AFC NORTH

  1. Cincinnati Bengals

2020 Record: 4-11-1

Key Additions: WR Ja’Marr Chase, DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Mike Hilton, CB Chidobe Awuzie, OT Riley Reiff, OT Jackson Carman

Key Losses: WR AJ Green, DT Geno Atkins, DE Carl Lawson, CB William Jackson III, WR John Ross

We only saw #1 overall pick Joe Burrow in 5 games before tearing his ACL and MCL, but considering he was running for his life behind a terrible offensive line and playing from behind in every game, he looked as good as advertised! They still passed up on the opportunity to take the best offensive lineman to, you know, protect him from getting murdered in the backfield, but he wanted his favorite college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, and they went out and got him; in a league with so many angry stars at their organizations, you have to respect the Bengals doing right by their guy. Cincy made a few moves to improve the spots that made them one of the worst teams for the past couple of years, upgrading their offensive line and defense, but they’re still young and far away from competing when Burrow will be at his peak. Also, Zac Taylor might be the most unknown head coach in football who has proven nothing, so he could easily be outta there if he and Burrow don’t gel.  All they can hope for is him to look healthy with one of the most electric skill groups in football, not have a disastrous defense, and prepare to get a better roster next year given their division is so stacked. 

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers

2020 Record: 12-4

Key Additions: DE Melvin Ingram, RB Najee Harris, OT Joe Haeg, TE Pat Friarmuth, OG Trai Turner, LB Joe Schobert

Key Losses: LB Bud Dupree, CB Mike Hilton, OT Matt Feiler, OT Alejandro Villanueva, CB Steven Nelson, C Maurkice Pouncey, LB Vince Williams

The swan song season for the Steelers we’ve known for the past two decades is upon us: it’s Big Ben’s finale. You have to respect that he came out and said that he has been adhering to a diet “stricter than Tom Brady’s” now 17 years into his career. The Steelers had a defense that caught lightning in a bottle last year that led them to an 11-0 start, but now, here we are, and critical defensive players have left, the offensive line is expected to be potentially one of the worst in the league, and Ben will be one year older off of a season where he noodle-armed every pass to the line of scrimmage. Najee Harris was the top running back in the draft, and hopefully will get a lot of carries, but he might be sent out to die behind that line. Ben doesn’t like to run play-action- if the Steelers want to compete, he needs to get over that in order to have some creative play-calling with Najee to unlock the offense. It just feels like this Steelers team, despite being one of the most-consistently winning organizations in sports, is behind in too many areas in this division.

  1. Baltimore Ravens

2020 Record: 11-5

Key Additions: WR Sammy Watkins, WR Rashod Bateman, G Kevin Zeitler, OT Alejandro Villanueva, DE Jayson Oweh, DE Justin Houston

Key Losses: DE Matt Judon, DE Yannick Ngakoue, RB Mark Ingram, C Matt Skura, OT Orlando Brown Jr., WR Willie Snead IV

It’s no question that Lamar Jackson is one of the most electrifying dual-threat quarterback in NFL history because of his speed, and he’s proven that he can remain healthy and sustain that play style on the field, but every single season it feels like the lack of a passing attack to a big receiving target allows other NFL defenses to shut the Ravens down when they need to throw. They tried to address it by signing Watkins and drafting Bateman this offseason, so we’ll see if that can take them to the heights that they need to reach, but until that happens, they’re going to be a bit behind in a league defined by passing attack no matter how stacked they are. With a young, MVP-winning quarterback, a top 5 defense in the league consistently, and the best running attack in football, the goal is to win the Super Bowl, but their ceiling will be defined by if they can unlock Lamar’s passing this year.

  1. Cleveland Browns

2020 Record: 11-5

Key Additions: CB Troy Hill, CB John Johnson III, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Karamoah, CB Greg Newsome II, DT Malik Jackson, DE Jadeveon Clowney, WR Anthony Schwartz

Key Losses: DT Sheldon Richardson, DT Larry Ogunjobi, CB Terrance Mitchell, OT Kendall Lamm, LB Olivier Vernon

Photo: Jason Miller / Getty Images

The last time we bought into the Browns preseason hype was the nightmare Freddie Kitchens season where Baker was on every single commercial in the midst of their losses. It certainly wasn’t a good look. However, after Kevin Stefanski came in and won coach of the year last year by unlocking Baker’s potential, they added pieces to strengthen their weaknesses on defense, and they’ll be getting playmakers back and healthy this season, the Browns chances to win the AFC feel VERY real. They won their first playoff game in nearly 3 decades last year under compromised COVID circumstances, and now with Myles Garrett back and healthy, Odell Beckham Jr. back on offense, and the best offensive line in football, they have an argument of the most-complete roster in the league with the third-easiest schedule this year. The only question is if we’ll see a continuation of 2020 Baker Mayfield or if he regresses back to 2019 Baker Mayfield, but Stefanski made his life so easy last year that he looks well-positioned to repeat his success and lead the little ol’ Browns to Super Bowl contention.

