Tag Archives: AFC North

Cleveland Browns 2015 Preview

Some teams are cursed.  Some teams just do it to themselves.  It doesn’t matter if Cleveland’s woes are a product of black magic or self infliction – they are just a mess, from top to bottom.  Head coach Mike Pettine, opens up his second season as head coach with his best player suspended for the season and his back up quarterback as the talk of the town.

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The Browns have a quarterback battle between a journeyman veteran who looked awful last season and a sophomore quarterback who had a two month long stint in alcohol rehab in the off-season.  Fun times.  Josh McCown, pulled the okey-doke on Tampa, when he looked great in his few starts with Chicago in 2013, leading the Bucs to believe they did the right thing by giving him a contract last season.  McCown really has nothing left to give, and if he beats out Johnny Manziel for the starting job. . . eh.   Manziel, is really the team’s best option.  If not for nothing else, the Browns should start him just because they spent a first round pick on him and this isn’t a team with playoff aspirations anyhow.  The world still wants to see Manziel – fail or succeed – give the fans of the NFL what they want and just start him.

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Somebody needs to tell Manziel to not be so jumpy in the pocket.  The Browns, if they have anything, it’s an offensive line.  Left tackle Joe Thomas is probably the best at his position in the last decade.  The Browns will have some things to deal when this season is done though.  Their center Alex Mack can opt out after this season and tackle Mitchell Schwartz is in the final year of his deal.   Will anybody blame them for abandoning this ship when this season ends?

The backfield isn’t too shabby either.  There is a lot of youth there with a lot of upside.  Unfortunately, as of now two of those three have some nagging injuries that may leak into weak one of the regular season.  Rookie Duke Johnson, might be the best out of the three, but he has been wrestling with a hamstring issue in early practices.  Terrance West should be fine physically when the season starts, but the Browns are losing patience with him (on and off the field apparently).   He’s not a bad kid, just “plays around too much.”  Isiah Crowell is the bruiser back, who might be the lead rusher on this team by default.  Crowell is good, but better suited for goal line and short yardage situations.   The health of this backfield is everything to this offense.  Everyone knows they’re going to run the ball a lot this year so. . .

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Say what you will about Josh Gordon, the truth is: he’s the best receiver we’ve barely seen play.  Without Gordon, this receiver group is just awkward and lame.  Brian Hartline is a career possession guy with limited speed.  Andrew Hawkins isn’t threatening any secondary  in this lifetime; and the Browns signed Dwayne Bowe who was the number one receiver on a team in which not one receiver caught a touchdown.  That right there says it all.

This defensive unit was disappointing last year, but when you have a bad offense continuously putting you in bad spots, there is only so much you can do after a while.  The Browns are hoping for the best by putting their rookie defensive linemen right into the line of fire.  Danny Shelton of Washington and Xavier Cooper of Washington State are two defensive tackles that have the potential to explode offensive lines right up the gut.  Cooper is the more active of the two, while Shelton tries to gobble up space inside.  This is a big defensive line, that needs to get to ball carriers early – but once those ball carriers get to the outside, it’s all on the line backers and secondary to finish the job.

The linebacker group is interesting to say the least.  Barkevious Mingo was drafted in the first-round in 2013 and the Browns have seen little return on that investment.  The potential to be a complete bust looms in the clouds circling Mingo this season.  Nate Orchard out of Utah, might do what Mingo hasn’t and that’s be the pass rusher they want from the linebacker spot.  Paul Kruger is someone people can never figure out.  Sure, he had eleven sacks last season – but what does he do really?  He’s just one of those players you just assume is above average, but he doesn’t really “wow” you, when you watch him.  Karlos Dansby is the veteran of the group who last year only had forty seven tackles in twelve games. . .

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The Browns have studs in the secondary.   Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson make up one of the best safety combinations in the league (it’s going to be hard to dethrone that duo in Seattle. . .) and corner back Joe Haden is consistently in the discussion of “top five corners” in the league.  With Buster Skrine signing with the New York Jets, it’s time for last year’s first round pick Justin Gilbert to wake up and take control of his future.  He showed a lot of promise in college, but seemed like a fish out of water in the pros.  The Browns will surely give him his chance, but they signed veteran Tramon WIlliams just in-case Gilbert is better served as the nickel corner.

The Browns have so many interesting stories on their team, but none of it will amount to much.  There is no doubt they will stay in some games, but it’s going to a one dimensional offense and a lot of inexperience on the defense line that will ultimately hold them back.  Best case scenario is that the youth on this team gain experience in what will be a trying season, while the veterans. . . collect pay checks?

