Let’s get right down to this with the Bengals:
It’s kind of an in flux season for the Bengals, who still have the marvelous Andy Dalton at the head of their team, but given age and inadequacy over the past few seasons, will he lead them anywhere by the end of 2018? I wouldn’t entirely count them out, as Joe Mixon is as underrated as they come, and AJ Green and Tyler Eifert are as solid as they come. But the defense is lacking, and if you stagnate like this, you’re only going to live in mediocracy. Much like the NFC South of a few years ago, the four teams here have brewed themselves up a bit of low quality control. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the worst division, as they all seem likely to lose to outside teams, and steal important wins away from each other. Heck, this could be the Browns best chance to slip ahead of their three rivals.
Before the pre-season, all the hype was around Joe Flacco’s “down” year in 2017. I had him on fantasy, I can attest that he wasn’t the x-factor everyone thought he would be. By no account should he be immediately replaced, however. Still, the Ravens brought in Robert Griffin III to revitalize his career and chose Lamar Jackson with the 32nd overall pick, perhaps to light a fire under Flacco’s ass. It did just that, because he had one of the best training camps and preseasons of any QB this year. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that translates to a surge in quality. I think Flacco will follow Dalton right to the mediocracy line, winning a handful of games but losing very integral ones. The front office hopes the inclusion of former Saint Willie Snead and former Cardinal John Brown will revitalize the offense, but I have to say that Brown is a WR3 at best, while Snead was undercooked and overshadowed down in the Big Easy. The defense is as limited as Cincinnati, and I don’t even know who Nick Boyle is. Everyone looking for a comeback will be let down by the end.
Speaking of let down, the Steelers have to be sore that Le’Veon Bell has snubbed them so far that he’s missing week 1, no matter what they say about replaceability. Ben Roethlisberger will be retired soon, even though I’ve said that for years now. He’ll want to leave the franchise in good hands, and what better than a RB face that can help whoever they fill in center down the line. James Conner is an adequate cover, but is he really going to help the team for years to come? Bell is really just looking for more money, or perhaps truly wants to travel, but he needs to help keep this team in line. Vance McDonald and Jesse James are sub-par tight ends, while there’s no one beyond Antonio Brown for Big Ben to throw towards. If Brown is covered well, who’s on offense? Maybe they can nab some defensive touchdowns, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this team fades by October.
Finally, we get to those stars of this season of Hard Knocks, the Cleveland Browns. They went 0-16 last year, incredibly quietly, so there’s virtually no pressure on them other than winning at least one game this season. They have put a lot of faith in their quarterback of the future, Baker Mayfield, after selecting him first overall in April. First they have Tyrod Taylor to help in center, and even though he’s only a “bridge” QB, he brings more to the table than your normal filler. If he sparks a 4-0 start to the season, do they bring Mayfield in at all? I don’t see Tyrod sticking around in 2019, but if he pulls a Foles and brings them to a deep playoff run, what then? He’s surrounded by newcomers that want just that, including Jarvis Landry (Miami) and Carlos Hyde (San Francisco), who has stolen the RB slot from Duke Johnson. David Njoku is the star here, as he looks to top tight end points across the board. I would not count this Browns team out, and they look at least make a run at the postseason, a year removed from their worst season ever.
Predictions: Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals
Whew, that actually flew by. I’ll try to get the West in around lunch, but it may take through the rest of the evening to get there. Tune in for our latest podcast in the meantime, as well!