At this point, everyone who follows the NFL, and more importantly the Pittsburgh Steelers, knows the hype surrounding the team as they prepare for the 2016 season. With the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Ladarius Green and Maurkice Pouncey, they are considered one of the top offenses in the NFL.
The defensive side of the ball is far less flashy, with less marquee names adorning their depth charts, but Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, Mike Mitchell, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and a slew of promising young players look to rectify the previous team's defensive failures.
Every year, Football Outsiders provides in-depth coverage of the NFL, and always release post-draft predictions for both the AFC and NFC. With the Steelers favorites to represent the conference in Super Bowl 51, how does Football Outsiders see the AFC North division shaking out in 2016?
Take a look for yourself:
1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 12-4 (11.8 mean wins; SOS: 23)
2. Cincinnati Bengals: 10-6 (9.8 mean wins; SOS: 20)
3. Baltimore Ravens: 10-6 (9.6 mean wins; SOS: 24)
4. Cleveland Browns: 4-12 (3.6 mean wins; SOS: 7)
I know what you are thinking, "Wow, 4 wins for the Browns this year?!"
But in all seriousness, anyone who takes a realistic view of the division could see three double-digit win teams all be represented in the AFC Playoffs in 2016. Will the Steelers be the team with the most wins? It certainly is possible, but the same case could be made for the Bengals and possibly even the Ravens.
I leave you with Football Outsiders take on the AFC North, and why the believe the results will be as they predicted. Let the debate begin...
We talk a lot about which NFL division is the best top to bottom, but no division can compete with the AFC North when it comes to "top to almost bottom" quality. Three AFC North teams made the postseason in 2014, and the same will happen in 2016 if the season plays out according to our mean projections.
We currently project Pittsburgh to be the best offense in the league, which makes a lot of sense considering they ranked third in offensive DVOA last year despite getting just 12 games out of Ben Roethlisberger and six out of Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers also have a strong, experienced offensive line that gets Maurkice Pouncey back from a missed season. The defense brings in some new blood with this year's top two picks (Artie Burns and Sean Davis) plus cornerback Senquez Golson, a 2015 second-rounder who missed his entire rookie year.
Cincinnati ranked No. 2 overall in DVOA last year, trailing only Seattle, but we project some regression on the offensive side of the ball. The Bengals were only an average offense by DVOA in 2013 and 2014 before leading the league last year, and the unit must overcome the loss of wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. Cincinnati also gets only seven home games this year because of a game in London.
The Bengals were remarkably injury-free last year until they lost their quarterback near the end of the season. Baltimore, on the other hand, was decimated by injuries all year long. By midseason, it seemed as though Joe Flacco had nobody left to throw to, and then he went out and tore his own ACL. The return of Flacco and other veterans such as Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith Sr. and Justin Forsett should help the Ravens bounce back after their first losing season since 2007. The biggest improvement is likely to be more takeaways by the Ravens defense. Last season, the Baltimore defense ended just 6.6 percent of opposing drives with takeaways. That ranked 31st in the NFL. There's a lot of year-to-year regression in turnovers, so that stat is a very strong indicator of improvement in 2016. (In 2014, the lowest teams in this stat were the Jets and Chiefs, who turned their defenses around significantly in 2015.) Baltimore also has the highest projection for special teams, as they are one of the few teams to have excellent special teams nearly every year.
Cleveland will spend the year scouting college quarterbacks.