Predicted Record: 4-12

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Joe Haden, Joe Thomas, Donte Whitner

G.W. Gras

@GeeSteelio

Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Preview

The Steelers of Pittsburgh have a lot of fantasy football nerds hyped over their offense’s potential.  They do everything right on the offensive side of the ball but for the Steelers, to enter a season and have their offense talked about more than their defense – it’s a rare occurrence – actually one might be hard pressed to see if that was ever the case for Pittsburgh.

This defense is young and is depending on their young core of linebackers to carry the weight of this unit.  Jarvis Jones was a first-round pick in 2013 who seemed to be coming into his own last year until he got hurt.  Ryan Shazier was their first-round pick out of Ohio State last season, but like Jones, had his share of injuries that slowed him down.  This season, the Steelers kept putting faith into the linebacker surplus coming out of college and they drafted Kentucky linebacker, Bud Dupree in the first-round.  Dupree is a nice athlete, but is raw when it comes to what they need: pass rushing.  His instincts in the “search and destroy” department still need help, but he’s excellent when needed to drop back into zone coverage.  With the right coaching he could develop into a nice linebacker.   Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats are the veterans on this squad which is coming into the season under the radar.  This has the potential to be the best linebacker rotation in the league if things pan out right.  The health of Jones and Shazier will play a huge role.

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The defensive line will look different without the intensity and the amazing beard of defensive end Brett Keisel.  Nobody on this roster can fill the void the beard left (literally, the beard) but someone needs to be the aggressor up front.  The Steelers are hoping to see more improvement from their sophomore end Stephon Tuitt.  What he lacks in intensity, he has in intellect.  He just needs to see the plays quicker as he at times is a step too late at the line.  Steve McLendon may be the starter at nose-tackle, but the world wants to see more of the 6’7″ 350-plus pounder Daniel McCullers.   McCullers is just a fun guy to watch, but it’s impossible to keep this monster on the field for too long, especially against fast paced offenses.

The secondary wasn’t too good when Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu were a part of it last year, and now with both men retired, the situation hasn’t gotten better.   Their best player in the secondary may be a seventh-round pick from Louisville, safety Gerod Holliman.  Holliman is more of a finesse player at the position, which is far from what fans in Pittsburgh are used to.  Especially after seeing Polamalu for all those years.

Ben Roethlisberger is under center for what may be one of the more explosive offenses he’s had at his disposal.  Ben was a marvel last year throwing thirty-two touchdowns and only nine interception for over 4900 yards.  He still plays with a chip on his shoulder and is still elusive in the pocket regardless of his huge frame.   If he had any issues with offensive coordinator Todd Haley before, he’s obviously passed it all now.

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In front of Big Ben is all-pro center Maurkice Pouncey leads a steady and dependable offensive line that helped this offense finish second in time of possession, yards per game and passing yards per game.  The impressive thing about this line is how a guard like David DeCastro or Ramon Foster are able to tail out and block on the outside in the screen game.

The Steelers offense was jump-started by running back Le’Veon Bell, who is suspended the first two games of the season for a DUI arrest.  Bell had over 2200 yards last season and will continue to be the focal point of this attack.  The Steelers got some insurance this season by signing long-time Panther DeAngelo Williams to the mix.  Williams will be used mostly to spell Bell, but in those first two weeks, he will carry the load.  Williams too often has been hit or miss week to week.

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Remember when the Steelers had to decide between Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace a few years back?  Safe to say, Pittsburgh made the right choice.  For too long Brown, was going under the radar – this year, don’t expect to get him in the fourth round of your fantasy draft, especially after having a monster season with nearly 1700 receiving yards.  Brown is accompanied by speed and athleticism all along the depth chart at the receiver position.  People are expecting big things from former Clemson Tiger Martavius Bryant, who is a tall receiver with great speed; Markus Wheaton would be the number two wide-out on this team if not for the talent of Bryant – but Wheaton playing in the slot role, fits him better anyway.

The Steelers are primed for a deep playoff run, even with the lack of a secondary.   They are multifaceted on the offensive side of the ball and an MVP caliber season from Big Ben should be expected.

