2019 NFL Season Preview: Chiefs and Patriots to battle for AFC supremacy

The 2019 NFL season is set to kick off this week and PFN is ready to unveil our AFC season predictions.

2019 NFL Season Preview
Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are as experienced and talented as any team heading into the 2019 season. Their offense features a future Hall-of-Famer Ben Roethlisberger and two of the brightest young stars in the league at wide receiver and running back. James Conner had a breakout 2018 season and has proven more than capable as a dual-threat following the loss of Bell. Meanwhile, JuJu Smith-Schuster will look to solidify himself as one of the top five best receivers in football and the focal point of the Steelers passing attack in 2019.

However, the story of this 2019 Pittsburgh team will ultimately be written by their defense. This unit figures to be much improved with another year of experience and some timely additions. Young linebacker Devin Bush is the early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year and has the looks of a future star already. There are some veterans and strong pass rushers upfront, but the secondary will be tested once again. If this unit improves moderately in 2019, the Steelers will have no problem reaching the playoffs and making a run at another Lombardi Trophy.

-Scott Gormon, PFN AFC North Writer

2. Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are the most hyped team in the NFL. Just two years ago, the Browns went winless and now the expectations are the playoffs – at a minimum. The team showed a lot closing out the 2018 season with a 4-2 record over its final six games.

It looks like the Browns have finally found their franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield, and general manager John Dorsey built around Mayfield in getting him a bonafide stud receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. and giving another chance to Cleveland native running back Kareem Hunt.

More importantly, Dorsey hired Freddie Kitchens as their head coach, so the bromance between Mayfield and Kitchens can build upon their success from last season.
Dorsey didn’t stop with the offense, building up the defense with the additions of Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson and the drafting of cornerback Greedy Williams. These additions should help Myles Garrett take the next step and become a perennial 15+ sack player.

We will know right away if the Browns are legit with a rough first part of the schedule. The Browns have a high ceiling and look good on paper. But they also have a first-time head coach and enter 2019 with unfamiliar expectations. That being said, with the type of talent on this roster, the Browns should reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

-Dennis Sosic, PFN AFC North Writer

3. Baltimore Ravens

With Lamar Jackson, the Ravens surprised by winning the AFC North in 2018. Long-time GM Ozzie Newsome stepped down at season’s end, leading to the promotion of Eric DeCosta. Personnel moves also changed the roster, highlighted by the additions of Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram to go with rookies Marquise Brown and Justice Hill. Losses also littered their team, including C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Eric Weddle all departing, in addition to Joe Flacco.

The key for the Ravens in 2019 will be Jackson elevating his game as a passer, leaning on the strength of a run game with two complementary backs in Ingram and Hill. Behind a stalwart line, the Ravens will be able to pound the rock against opposing defenses. But the Ravens now have a rather unproven front seven. The question then is, can the Ravens stop the run or rush the passer? Or will their excellent secondary need to suffocate offenses into being one dimensional? Considering the Steelers and Browns versatile firepower, the Ravens will face quite a challenge to finish in the top half of the AFC North.

-Felix Davila, PFN AFC North Editor

4. Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati has a tough road to climb out of the basement of the AFC North. The team is starting over after 16 seasons of Marvin Lewis at the helm. Zac Taylor becomes the second-youngest head coach in the NFL and brings new offensive and defensive coordinators with him. Players are buying into the new system but overhauling both sides of the ball will take time.

Injuries and retirements have derailed early efforts to rebuild a porous offensive line. Wide receiver A.J. Green, arguably the Bengals best offensive weapon, missed all of the preseason and will miss some regular-season games with torn ligaments in his ankle. The defense finished last in the league in 2018 and didn’t add many pieces to improve on that ranking. Taylor might find success in Cincinnati, but it’s going to come after some growing pains in 2018.

-Travis Yates, PFN AFC North Writer