AFC North preview: Will the Steelers reclaim their crown or will the Ravens and Bengals challenge again?

PREVIEW

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The Independent Online

The NFL season is upon us! The Independent takes a look at all 32 teams, how they have spent their summer and what fans can expect this season. The AFC North remains one of the league's toughest divisions...

BALTIMORE RAVENS

The Baltimore Ravens lost a number of key players in the off-season, putting their status as play-off contenders into question.  Haloti Ngata (Detroit Lions), Torrey Smith (San Francisco 49ers), Pernell McPhee (Chicago Bears) and Owen Daniels (Denver Broncos) all left in free agency, while Matt Elam was placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn bicep in August.

There was also change in coaching personnel, Gary Kubiak leaving his offensive coordinator role to become the Denver Broncos' head coach. He was replaced by former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman. This will be Steve Smith Sr.’s final season in the NFL and the 36-year-old will hope to go out on a high.

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CINCINNATI BENGALS

In five of the last six seasons Marvin Lewis has taken the Cincinnati Bengals to the play-offs only to lose at the first hurdle. The pressure is on Lewis to remove the ‘one and done’ label that is becoming an annoying connotation with his team.

He is without Vontaze Burfict for at least the first six weeks of the season after the Pro Bowl linebacker was placed on the physically unable to perform list on 5 September.

All-Pro receiver AJ Green will hope for a productive season after stuttering in 2014, a persistent toe problem forcing him to miss three games. Quarterback Andy Dalton still has much to prove despite impressive stats throughout his career.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

The Cleveland Browns expected to have Josh Gordon for the 2015 season until the troubled receiver violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy and was hit with a year-long suspension in February.

Gordon, who was suspended for 10 games of the 2014 season due to a failed drug test, is the Browns best skill player and his absence forced head coach Mike Pettine to target receivers in the off-season.

Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe were signed along with former No 1 draft pick Terrelle Pryor, who has made a transition from quarterback bust to wide receiver.

After a rocky rookie season that ended in an trip to rehab in the off-season, much hyped Johnny Manziel is behind Josh McCown on the quarterback depth chart.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The most exciting team to watch in 2015 might just be the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell form arguably the league’s best quarterback-wide receiver-running back trio, with Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates adding to the receiving corps.

The defence, however, is without a number of significant players from 2014. Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Jason Worilds all retired in the off-season and Dick LeBeau, the Steelers defensive coordinator since 2004, left to join the Tennessee Titans.

The Steelers success may depend on how they recover from losing so many experienced heads.

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