A Quick Look at the AFC North in 2020

Daily Hampshire Gazette

By: Jonathan Clark
SteelerNation.com

 

We have to be honest. This year’s Steelers roster is raising the excitement level for all of SteelerNation for this upcoming 2020 season. Simply put, it’s an exciting year to be a Steelers fan. Ben Roethlisberger is coming back with a vengeance, following his injury plagued 2019 season. He’ll be throwing to a young up and coming receiving core featuring JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson and rookie Chase Claypool, all behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Our defense is coming off its best season yet as a unit, and with Pro Bowl caliber players at almost each position, this group seems to be primed for an even better season in 2020. There seems to be stars all around the room in Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball. 

Steelers wide outs, JuJu Smith-Schuster (#19), Diontae Johnson (#18), and James Washington (#13) – TRIBLIVE.com

 

Obviously, having star players for the most part translates into wins, and that has been the case for the Steelers. Since 2002, the Steelers have won the AFC North eight times, sweeping the division twice in 2002 and 2008, and winning 2 Super Bowl Championships in 2006 and 2009. During this past decade, the Steelers have had 12 players selected to the All-Decade AFC North division team. It’s pretty safe to say that although sometimes not easy, the Steelers have pretty much run the AFC North.

 

With that much excitement comes questions as well. Will Roethlisberger be able to play at his Hall of Fame caliber style for a whole 16 games coming off surgery? Will this defense accept the pressure and be able to produce just as effectively as they did in 2019? Questions that only playing the game of football can actually answer. Until then, we will assume the outcome will be positive in these situations and take a deeper look at what the AFC North might look like this year.

Steelers All-Pro Edge Rusher, T.J. Watt (#90) – NFL.com

 

Cleveland Browns

For the past couple of seasons, we have watched the Cleveland Browns try and rebrand their entire organization, really without much choice by drafting their franchise QB in Baker Mayfield, and loading him up with star caliber players on both sides of the ball. Wins have always been hard to come by for the Browns, since, well forever. And although recently showing some promise, the outcome has still been the same following the past two seasons. The difference between the Steelers and Browns really doesn’t fall too much further than just the simple statement of culture. You have to build a winning culture as an organization with the group of players you choose to bring into your building and the set of coaches you choose lead your men on Sundays. The Steelers have done it the right way, and have the championships to prove this to be right, while Cleveland does not. They have stars on paper, but haven’t been able to find out what it actually takes to build a championship winning culture. In hopes of change, Cleveland brought in head coach Kevin Stefanski to hopefully turn things around and change the way people view Cleveland Brown football. On paper, this team could honestly erupt at any moment. I don’t think they have the most talented roster by any stretch of the means, but they do have enough good players to translate into wins and with a whole new coaching staff in 2020, Cleveland hopes change is right around the corner, but something tells me that it won’t.

Cleveland Browns head coach, Kevin Stefanski – SI.com

 

Baltimore Ravens

Next to the Steelers, the most feared team in this division is the Baltimore Ravens. This is the match up that I feel has the most respect in the AFC North. With reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson running the helm behind center, the Ravens have a good shot at winning football games. Paired with the 3rd best defense in the NFL in 2019 which includes a secondary featuring Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and a new look defensive line of Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell. Adding to an already impressive defense, this team is a contender in not just the race for the AFC North Championship, but are in good shape of finding themselves being prime contenders for a Super Bowl championship. Offensively, Jackson roams the backfield with Pro Bowl RB Mark Ingram. It’s safe to say that the running game is what makes Baltimore so special. That being said, if you can stop Lamar Jackson, you can pretty much stop the Ravens. Throughout a drive, the ball very rarely leaves Jackson’s hands and for good reason. He makes amazing things happen with the football, and is a hard guy to catch in open space. The offense they run is solely focused on the run game, which was used to their advantage last season. But in the NFL, it does not take long for coaches and players to “catch up” with what is working for your team, and with a full season of tape on Lamar out there to be analyzed, this offense might have to find a way to make themselves a bit more balanced in order to confuse the minds of their division rivals.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback, Lamar Jackson – Nick Wass/AP Photo

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Last is Cincinnati. We have seen some exciting Steelers vs Bengals games throughout the past decade. I remember watching the match ups of Carson Palmer/Chad Johnson vs Ben Roethlisberger/Hines Ward, offensive duos for both teams wreaking havoc against each other. The games never failed to leave fans entertained and was a  part of making the AFC North as hard-nose as it is today. It hasn’t been the same since then, Pittsburgh has dominated the match up since the Andy Dalton era began. But with change on the horizon, the Bengals are hoping to get past us before they can focus on the rest of the AFC North. In drafting Joe Burrow, this meant that he is now their future. They are going to build their football team for years to come off of this one man. A HUGE commitment, but one that can turn out in your favor. Us Steeler fans would know that better than most. The Bengals do have a talented offense. Joe Mixon is a stud at running back who has been vocal about trying to mimic his game to former Steeler RB Le’veon Bell. They have young weapons at WR in Auden Tate and former Pitt Panther Tyler Boyd, paired with star veteran A.J Green who was bit by the injury bug in 2019 (and who is also playing for a contract following the 2020 season). The defense is one without an identity. They have been led by defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap for most of the past five seasons, and have found success in stages, but have never really put it together for a dominant year on that side of the ball. This is a young team led by a young head coach in Zac Taylor, who comes from the Los Angeles Rams where offense was certainly the focal point. There is a lot of intrigue with this team, with what Joe Burrow did last year in the NCAA, paired with what Zac Taylor was able to do with that offense in LA years ago. Who is to say that this can’t be a match made in heaven, but in due time. This team is going to take a good amount of time to develop and I don’t see us having much trouble with them next season. It just seems like we have the advantage against them at almost every position, which is a hard thing to overcome.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, Joe Burrow – CBS Sports

 

I like the Steelers chances this season with Roethlisberger behind center. Nothing is going to fool him. He has seen it all, going into his 16th season and has a dominant defense behind him to back him up (and we all have seen what has happened when we paired him with a dominant defense). Super Bowl championships have come about and that’s the only thing on the minds of this organization this year. Championship or bust. Just the way we want it.

 

Who do you think is the Steelers biggest contender in the AFC North is for 2020? Comment below!

#SteelerNation

 

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