show vast improvement in the win/lost column 2018 … new O-line coach Pollack will have to get improved play from this group.
Cleveland Browns – Who would not love to have the job that now belongs to new Cleveland Browns GM John Dorsey? I know I would. Yes, the Browns have a youthful roster, but it is also laced with some top notch talent. Veterans OT Joe Thomas, OLB Jamie Collins, RB Isaiah Crowell (FA), and WR Josh Gordon & DB Devin McCourty, to go with youngsters DE Myles Garrett, QB DeShone Kizer, and TE David Njoku & SS Jabrill Peppers bode well. On top of that, the Browns have $118 million in cap space and own 6 of the top 65 picks; including 2 of the top 4 in the up-coming Draft. Like the Jets in the AFC East, I believe this franchise has invested enough draft resources on the QB position. I ask you, which 2018 Draft QB prospect realistically can come into this league, start & win day one … in my view … None!!! You have youth & inexperience at the position already, with Kizer, Cody Kessler & Kevin Hogan. GM Popa ‘T’ says Browns GM Dorsey & HC Hue Jackson bring in a veteran QB like Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Sam Bradford. This gives you someone capable of keeping you somewhat competitive, but most importantly a mentor for your young QB’s. The Cleveland QBs need to be taught how to be pros … work ethic & preparation. This position will not be a popular one, but I believe it is the right one. Think about the added top tier players in this draft that Cleveland can add to this roster. Imagine adding the likes of RB Saquon Barkley top player on my board; S Minkah Fitzpatrick; OLB Tremaine Edmunds, G Quentin Nelson or DE Marcus Davenport in Rd1 … G/C Isaiah Wynn, OT Kolton Miller; LB Rashaan Evans & CB Isaiah Oliver in Rd2 and so on. Wow!! With this long term plan, I give the Browns 2 years to become, relevant again & playoff bound. Fleeting success is like feeding your family for a week, continual lasting success is assuring your family never goes hungry again. This current Cleveland Browns front office’s organizational goal should be … Building for Lasting Continual Success.