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Super Bowl series 2017: AFC North

Super Bowl series: AFC North

Football is right around the corner and The Game Haus is going to get you ready for the 2017-18 NFL season. The Super Bowl Series is going to explain how every team in the NFL can win Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl Series will be divided into eight editions, one for each division. This is the fourth edition, Super Bowl series: AFC North.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC North
(Photo Credit: Matthew Healey/ UPI | License Photo)

The Pittsburgh Steelers were one game away from making it to the Super Bowl. Getting to the Super Bowl this season isn’t improbable. After finishing the season 11-5, Pittsburgh dismantled Miami 30-12 in their wild card game. In the divisional round, the Steelers squeaked by the Chiefs 18-16. The downfall of the Steelers was running into the New England Patriots, who went on to win Super Bowl LI.

Pittsburgh should be the favorite to win the AFC North this upcoming season. They have won 10 or more games for three straight seasons. The Steelers’ offense was one of the best in the NFL last season and all their key pieces are returning. Ben Roethlisberger had a solid season throwing for 3,819 yards, 29 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions in just 14 games. Starting running back Le’Veon Bell was the first player in NFL history to average 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving per game in a single season.

The final major offensive piece, Antonio Brown, will still be around as well. Last season he helped the Steelers rank in the top 10 in multiple offensive categories with 106 receptions, 1,284 yards and 12 Touchdowns. Due to the stellar play of these core players, Pittsburgh was seventh in scoring, averaging 24.9 points per game. Their dynamic passing game ranked fifth in the NFL at 263.2 passing yards per game. This lead to the seventh overall ranked offense as the Steelers averaged 372.6 total yards per game.

For Pittsburgh to win Super Bowl LII they must improve their 14th ranked rushing attack which averaged 110 yards per game. Growth from the offensive line will help with the improvement in the run game. Pro Football Focus is projecting the Steelers to have the third best offensive line in the NFL based on how well they played down the stretch last season.

Speaking of playing well down the stretch, Pittsburgh ranked seventh in fourth quarter scoring last season, averaging 8.2 points per the fourth quarter. If Pittsburgh needs to come back or put away a game late, they have proven to have the capability to score late in games.

On the defensive side of the ball, there is also room for improvement that will help with a Super Bowl berth and possible victory. Pittsburgh ranked 10th in points allowed per game at 20.6 and their first half defense was to thank. In the first half of games, the defense only gave up an average of 9.2 points, which was second best in the NFL.

Pittsburgh must learn to get off the field. Getting off the field quicker will allow the defense to carry over that kind of dominance into the second half by being less gassed. Last season their defense spent too much time on the field. The Steelers ranked fifth in opponents offensive plays with 62.1. The offense can help by putting together longer drives but ultimately the defense must get off the field.

Despite being on the field for that many plays, the Steelers ranked 10th in total yards with 339.2. Their rush defense carried them by ranking eighth as opponents only averaged 93.2 yards on the ground against them. In order for the Steelers to win the Super Bowl, their pass defense must improve which is why they added Coty Sensabaugh in the offseason.

The Steelers must build off of last year’s success on offense. Big Ben has enough experience and talent to lead this offense to some amazing performances. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will continue to shatter record books and this offense will be Super Bowl worthy. If the defense can hold up and improve at stopping opponents passing attacks then the Steelers will hold up the Lombardi Trophy for the seventh time in franchise history.

Baltimore Ravens

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC North
(Photo Credit:http://www.baltimoresun.com)

The Baltimore Ravens stumbled to an 8-8 record last season despite having a very strong defense. In order to make the playoffs this season, Baltimore must fare better on the road as they were 2-6 in road games last year. They must also get a win in October. Going 0-4 in the middle of the season can really set a team off course.

Baltimore’s defense was clearly the team’s strength. The Ravens ranked ninth in points allowed at 20.1 points per game. This top 10 scoring defense was a result of dominant first half play. Baltimore only gave up 9.5 points per game in the first half last season.

In terms of yardage, the Ravens ranked seventh in the NFL in total defense giving up only 322.1 yards per game. Their rush defense led them to this high ranking as they ranked fifth  giving up 89.4 yards per game. To make the playoffs, and ultimately win the Super Bowl, the Ravens need to continue playing strong defense.

The loss of Elvis Dumervill shouldn’t hurt the Ravens too badly. At age 33, his best days are behind him. Dumervill only had three sacks in eight games last season. Losing Dumervill shouldn’t affect the Raven’s pass rush at all due to his lack of production.

Baltimore did add safety Tony Jefferson from the Cardinals. Jefferson is strong in coming up to support the run. He also added two sacks from the safety position. Baltimore’s defense should remain elite and as the old saying goes, defense wins championships.

