AFC North Preview: Cleveland hopes to transform defensively to surpass the Steelers, the Ravens

AFC North Preview: Cleveland hopes to transform defensively to surpass the Steelers, the Ravens

1. Cleveland Browns

coach: Kevin Stefanski (the second year-11-5 in the regular season, 1-1 in the playoffs).

Record for 2020: 11-5 (tied for second in the North of the AFC; lost to Kansas City in the divisional game).

Defensive player: Joe Woods (second year).

Best Defensive Player/Best Newcomer: DE Miles Garrett/S John Johnson. Garrett’s performance is just like his No. 1 pick in 2017-he has 35 1/2 sacks in the past three years. Johnson left the Rams to anchor the Browns’ back end; last year he made 119 tackles (8 professional interceptions) in 18 and 105 last year.

Key statistics: Four-Defensive pass interference penalties, the least in the NFL.

Why did they do it first: The defense will have some growing pains, introducing five new starters. As the list is full of players who are high hopes or looking at new contracts for the first time, the Browns may take a step back. Nevertheless, under the leadership of defensive end Garrett and Johnson, offensive quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Odell Beckham, Cleveland is still the leader in the department.

2. Baltimore Ravens

Associated Press Nick Vas

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson passes the ball during the first half of the NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans in Baltimore on Sunday, November 22, 2020.

coach: John Harbaugh (14th year-regular season 129-79; playoffs 11-8).

Record for 2020: 11-5 (tied for second in the North of the AFC; lost to Buffalo in the divisional game).

Defensive player: Don Martindale (fourth year).

Best Defensive Player/Best Newcomer: CB Marlon Humphrey/OLB Jayson Oweh. Humphrey is the second-highest paid cornerback in the league (average $19.5 million). Last year, he had 8 forced turnovers to become the best player in the NFL. Although he was not fired in seven games at Penn State University last year, Oweh was selected 31st.

Key statistics: 106-Last year’s takeaway score, the most in the league.

Why they won the second place: If they fall behind, the Ravens will not have enough explosive power on offense. Baltimore leads the league in rushing, but ranks last in passing. They added receiver Sammy Watkins in the free agency market, but he didn’t really change his mind. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is still a dynamic playmaker. Last year’s ratio of TD to INT was 26:9, but he ranked fourth in the division, second only to Baker Mayfield (Cleveland) and Ben Root. Lisberg (Pittsburgh) and Jobrow (Cincinnati).

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) ...

Associated Press Ron Jenkins

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes the first half of the NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, November 8, 2020.

coach: Mike Tomlin (15th year-regular season 145-78-1; playoffs 8-8).

Record for 2020: 12-4 (First in the North of the AFC; lost to Cleveland in the wild card round).

Defensive player: Keith Butler (seventh year).

Best Defensive Player/Best Newcomer: OLB TJ Watt/LB Buddy Johnson. Watt is waiting for a big contract; last year he led the league with 15 sacks and missed only two games in four seasons. As a fourth-round rookie, Johnson had a team-high 86 steals for the Texas A&M team last year.

Key statistics: 56-Sack, leading the league last year.

Why they won the third place: There is too much brain drain and insufficient talent. The Steelers lost pass rusher Bud Dupree, linebacker Avery Williamson and cornerbacks Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton. This will make Watt receive more attention. On the offensive end, they will rely on rookie running back Najee Harris to ensure that Ben Roethlisberger does not have to throw again 608 times. Pittsburgh’s record last year was 1-5 (including the playoffs).

4. Cincinnati Bengals

Eric Dungee of Cincinnati #5...

Greg Fiume, Getty Images

Eric Dungey, No. 5 player of the Cincinnati Bengals, runs with the ball during the NFL preseason game against the Washington football team in Landover, Maryland, on August 20, 2021.

coach: Zach Taylor (third year-6-25-1 regular season).

Record for 2020: 4-11-1 (fourth in the north of the AFC).