NFC NORTH

  1. Detroit Lions

2020 Record: 5-11

Key Additions: QB Jared Goff, OT Penei Sewell, DT Levi Onwuzurike, RB Jamaal Williams, WR Tyrell Williams, WR Breshad Perriman, DE Romeo Okwara, DT Michael Brockers, CB Quinton Dunbar

Key Losses: QB Matthew Stafford, WR Kenny Golladay, WR Marvin Jones Jr., TE Jesse James, DT Danny Shelton, LB Jarrad Davis, CB Desmond Trufant, CB Justin Coleman

The Matthew Stafford suffering in silence in Detroit era is finally over. He’s been freed to the promised land of sunny Los Angeles… Enter head coach “Motor City” Dan Campbell and quarterback Jared Goff.

Goff is believed to only have been successful in LA because he just drove Sean McVay’s offensive car, but he’ll have the opportunity to prove himself in a change of scenery, and we have no idea if Dan Campbell is going to be a good coach or a mindless meathead, but the Lions are at least set on getting young and rebuilding. Many regarded them as having one of the best overall drafts this year! However, rebuilding means losing. A lot. Which is what the Lions are in all likelihood are built to do with a developing defense and probably the worst skill position group in the NFL.

  1. Chicago Bears

2020 Record: 8-8

Key Additions: QB Andy Dalton, QB Justin Fields, RB Damien Williams, CB Desmond Trufant, OT Tevin Jenkins, OT Germain Ifedi

Key Losses: WR Anthony Miller, CB Kyle Fuller, QB Mitchell Trubisky

This season is the hail mary thrown by head coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace. Chicago has been a quarterback purgatory throughout the existence of their franchise, but these past few seasons have been absolutely miserable at the most important position with Trubisky, Foles, Mike Glennon, and Chase Daniel, among others, heading a team with a defense that has been ready to win now. There’s no telling if they mismanage it this time, but either Andy Dalton will take over as the most uninspired starter the fans could imagine, or the rookie quarterback they traded up for, Justin Fields will take over. We have no idea if he’ll be as good as he was at Ohio State, or how many games it will take for him to dethrone Andy Dalton for that matter, but the defensive core is still there, they added some offensive line help, and the skill position players will be back. Depending on how they manage Fields will determine if this season is a pleasant surprise for the dawn of better times or just more of the same disaster.

2. Minnesota Vikings

2020 Record: 7-9

Key Additions: OT Christian Darrisaw, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Patrick Peterson, S Xavier Woods, DE Stephen Weatherly, LB Chazz Surratt, CB Bashaud Breeland, CB Mackensie Alexander

Key Losses: TE Kyle Rudolph, OT Riley Reiff, LB Eric Wilson, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, S Anthony Harris, CB Mike Hughes

Credit to the Vikings because last year the reason they underperformed was because of their bottom-10 offensive line and a defense that their head coach referred to as “the worst he’s ever had,” so they spent the entirety of the draft and free agency improving those areas! Minnesota could easily look more similar to the 2019 Vikings that won a playoff game in New Orleans, especially with Danielle Hunter back from injury. Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen make up one of the best offensive trios in the league, but until Kirk Cousins proves that he can win on the big stage, the Vikings will remain an uninspiring pick as one of the top-tier teams in the league. It’s also not a great sign when they reportedly wanted to trade up for Justin Fields and they ended up taking quarterback Kellen Mond in the third round. They have a much better roster than last year, but Minnesota is  just a team with so many highs and lows over the past few seasons.

  1. Green Bay Packers

2020 Record: 13-3

Key Additions: WR Randall Cobb, CB Eric Stokes, WR Amari Rodgers

Key Losses: RB Jamaal Williams, C Corey Linsley, LB Christian Kirksey, CB Tramon Williams

Boy oh boy, the Packers are going to be more drama-filled than The Bachelor this year since Aaron Rodgers is still playing for the team, but also wants the team to burn into a fiery mass of pain and suffering once he finally is able to get traded after there has been so much dysfunction between him and the front office. They really didn’t do anything to improve their roster this offseason outside of making the most-important player on their team the angriest player in the NFL. However, we saw last year that anger from them drafting his replacement turned into spite that had him put up an MVP season. He’s going to be more motivated to win now more than ever for one last ride so that the front office can shove it. As long as Rodgers is on the Packers and is on the field playing, they’re going to be one of the best teams in the NFC. They can get over the dysfunction. They aren’t near as deep as other teams- the offensive line will have significant holes and the defense is still suspect despite having a deep secondary, but Rodgers can easily lead them to the promised land one last time (with a middle finger up in the process).

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