- Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns have been a miserable franchise for a very long time and it wasn’t too long ago that they went 1-31 combined for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. However, the Browns are now a team with a stacked roster to go along with high expectations heading into the 2019 season. I am hesitant to say that they will win the division this year, but I am a big believer in the team because of the talent that they have on offense and defense. It appears Cleveland has finally found their franchise quarterback with Baker Mayfield. However, he has plenty of help on offense as he has Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson at the running back position. Also, they have Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and newly acquired all-pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The Browns defense appears to be even more talented as they acquired defensive end Olivier Vernon this offseason and he’ll form a formidable pass rushing duo to go along with tremendous young pass rusher Myles Garrett. The loss of safety Jabrill Peppers might hurt the Browns secondary, but the Browns still have a couple of very good young cornerbacks with Denzel Ward and this year’s 2nd round pick Greedy Williams. Overall, the Browns are very talented on both sides of the ball and the moves that they made this offseason prove that they are ready to possibly make a playoff run in 2019. It’s been awhile since the Browns have made the playoffs, but they are clearly all-in for the 2019 season.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers didn’t get any better this offseason especially after the departures of key offensive weapons Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. However, the Steelers seem poised to fill those voids with the expanded starting roles of James Washington and James Conner. There is no doubting the talent that Pittsburgh still has especially on offense with Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner forming a terrific trio of playmakers. However, they’ll need more from James Washington and newly acquired receiver Donte Moncrief if the offense is going to reach its full potential. The offense should be fine for Pittsburgh, but it is the defense that is the main concern. Pittsburgh did add some impact players to the linebacker position though with 1st round pick Devin Bush and free agent signing Mark Barron. The defensive line for Pittsburgh is good and nothing changed in that aspect, but it is the secondary that remains a big concern. Pittsburgh did address the cornerback position by signing Steven Nelson and drafting Justin Layne in the 3rd round. However, the Steelers secondary still needs some impact players and I’m not sure that Nelson or Layne will do much to change that. Overall, Pittsburgh didn’t have a good offseason and they likely got worse. That being said, Pittsburgh still has plenty of talent and they should be a playoff contender once again in 2019.
3. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are one of the most unpredictable teams heading into the 2019 season especially with Lamar Jackson taking over the full-time role at quarterback. Baltimore had a strange offseason as they made some big moves, but they also lost several key players from last season. Baltimore added some more speed to their offense by selecting receiver Marquise Brown in the 1st round, but the Ravens didn’t do enough to add some more depth to that position. The Ravens won’t do much passing this season with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, so it made tons of sense to sign running back Mark Ingram in free agency. The Ravens offense does have the potential to be dynamic if the Ravens offense can be successful running the ball. However, it is somewhat of a concern that Baltimore’s offense could become one-dimensional with Jackson’s difficulty with his accuracy and the lack of depth at the receiver position. There is no doubting that the Ravens running game will likely be among the best in the NFL, but it won’t matter much if the offense can’t find a good balance with the passing game. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s defense was terrific last season and it will likely carry the team once again in 2019. However, the Ravens front 7 will undoubtedly be weaker this offseason after they lost Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Za’Darius Smith in free agency. Don’t expect Baltimore’s defense to be dominant in 2019, but they still have plenty of talent especially in the secondary with the talented duo of Tony Jefferson and Earl Thomas at safety. Baltimore still has tremendous potential and it is very possible that they could win the division again in 2019. That being said, the Ravens have so much uncertainty on both sides of the ball that it will likely hold them back.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati is a team in transition this offseason as they hired Zac Taylor to be their new head coach. The Bengals likely won’t be a playoff contender, but they still have plenty of talent especially on offense. They are particularly deep at the wide receiver position with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and John Ross as their top pass-catching options. Also, they have a good duo at running back with Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Cincinnati even has an improved offensive line especially with the selection of offensive tackle Jonah Williams in the 1st round this offseason. Cincinnati barely did anything in free agency, but they didn’t really lose much besides linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The Bengals have several glaring weaknesses on the defense, but they also have plenty of talent. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap form a terrific defensive line duo. The Bengals secondary is also really good especially at cornerback with William Jackson, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Darqueze Dennard. The major weakness for the Bengals continues to be at the linebacker position and they didn’t really do anything to address the problem this offseason. Cincinnati is an underrated team in 2019, but they could surprise some people because of the decent amount of talent that they have. However, the Bengals still have many weaknesses and they’ll have a tough time competing in the difficult AFC North in 2019.