AFC North 2017 Predictions
AFC North 2017 Predictions (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Everyone uses different indicators when predicting divisional winners. There are four keys, in no particular order, that I consider when carefully calculating my AFC North 2017 predictions:

These are not the “end all, be all” qualifications. These are the key indicators that help decide who wins and who loses. Quarterback play is extremely important in the NFL, especially when trying to make a playoff run. As teams continue to win in January, there is a direct correlation with how good their quarterback is.

The strength of schedule is also an important factor. It gives an objective base to start with and make predictions based on their opponents 2016 win/loss record. Regardless of what the popular opinion is, traveling wears on people and yes, that includes athletes. The more your team travels, the harder it is to get ready game after game. And finally, Vegas. When people involve money, everything changes. You’ve heard the phrase “Follow the money” – there is a reason Vegas is so successful. They know what they are doing.

And from there game-by-game selections are made; sometimes going against my better judgment. Additional keys to consider are home field advantage, coaching, offensive/defensive line play, and skilled playmakers.

Now that I’ve bored you with my selection process, let’s talk football. From last to first, below are my AFC North 2017 predictions.

Cleveland Browns

AFC North 2017 Predictions
How many wins will DeShone Kizer lead the Browns too? (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

This team is 100% committed to getting younger, faster, and more athletic. In the 2017 draft, they selected three players in the first round and one in the second. Three out of those four picks are listed as starters on the Cleveland Browns depth chart: Myles Garrett (DE), Jabrill Peppers (SS), and DeShone Kizer (QB).

Before the fourth and final preseason game, Hue Jackson and the Cleveland Browns coaching staff named DeShone Kizer the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns over Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler. Throwing the rookie to the wolves hoping he will be better for it.

Let’s review the checklist for the Cleveland Browns.

  1. DeShone Kizer is an unproven commodity but has shown flashes of an NFL caliber starting quarterback.
  2. Cleveland has the hardest “strength of schedule” in the AFC North (21st overall).
  3. The Browns travel the second most in the division: 16,386 miles.
  4. Las Vegas has the Browns winning 4.5 games; worst in the AFC North.

Because of the youth of this team, the expectations are not set extremely high. Whether loyal Browns fans want to admit it or not, they are still rebuilding. Combine that with a rookie under center commanding a sub-par offense and the team will not yield consistent results.

This rebuild is going to take time. But the Browns appear to be on the right track.

Prediction: 5-11

Cincinnati Bengals

AFC North 2017 Predictions
A.J. Green continues to produce even with a stagnant offense (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Marvin Lewis has coached the Bengals since 2003. In his 13 seasons, the Bengals have won the division four times and each time resulted in a loss in the wild-card game. Under his tenure, the Bengals haven’t surpassed the first round of the playoffs. And it seems unlikely they will make the playoffs this season either.

What is the direction the Cincinnati Bengals are searching for? For example, let’s look at the Bengals running back situation. The Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard in the second round of the 2013 draft. The very next draft (2014), they selected Jeremy Hill out of LSU. And in the 2017 draft, the Bengals selected Joe Mixon in the second round. To recap, over the last five drafts, the Bengals have used three second-round selections on the same position.

To give you perspective, the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots have drafted just one running back since 2012 – James White in the fourth round of the 2014 draft.

Now that we all agree the Bengals don’t know what they’re doing, let’s review their checklist.

  1. The Bengals have the third-best quarterback in the division in Andy Dalton.
  2. Cincinnati has the easiest “strength of schedule” of the AFC North teams (29th overall).
  3. Only the Steelers travel less than the Bengals: 7,662 miles.
  4. Vegas likes the Bengals. Spotting them 8.5 wins this season which I think is too many.

However, it is understandable the sharks in Las Vegas expect the Bengals to win 8.5 games because of their easy schedule and light travel. The Bengals, in my opinion, have bad culture and leadership which does not equate to many wins in the NFL.

But after a bad offseason, a bad regular season is likely to follow. The Bengals, in my opinion, have bad culture and leadership which does not equate to many wins in the NFL.

Prediction: 6-10

Baltimore Ravens

AFC North 2017 Predictions
How far will the Ravens go in 2017 under Joe Flacco? (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Like last season, the Baltimore Ravens will be a better team than most people think. Are they fun to watch? To the average fan – absolutely not. That doesn’t mean they won’t win football games though.

The Ravens will once again have what they are known best for – a lockdown, punishing defense. But will they have enough to overtake the Steelers for the division title?

Let’s review their four keys.

  1. Joe Flacco is on the decline but has shown the NFL, with a good defense, he can win football games.
  2. The Ravens have the second hardest schedule in the AFC North behind the Browns (24th overall).
  3. Baltimore travels more than any other divisional opponent: 18,055.
  4. Vegas has the Ravens winning 9.0 games; second in the division behind the Steelers.

Again, when the sharks talk, I listen. The Ravens got better on both sides of the football with free agent signings of Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr, Danny Woodhead, and Jeremy Maclin. The Ravens also fared well in the draft with the selections of Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley, and Tim Williams.

While Joe Flacco is no longer elite, this defensive unit will be. It is the best defense in the division. Joe Flacco once again has formidable pieces to work with this season and the Ravens continue to improve.

Prediction: 10-6

Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC North 2017 Predictions
With a healthy three-headed monster, no one in the AFC North will take this down (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Picking the Pittsburgh Steelers to win this division was very simple. They have the most elusive running back/wide receiver tandem in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown in the NFL. Not to mention one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks over the last decade.

The Steelers are better defensively than they were in 2016 and outside of losing DeAngelo Williams and adding Martavis Bryant, their offense looks the same.

Let’s run through the Pittsburgh Steelers checklist.

  1. Ben Roethlisberger is still the best quarterback in this division; especially when playing at home.
  2. The Pittsburgh Steelers have the easiest schedule in the division outside of the Cincinnati Bengals.
  3. The Steelers travel the least of any NFL team: 6,694 miles.
  4. Las Vegas has Pittsburgh winning  10.5 games; most in the AFC North.

The Steelers are the most logical choice to win the division. They have the division’s best quarterback, they have the second easiest in-division schedule, they travel the least of any NFL team, and the men who care about money think they win almost 11 games.

With that being said, are the Steelers the favorite to knock off Tom Brady and this New England Patriots AFC run?

Prediction: 12-4

Who do you have winning this division?