Week 1 was eventful for this division. The Bengals and the Ravens took convincing wins and the Steelers and the Browns tied each other. I’ll admit, I didn’t predict they would tie as it says in my projection, but what can I do when I already know it happened. Anyway, enjoy the article.
- Pittsburgh Steelers
Key matchups: vs Falcons week 5, @ Jaguars week 11, vs Patriots week 15
X-Factor: Le’Veon Bell – We all know that Bell has been holding out for a long time. In his week 1 absence, James Conner was terrific. However, Ben Roethlisberger threw 4 interceptions against the subpar Browns defense and I have no doubt in my mind that Le’Veon would’ve been a big factor in the passing game and lowered that obscene amount of picks. The question plaguing the Steelers is, when will their star come back?
- Baltimore Ravens
Key matchups: vs Saints week 7, @ Panthers week 8, @ Chiefs week 14
X-Factor: The secondary – Star cornerback Jimmy Smith is suspended for the first four games of the year. Even though this secondary is led by all-pro Eric Weddle, there are still significant questions in Smith’s absence. Pair a game against Antonio Brown and Pittsburgh in that time and you get what could be a problematic start for the Ravens.
- Cleveland Browns
Key matchups: vs Jets week 3, @ Bucs week 7, @ Broncos week 15
X-Factor: Myles Garrett – The number 1 pick of the 2017 draft has to pan out this year for the Browns defense to be successful. He started off his career with 7.0 sacks last year in only 11 games, so that’s encouraging. He has the tools, but can he use them effectively? I think he will this season, but only time will tell.
- Cincinnati Bengals
Key matchups: vs Dolphins week 5, Bucs week 8, Raiders week 15
X-Factor: Carlos Dunlap – Geno Atkins has already proved that he’s a top defensive lineman in the NFL, but he can’t carry the pass rush alone. If Dunlap breaks out for 10+ sacks like he did in 2015, their D-Line will be potent to say the least.
This division could be interesting this year, as the Bengals and Browns showed they can play this past week. However, the clear favorites are still the Steelers.
Tomorrow I will release the AFC South preview. Stay tuned.