NFL: AFC North season preview

We take a look at each division before the start of the 2014 season, with this feature examining the AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have been plagued with an aura of disappointment over the last three seasons, despite being the most consistent team in their division and a winning record of 30-18. Last season, Cincinnati won the AFC North for the first time since 2009 and made their way to a third straight playoff appearance, only to fall once again at the first hurdle.

Quarterback Andy Dalton is a talented player that many other teams would be lucky to have yet his inability to convert in the postseason has left a mark on his reputation as a possible franchise quarterback. Even with three straight postseason appearances, head coach Marvin Lewis is very much in the firing line should his team fail to make it to the divisional round of the playoffs again.

The team lost a number of its starters to injury last season, and was lucky not to undergo any major overhauls during the offseason that could have hindered its chances of another playoff run. The key to their success lies once more with the quarterback. Cincinnati’s defence has its key pieces still together and a consistent Dalton will be worth wonders.

Cincinnati Bengals quarter-back Andy Dalton Cincinnati Bengals quarter-back Andy Dalton The impact of outgoing Jay Gruden has yet to be fully felt, but newly promoted offensive coordinator Hue Jackson could have a positive impact on Dalton’s development, having done the same with Carson Palmer years earlier.  If this is the year Cincinnati makes a run for the title, they’ll need more from their quarterback when it matters most.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Despite not posting a losing record for over 10 years, Pittsburgh’s recent 8-8 seasons have come as a disappointed to the well supported franchise. Having missed out on the postseason for the past two years, Steelers appear to be making big strides on their way back into the playoffs.

The biggest transformation is their defence and just how much younger they’ve got. Last year was the first time this century that the Steelers didn’t have a top ten defence and so the additions of linebacker Ryan Shazier and safety Mike Mitchell will help bring back the speed and explosiveness we’re used to seeing from a Steelers defence. Veteran Troy Polamalu will provide much needed leadership to a relatively weak secondary but overall the entire defensive unit appears to be significantly upgraded.

Pittsburgh Steelers veteran Troy Polamalu Pittsburgh Steelers veteran Troy Polamalu One concern however is whether quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has the weapons to succeed on offence. The Steelers lost Jerrico Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders to free agency and will need established players such as wide receiver Antonio Brown and new running back LeGarrette Blount to share the workload if the Steelers are to make their way back to the postseason.

Baltimore Ravens

Following their Super Bowl triumph in 2012, the Baltimore Ravens clearly partied too long and were caught completely off guard when the 2013 season came around, resulting in John Harbaugh’s first year as a head coach that didn’t involve a postseason trip. The key area the Ravens front office had to address was the offence, which overall they seem to have done fairly well.

Bringing in pro bowl wide receiver Steve Smith and re-signing tight end Dennis Pitta (who missed nearly all of last season through injury) will help revitalise quarterback Joe Flacco. The addition of Smith, although a calculated risk not only provides another receiving option but frees up the rest of the field. The loss of Michael Oher to Tennessee could prove costly and the necessity for leadership on defence was all too obvious last season.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Age on defence could also be an issue, with veterans Terrell Suggs and newly signed Elvis Dumervil both now over 30. Nevertheless, Baltimore appears better prepared and they have addressed key areas of concern which will no doubt put them in better stead when competing for the division.

Cleveland Browns

The drafting of quarterback Johnny Manziel by the Cleveland Browns appeared to be the start of a new era for the franchise, with Manziel virtually a shoe in to start. That new era seems to have been put on hold with new head coach Mike Pettine confirming Brian Hoyer will start over Manziel.

Back in May, this move would have seemed confusing to say the least, but after watching Manziel and Hoyer over preseason, it appears the latter was picked out of necessity. Both quarterbacks were underwhelming in every phase of the game, with Manziel far from ready to start in the eyes of his coaches. Despite having to settle for the best of a bad bunch at quarterback, Cleveland has improved dramatically on defence.

Cleveland Browns quarter-back Jonny Manziel Cleveland Browns quarter-back Jonny Manziel Pettine, the protégé of Rex Ryan in New York, turned Buffalo’s defence into a formidable force last season and looks set to do the same again with Cleveland. The drafting of cornerback Joe Haden and addition of safety Donte Whitner provides a defence with much needed size and strength. Although the defence has depth and talent, if the offence can’t move the ball properly with either Manziel or Hoyer (both of which will almost certainly play this season), then Cleveland will struggle against division rivals. Not to mention Cleveland is without Josh Gordon for the year following his suspension.

News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game