Predicted Record: 11-5

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Ryan Shazier, Martavius Bryant, Le’Veon Bell

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Cincinnati Bengals 2015 Preview

Marvin Lewis must know something about somebody high up in the Bengals organization.  He must.  There is no other reason for him to still be employed as head coach of the Bengals.  13 seasons with a record of 100-96-2, with zero wins in the post-season.  The Bengals have had the talent in recent years and still they manage to do barely anything with it.  They have made the playoffs the last four years; but is anybody expecting them to do much more than make the playoffs again?

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Andy Dalton gets a lot of the blame that should go to (or be shared with) head coach Marvin Lewis, but that’s just not fair.  Dalton is a decent quarterback with above average talent – that’s enough to win games in this league when things around you are going perfect.  That’s never the case in Cincy though.  In their playoff game last year Dalton was working with the offenses “B Squad” because the team was decimated by injuries.   If Dalton doesn’t start become more assertive in the pocket and doesn’t start avoiding the turnovers – he’ll be a back up for the rest of his career after this season. . .

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One would think, having A.J. Green as your number one option at wide receiver would be enough for a quarterback to stay in the Top Ten, but things don’t work that easily in the league.  A.J. Green was bothered by turf toe last season, and sidelined him for three weeks, including last year’s playoff game.  A.J. Green is in a contract year, and it’s expected of him to have a huge season, so he can get pay days similar to Dez Bryant and Demariyus Thomas.   Green is a freakish athlete who attracts a lot of double teams, meaning somebody else has to be open, ANDY!  The problem here is that Cincinnati has never really supplied a great counterpart to Green.  Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones are decent wide outs, that can have a nice week or two, but can’t provide enough week to week as a legitimate threat to defenses.  The only hope outside of Green in this passing game is the potential that lies in tight end Tyler Eifert.  Eifert has shown flashes of being a good receiving tight end, but he needs to separate himself from the rest, especially after missing almost all of last season from an elbow injury he suffered in week one.

With Dalton unsteady and Green the only viable force in the passing attack – it’s a good thing the running game is supplied by Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard.  Bernard provides the flash and a real threat in the passing game from the backfield while Hill gives you the traditional size and skill set that can keep him on the field for all three downs.   The Bengals will have to keep these two fresh and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, must be creative in keeping these two involved in the game plan every week.

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The offensive line is gritty one, that helped anchor the Bengals ground game which put up over 2100 yards.  The group returns but Andre Smith is in a contract year but with A.J. Green’s contract looming over this season and considering the contract extension given to offensive tackle Clint Boling – this may be Smith’s last go-round with the Bengals.

The corner backs for the Bengals are two former first round picks that the organization is banking on.  Dre Kirkpatrick has had his ups and downs in three years but this is his time to be the “guy” in the secondary who can take on the oppositions toughest match up.  Darqueze Dennard was drafted last year out of Michigan State and might still be a year away from getting his game right.  Adam Jones has been playing with his head on right lately and he can still slide into the three or two spot on the corner back depth chart if somebody slips up.

Geno Atkins wasn’t the same last year and neither was defensive end Carlos Dunlap.  The Bengals figure things just can’t stay the same and both will get back on their game this year.  If the defensive line has a second year of disappointing the fans in Cincy, expect these line backers to be all over the place.  Good thing for the Bengals is that they are well stocked in that position.

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The Bengals signed A.J. Hawk in the off-season, who isn’t as dominant as somebody with a name like “A.J. Hawk” should be – but he’s a smart player with no quit.  His work ethic is infectious will hopefully rub off on the wild man of the group Vontaze Burfict.   Burfict is coming off of a knee injury that shortened his season – Bengals took a gamble on drafting him and then later signing him to an extension.  He is an all out beast, who plays recklessly.  Sometimes too recklessly.  He is also noted as being one of the league’s “dirtier players” which is a title nobody should hold up proudly.  Rey Maualuga is the athletic version of A.J. Hawk.  Good against the run and can get to runners who hit the outside – unlike Hawk.  An interesting addition to the Bengals defense is linebacker Paul Dawson who was taken in the third-round.  Dawson, coming out of TCU, he attacks the ball carriers and tries to blow them up on every attempt.  He is a quick linebacker with great pass rushing potential but on a scale of maturity – he’s closer to Vontaze Burfict than, let’s say. . .an A.J. Hawk.

Predicted Record:  10-6

Predicted Pro Bowlers: A.J. Green, Jeremy Hill, Kevin Zeitler

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Baltimore Ravens 2015 Preview

The Baltimore Ravens are a team built for a playoff run, but at times during the regular season, they appear stagnant.  They can come out flat in some games and tend to grind out wins against meek competition.  Regardless of how they make the playoffs though, they usually do and they’re a tough match up for anyone they go up against.  This season the Ravens have little margin for error though, with the Steelers and Bengals being in the same division.

