- Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly going to be super bowl contenders once again in 2018 as they are led by a terrific offense. Ben Roethlisberger is still a top quarterback in the NFL despite his age and it helps that he has Le’Veon Bell who is probably the best running back in the NFL. Also, the Steelers have arguably the best wide receiver group in the NFL with Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and rookie 2nd round pick James Washington. It is difficult to find a weakness on the Steelers offense and that is what will carry this team once again during the 2018 season. Meanwhile, the Steelers defense is what could hold the Steelers back this season. They do have some good talent on the defensive line with players like Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Bud Depree. However, the secondary and linebacker groups for the Steelers could prove once again to be a major issue in 2018. TJ Watt is a rising star in the NFL at linebacker and Vince Williams has been a productive player for the Steelers. However, they didn’t do anything to address the inside linebacker position this offseason and that could be a major area of weakness in 2018. Meanwhile, the Steelers secondary is really appearing to once again be the weakness of the entire team. Rookie 1st round safety Terrell Edmunds should help to strengthen that group, but the safety position still needs some help. Also, the cornerback position is thin for Pittsburgh as they have Artie Burns and Joe Haden, but not much else. Pittsburgh could struggle to defend the pass in 2018 and the defense as a whole could be a big weakness for the Steelers. Pittsburgh is still the best team in the AFC north, although they aren’t really any better than they were last season.
2. Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens had a goal of adding some more explosiveness to their offense this offseason and that’s exactly what they did especially by drafting speedy quarterback Lamar Jackson in the 1st round. Jackson probably won’t be the starter at QB right away, but he is so athletic that he can be used as a weapon at other positions. He can also help to put more pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco to perform. Alex Collins figures to be the lead running back for Baltimore in 2018 after he performed well last season. The Ravens will need him to play well to take more pressure off of Flacco at quarterback. Also, the Ravens completely revamped their passing game as they added tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in the draft. Also, the team added wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead to presumably be their new starters at that position. It’s still not a great receiver group, but it really shouldn’t be worse than what Baltimore had last season. Baltimore also has a decent offensive line led by Marshal Yanda, yet the loss of starting center Ryan Jensen will really hurt that unit. Meanwhile, the Ravens figures to be just as good as it was last season. They have a really good secondary led by their star safety duo of Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. Also, the Ravens have some good linebackers led by Terrell Suggs who had 11 sacks last season. However, the Ravens need to find another pass rusher to step up by Suggs or else too much pressure will be put on Baltimore’s secondary. Baltimore’s defense will likely carry the team once again this season, but the offense should be better than it was in 2017. If Baltimore’s offense can just be decent then the Ravens could be serious playoff contenders.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are kind of a team that is stuck in the middle of being a playoff contender and being one of the worst teams in the NFL. They have a good running back duo with Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Also, they have one of the best wide receivers in the NFL with A.J. Green. However, the rest of the receivers are kind of a mystery at this point. John Ross is a talented receiver, but he didn’t have a good rookie year as he struggled to stay healthy. Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd provide good depth at wide receiver for Cincinnati, but they are only reliable 3rd targets at best. The Bengals also don’t know what to expect from quarterback Andy Dalton in 2018. Dalton is the type of player that can play at a pro-bowl level or he could be a below average starter. If the Bengals want to go anywhere next season then they need him to step up as he has plenty of talent around him on offense. Cincinnati’s offensive line should be much improved next season especially with the additions of Cordy Glenn and Billy Price. Cincinnati’s offense has some potential, but it all revolves around the play of Andy Dalton. Meanwhile, the Bengals defense appears to be the strength of the team heading into next season. They have three good pass rushers with Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and Carl Lawson. Also, they have a couple of good linebackers with Preston Brown and Vontaze Burfict. The secondary is very talented as well since they have Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, and William Jackson at cornerback. Cincinnati doesn’t have too much weakness on defense and it should help to carry their team in 2018. If the Bengals can improve on offense this season then they could possibly be a playoff team.
4. Cleveland Browns
There is finally some hope for the Cleveland Browns franchise after winning only one game the past two seasons combined. However, Browns fans shouldn’t get their hopes up too much as they still have several holes to fill on their roster. Cleveland now has much more talent this season especially on offense. They now have a terrific wide receiver group after the acquisition of Jarvis Landry this offseason. If Josh Gordon can stay out of trouble and Corey Coleman can stay healthy then the Browns figure to have one of the best receiver groups in the NFL. Also, the Browns have a terrific running back group after they drafted Nick Chubb in the 2nd round and signed Carlos Hyde in free agency. They also have 3rd-down back Duke Johnson that will make the running back position for the Browns. It will be interesting to see how the Browns split up the playing time for each of the running backs as any of those running backs have a legitimate chance to be the starter. The Browns also should have an improved offensive line with the additions of offensive tackles Chris Hubbard and Austin Corbett this offseason. The only real uncertainty for Cleveland is at the quarterback position. Tyrod Taylor was acquired this offseason and he will likely be the starter early this season. However, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is waiting in the wings and it is very likely that he will start sooner rather than later this season. The quarterback position has high potential for the Browns and it should be much better than last season, although it will likely hold the team back from contention this season. Meanwhile, on defense the Browns are stacked with plenty of young talent. They are particularly stacked at the linebacker position with Jamie Collins, Christian Kirksey, and the offseason addition of Mychal Kendricks. Cleveland has some weakness at the defensive tackle position, but they still have a couple of really good young pass rushers with Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah. Those two defensive ends have really high potential and they should only improve in 2018. The Browns also have a couple of really talented players in the secondary. They added cornerback Denzel Ward in the 1st round of the draft and they also have talented 2nd-year safety Jabrill Peppers. Cleveland still has some uncertainty at many positions including at quarterback, but they still should be much more competitive than they were last season.