Home Sports AFC North preview and predictions: Lamar Jackson, Ravens only got better

AFC North preview and predictions: Lamar Jackson, Ravens only got better

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Mark Cannizzaro previews the AFC North as The Post gives division-by-division breakdowns ahead of the 2020 NFL season.

1. Baltimore Ravens

Coach: John Harbaugh

2019 record: 14-3

O/U wins: 11 ½

Key additions: DE Calais Campbell, DE Derek Wolfe, G D.J. Fluker, LB Patrick Queen, RB J.K. Dobbins, WR Devin Duvernay, LB Malik Harrison
Key losses: G Marshal Yanda, DT Michael Pierce, TE Hayden Hurst, RT James Hurst, LB Patrick Onwuasor, LB Josh Bynes, DE Chris Wormley, WR Seth Roberts, S Tony Jefferson, CB Brandon Carr, S Earl Thomas

First-and-goal: Not only is Lamar Jackson one of the most dynamic QBs in the league (see his 1,206 rushing yards, 3,127 passing yards and 43 TDs in 2019), he’s got great skill talent around him, with Dobbins joining a group of RBs already stacked with Mark Ingram, Gus Williams and Justice Hill, who contributed to a record 3,296 rushing yards in 2019. Jackson has big-time WRs, too, with Marquise Brown and Willie Snead leading the way.

Fourth-and-long: It’s difficult to find a wart here, but the 217 rushing yards the defense yielded in the playoff loss to the Titans still stings. So run defense will be something to watch.

Lamar Jackson hands the ball off to Mark Ingram II
Lamar Jackson hands the ball off to Mark Ingram II last season against the Bills.Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cann’s Call: 12-4. Still tons of talent returning and the coaching and system continuity can’t be anything other than an added edge in COVID-19 age that has slashed teams’ preparation time this offseason.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

Coach: Mike Tomlin

2019 record: 8-8

O/U wins: 9

Key additions: TE Eric Ebron, OL Stefen Wisniewski, DT Chris Wormley, FB Derek Watt, WR Chase Claypool, LB Alex Highsmith, RB Anthony MacFarland Jr., OL Kevin Dotson, DT Carlos Davis

Key losses: G Ramon Foster, DT Javon Hargrave, LB Tyler Matakevich, LB Mark Barron, FB Roosevelt Nix, LB Anthony Chickillo, CB Artie Burns, S Sean Davis, TE Nick Vannett, WR Johnny Holton

First-and-goal: As always, it’s about defense first in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers led league in sacks and turnovers. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was a successful in-season acquisition and he’ll again lead one of the best secondaries in league. Don’t forget LBs T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, who combined for 26 sacks last season.

Fourth-and-long: How much does QB Ben Roethlisberger have left after missing most of last season with a right elbow injury? It was a miracle the Steelers stayed competitive last season with backups Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges quarterbacking, and the running game was anemic.

Cann’s Call: 9-7. The return of Roethlisberger, who led the league in passing in 2018, has to help, as long as he stays healthy. And, like the Ravens, coaching and system continuity is a valuable weapon in these times.

3. Cleveland Browns

Coach: Kevin Stefanski

2019 record: 6-10

O/U wins: 8 ¹/₂

Key additions: RT Jack Conklin, LT Jedrick Wills, TE Austin Hooper, LB B.J. Goodson, S Karl Joseph, CB Kevin Johnson, QB Case Keenum, DE Adrian Clayborn, S Andrew Sendejo, WR Jojo Natson, FB Andy Janovich, LB Malcolm Smith, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, TE Harrison Bryant, S Grant Delpit

Key losses: LB Joe Schobert, LB Christian Kirksey, S Damarious Randall, LT Greg Robinson, S Morgan Burnett, WR Antonio Callaway

First-and-goal: Stefanski, who was the Vikings’ offensive coordinator last season, should be a good fit for QB Baker Mayfield and WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, both of whom were slowed by injuries in 2019. Add to that RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and Cleveland’s offense could be potent.

Fourth-and-long: The defense took an offseason hit with departures of Schobert and Kirskey to free agency. Then, starting LB Mack Wilson (left knee) and second-round draft pick Delpit (Achilles) suffered injuries in training camp.

Baker Mayfield Browns
Baker Mayfield is seen on the sideline during a game vs. the Bengals last year.Diamond Images/Getty Images

Cann’s Call: 8-8. The Browns’ offseason drought, dating to 2002, will continue. Yes, there is talent on offense, but it’s a lot to ask with a new coaching staff tying to implement new systems with so little time to practice this spring and summer.

4. Cincinnati Bengals

Coach: Zac Taylor

2019 record: 2-14

O/U wins: 5 ½

Key additions: QB Joe Burrow, WR Tee Higgins, G Xavier Su’a-Filo, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, CB LeShaun Sims, S Vonn Bell, LB Josh Bynes, DT D.J. Reader

Key losses: QB Andy Dalton, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Darqueze Dennard, TE Tyler Eifert, LT Cordy Glenn, LB Nick Vigil, CB B.W. Webb, G John Miller

First-and-goal: First-overall pick Burrow is surrounded by strong skill position players in WRs A.J. Green, who returns on the franchise tag after missing last season with an ankle injury, Tyler Boyd (90 catches last season) and Higgins. RBs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard also return.

Fourth-and-long: Burrow, as much as any player in the league, has been affected by the loss of practice time because of COVID-19. The rookie QB will take over immediately and has been reduced to virtual offseason meetings and a scant few practices to learn the NFL and a new system. An offensive line that was poor in 2019 and in flux this season may contribute to some tough sledding for Burrow, too.

Cann’s Call: 4-12. Burrow gives the Bengals some hope, but it’s going to be a tough transition into the NFL.

Check out the other NFL division breakdowns from The Post for the 2020 season:

AFC East preview

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