AFC North 2014 Predictions Part 1

AFC North 2014 Predictions Part 1
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The battle of Ohio could make or break a season

Cleveland Browns
5-11 record (1-5 division, 4-4 home, 1-7 away)

AFC North rank #4

Positive outlook:

  • The Browns created quite a buzz and improved their team by grabbing quarterback Johnny Manziel with not their first, but second pick of the first round while picking up cornerback Justin Gilbert to strengthen their solid defensive backfield.
  • Brian Hoyer appears to be a solid starting quarterback while Manziel learns the playbook and the speed of the NFL.
  • The Browns play all of their games in the Eastern Time zone, with north Florida as their furthest destination. They might have the easiest travel schedule in the NFL.
  • The Browns play the bottom 5-ranked teams in the NFL according to consensus preseason rankings, and only play two teams outside of the division considered to be in the top half of the NFL.

Not so fast:

  • Is Texas A&M’s coach Kevin Sumlin the next Steve Spurrier? After watching the Aggies destroy the South Carolina Gamecocks with a quarterback throwing for 511 yards, it makes you wonder. Is it the system or is Johnny Football legit? Think about how many high flying but undersized quarterbacks under Spurrier’s tutelage excelled in the NFL.
  • Speaking of creating a buzz, Josh Gordon is suspended for the year, and Manziel appears to be a suspension waiting to happen.
  • The AFC North has three legitimate teams in the playoff chase, which negates much of the Browns easy out-of-division schedule.

Must wins to overachieve: @Jaguars, Raiders, Texans, Buccaneers,

Bubble games: @Bills, @Titans, @ Falcons, Bengals Ravens, Steelers

Tough matchups: @ Steelers, @ Bengals, @ Ravens, New Orleans, Indianapolis

Analysis: For the past four years, I have predicted that the Browns would overachieve, so the fact that I am negative on the Browns this year should be a good sign to their faithful. There is just too much uncertainty with the team on both offense and defense. And that was before they lost their biggest offensive threat in Josh Gordon, who helped the likes of Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden to have near 400-yard games. Brian Hoyer also benefited from Gordon (who made his 2013 debut in Hoyer’s first start), so it’s difficult to say how much of the success was due to his play, or the fact that Gordon opened up the offense. If Hoyer fails or gets injured, I don’t see Manziel coming in to save the season… at least not this year. The key for the Browns will be their divisional home games starting with the Bengals, against whom they have enjoyed the most success.

Cincinnati Bengals 9-7 record (3-3 division, 7-1 home, 2-6 away)

AFC North rank #3

Positive outlook:

  • The Bengals continue a trend they set three years ago when they finished the 2011 season with a 9-7 record, made the playoffs, and subsequently increased their win total by one game each year. If that trend continues, they would finish with a 12-4 record at the end of the season.
  • Like the rest of the AFC North teams, they have an easy travel schedule. Only two games are outside of the Eastern time zone, and the farthest they have to travel is about 1,000 miles to Houston.
  • Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Co. have another year under their belt working together as a unit, which has been a successful formula for many teams.
  • They went undefeated at home last year and might only lose one game this year.

Not so fast:

  • The Bengals have the toughest away schedule in the North. Similar to the Ravens, but they play at the Patriots instead of the Dolphins
  • While the rest of the division tried to better their team on the field, outside of the NFL draft, the only real changes the Bengals made were  with the coaching staff.
  • The pressure is mounting for the Bengals to perform well and move towards a first round bye. They just haven’t shown they can play well under pressure.
  • The Bengals play three tough road games in their first six, and play five of their last seven games on the road. All five of their losses last year were outside of Cincinnati.

Must wins to have a shot at the playoffs: Falcons, Titans, Panthers, Jaguars, @Houston, @Tampa, Browns

Bubble games: Steelers (2), Ravens (2), @ Browns

Tough Matchups: @ Patriots, @ Indianapolis, @ Saints, Denver

Analysis: This prediction might be a shock to some, but the AFCN is extremely tight at the top, and the Bengals have the most difficult schedule. The Bengals out-of-division success appears to be fairly cut and dried, with four extremely tough and six fairly easy games. In my opinion, they must win at least four inside of the AFC North to have a shot at a 10+ win season. Unfortunately, the Bengals haven’t won more than three divisional games since 2009. Their alternate route is to win a “tough matchup” game, which won’t be easy considering three are on the road where the Bengals struggled last year; and the forth is at home versus Peyton Manning during the regular season.

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