In order for the Ravens to truly become Super Bowl contenders, they must improve offensively. Baltimore struggled to score points despite scoring the fourth most field goals per game last season with 2.4. Overall, the Ravens only scored 21.4 points per game which ranked 21st in the NFL.

The biggest reason the Ravens’ offense was so bad was because of their running game. Baltimore ranked last in run percentage, running the ball only 34 percent of the time. This led to the 28th worst rushing offense at just 91.4 yards per game. Despite having such a bad rushing game the Ravens were able to control the clock. The Ravens held the ball for nearly 31 minutes a game last season.

If the Ravens are able to continue playing elite defense and run the ball more often, and effectively, then winning Super Bowl LII becomes a real possibility.

Cincinnati Bengals

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC North
(Photo Credit: http://www.cincinnati.com/)

The Bengals were expected to make the playoffs for the sixth straight season but they fell apart. Cincinnati finished 6-9-1 and they didn’t get a shot to end their 26-year winless playoff drought.

Winning the Super Bowl is going to be no easy task for the Bengals. First, they must find a way to get in the playoffs while in one of the toughest divisions in football. Second, they must find a way to get over that hump and end the drought of simply winning a playoff game.

The Bengals offense does have some talent but did lose two major pieces along the offensive line. Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler both departed this offseason. Losing lineman of Pro-Bowl caliber will not be a good thing and in order to succeed in the NFL, you must have a good offensive line. The Bengals reacquired Andre Smith to help with this problem. Smith was with the Bengals for seven years but went to Minnesota for a year before returning.

One thing the Bengals’ offense did well last season is score early. Cincinnati was third in the NFL in first quarter scoring averaging 6.1 points. Sustaining that quick start was a problem because they went from third in first quarter scoring to 27th in second quarter scoring. Altogether the offense only scored 20.3 points per game.

Improving the consistency of the offense, along with filling the voids on the offensive line will be key in the Bengals pursuit of a Super Bowl title.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals were much better than their counterpart. Cincinnati ranked seventh in points allowed per game at 19.7. This is a closer measure of how good the Bengals’s defense was than their 17th ranked defense (according to yards given up per game, 350.8). The reason the Bengals gave up so many yards is because they were on the field a lot. The Bengals were on the field for an average of 64.9 plays per game, which was eighth most in the NFL.

Kevin Minter will be an upgrade from Rey Maualuga who also departed the Bengals. Maualuga played in 14 games and only had 27 tackles while Minter had 81 in 16 games of action. The defense should play up to the same caliber as last season allowing for the Bengals a chance to contend for the division title.

In order for the Bengals drought to end, and eventually win Super Bowl LII, the Bengals offensive line must allow the rest of the offense to become elite. If all these things fall into place then the Bengals win end up as Super Bowl champs.

Cleveland Browns

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC North
(Mandatory Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Pigs are going to have to fly and unicorns are going to have to dance for the Browns to go from 1-15 to celebrating a victory in Super Bowl LII. In all seriousness, the Browns will have their work cut out for them. They were dreadful on both sides of the ball.

Cleveland did have a solid draft and acquired a few established players in free agency. Brock Osweiler and Kevin Zeitler may improve the Browns offensively, but only time will tell. The Browns struggled to score points averaging 16.5 points per game which ranked 31st. Cleveland needs to find a way to improve the amount of plays they run and time of possession which ranked 27th and 31st respectively.

Osweiler, if named starter, should be able to help improve the Browns passing attack which averaged 204 yards per game. In 2015 with Denver, he was able to average 245 yards per game. His production dropped in Houston but Hue Jackson has been known to bring the best out of quarterbacks.

The ground game was a bit better ranking 19th in the NFL. Improving the entire offensive production can help the Browns get closer to the playoffs.

Cleveland focused on the defensive side of the ball in the first round of the NFL draft. They drafted Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers to help the 31st ranked defense in the NFL. The Browns also signed defensive back Jason McCourty to help in the secondary.

The Browns were on the field a lot which is why the gave up so many yards and points. Cleveland is going to be young but talented on defense and if they can begin to slow opposing offenses down, they can win some more games.

It is very unlikely the Browns win a Super Bowl this season. In order for this crazy event to happen, Osweiler is going to need to become a top three quarterback. Along with that, the defense must become feared. Jabrill Peppers and Myles Garrett will have to play at a pro-bowl level for the Browns to even make the playoffs. If pigs can fly, then the Browns will find a way to win Super Bowl LII.

Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl Series: AFC North. Stay tuned the remaining editions of Super Bowl series and check out the previous editions of the Super Bowl series here.

You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles written by other great TGH writers along with Matthew!

Featured image courtesy of steelcityunderground.com

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