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Quarterback Joe Flacco is well protected up front, the only weakness for the line though – comes from Flacco’s blind side in the form of left tackle, Eugene Monroe.  Monroe wasn’t 100% last season and was recovering from knee issues, but he should be at top health when the season starts.  Flacco has proven to be a durable quarterback through his career and is coming off of a season where he was fourteen yards short of throwing for 4000 yards.  There were too many times last season though where the Ravens had to settle for field goals instead of finishing a drive off.  Flacco has a few new targets this season that he needs to gel with quickly.   He is paired up with new offensive coordinator, former Bears head coach, Marc Trestman.  Trestman had a horrendous season in Chicago where his offense was supposed to be high powered and barely sparked during 2014.  He has been humbled and will most likely keep things as they were in Baltimore with a zone running scheme.

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The wide receivers on Baltimore are a question mark, but still there is room for optimism.  Veteran Steve Smith, is a trash talking wide out, that is hard to keep quiet.  Smith is probably the NFL’s toughest receiver (after Anquan Boldin of the 49ers) and is relentless.  At times Smith can disappear for long stretches and at 36 years of age, who knows how much of his motor will be going at 100% for four quarters each week.  Marlon Brown was a nice surprise last season, but considering he was basically unheard of if it wasn’t for a few nice weeks, one can assume he is average at best or has already peaked.  The Ravens drafted UFC wide receiver Brett Perriman, who showed off a 4.27 run at the forty-yard dash in this year’s rookie combine workouts.  He has all the makings of being a big time wide out if he doesn’t lose focus.  Great speed, good route runner and aggressive when the ball is in the air – but has a tendency to drop some passes.

Justin Forsett  stepped up as the starting running back for this organization when it was called upon him to do so.  Forsett finished with over 1200 rushing yards and knocked it off at nearly five and half yards a clip.  The problem going forward with Forsett is that, he is coming into his eighth season, in a career where he was predominantly a back up.  Not saying, he can’t be a late bloomer or that his time isn’t the present, but there has to be a reason why he’s been a back up for so long.  Rookie running back Javorius Allen fits the mold of a former Ravens back Bernard Pierce in sheer size.  Allen is a big back with some pass catching abilities that will work his way to either share, or take over the load at running back.

The defense of the Ravens is a consistent within the NFL.  This year should be no different.  A lot of that depends on how second year man Timmy Jernigan works on that defensive line.  He has shown to have a motor, but it takes a while for that motor to get revved up again.  It’s tough to leave him on the field for long – hopefully he’s worked on his endurance and stamina in the off-season.  Chris Canty is the veteran defensive end who will lead the way in the rotation of pass rushers, including the sophomore end Steven Means who apparently is getting high praise in the organization according to Aaron Wilson of Lindy’s Sports.

Last year the Ravens struck gold with their first-round pick C.J. Mosley out of Alabama.  He racked up 129 total tackles last season and proved to have a “veteran’s feel” when it came to chasing down ball carriers.  Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw are the veterans in this linebacker core that will help make Mosley’s transition to the pros even more comfortable than it already has been for him.  Dumervil is a versatile pass rusher who can line up with his hands in the dirt, or standing up-right.

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In 2011, the Ravens were said to be taking a gamble on corner back Jimmy Smith, who had an arrest and a few failed drug tests tied to his name at the time – but Smith has only improved on the field and is now part of a $48 million dollar deal over the next four years.   Smith injured his foot halfway through mid-season but will be back at full strength to start this season to lead this secondary.  Opposite of Smith is Lardarius Webb, who was playing injured most of last season, but he too will be ready to give it a go at 100% health.  The pressure is on the corner backs this season because the safeties behind them are more about hitting then covering.  Will Hill is decent in coverage, but it’s questionable if his head is ever in the game; and free agent Kendrick Lewis is more about knocking someone’s head off.

The Ravens offense will go through some growing pains this season, but they have a strong enough offensive line that they won’t put their defense in bad spots.   In true Ravens fashion, most of their games will be hard to watch but by the end of the regular season they’ll have something to play for.

Predicted Record: 9-7

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Jimmy Smith, Elvis Dumervil, C.J. Mosley, Kelechi Osemele

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio