Today’s question: Who will win the AFC North and how many teams will get into the playoffs?
Jeremy Fowler, Pittsburgh Steelers reporter: Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will push each other until Week 17, with the Bengals getting the edge by one game. The Ravens will finish above .500 but will miss the playoffs by a game, leaving two divisional teams at home for January and the other two -- hopefully -- facing off in an AFC wild-card rematch. The Steelers' offense will be better and their defensive rebuild is nearly complete, but I just like the Bengals’ overall balance a little better. Andy Dalton never got to finish what he started a year ago, and the franchise is eager to end the little-brother complex that Pittsburgh would love to see continue. The losses of Heath Miller and Martavis Bryant could cause the Steelers to start the season a bit slowly.
Coley Harvey, Cincinnati Bengals reporter: We’ll go with the last part first. A lot of the playoff question hinges upon what happens with the Ravens. If they can get back to the form that led them to the playoffs in 2014, then we’ll see a three-team playoff representation from the AFC North just like in 2014. At this stage, there’s no question the Steelers and Bengals belong in the playoff discussion. After all, the division champion has come down to those two teams in each of the past three seasons. In each of those years, the runner-up has qualified for a wild-card spot. That said, those will be the only AFC North teams in the playoffs this season. As for the division champion? For the Bengals to repeat, they will need a complete buy-in into the lessons taught by the new members of their coaching staff. Cincinnati had to replace six coaches this offseason. Judging from how the Bengals worked at a more business-like, up-tempo pace during organized team activities and minicamp, they already have started getting used to their new coaches. Although it’ll be close between them and the Steelers again this year, I’m picking Cincinnati to repeat and claim the division crown.
Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Ravens reporter: The Steelers will win the AFC North for the second time in three seasons, and the Ravens will rebound to make the playoffs after their worst season under coach John Harbaugh. This looks like Pittsburgh’s year because it’s hard to imagine the Steelers experiencing the same bad run of injuries again. Pittsburgh is going to simply outscore teams with the NFL’s best triplets in Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. While the defense was a far cry from the Steel Curtain, the Steelers weren’t as bad as many like to think. Pittsburgh ranked 11th in points allowed. The Ravens haven’t generated much offseason buzz because most of their star players are injured. But Baltimore addressed two of the biggest areas of concern in the offseason, adding a leader in the secondary in Eric Weddle and a deep threat in Mike Wallace. The last time Baltimore missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons was 2004-05. The Bengals will miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2010 because they took a big hit with the changes at wide receiver and their coaching staff.
Pat McManamon, Cleveland Browns reporter: Pittsburgh would have run away with the division last season, but Le'Veon Bell missed 10 games and Ben Roethlisberger four. Even with injuries, the Steelers' offense was prolific; the 423 points scored by Pittsburgh was second in the AFC and best in the division. If Bell, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown stay reasonably healthy, they all could put up big numbers and provide a young defense time to grow. The Steelers win this division, with the Bengals earning a wild-card berth by finishing second.