AFC North Offseason Recap and Power Rankings

by Christopher Buonagura, April 18, 2021

In the few short weeks since the conclusion of Super Bowl 55, the NFL landscape has changed drastically, with many teams taking entirely new forms. PlayerProfiler is a one-stop shop for all major moves, power rankings, and honest expectations for all 32 NFL teams heading into the NFL Draft and training camp. 

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Glossary

Each team will be broken down as follows:

 

  • -Overall Power Ranking and Tier – the team’s Power Ranking relative to all 32 NFL teams
  • -Notable Additions – new additions that move the needle
  • -Notable Losses – lost talent that matters
  • -Summary 
  • -Expectation – the minimum we should expect in 2021 to consider the season a success
  • -Expected wins – based on a 17-game season
  • -Fantasy implication – a broad spectrum look into each team’s seasonal fantasy value

 

Cleveland Browns 

 

Overall Power Ranking and Tier: No. 6 (Above Average)

Notable Additions: DE Takkarist McKinley, CB Troy Hill, S John Johnson, EDGE Jadeveon Clowney  

Notable Losses: none 

Summary

The Browns will only improve on their 2020 success going into 2021. The obvious issue in 2019 was coaching, and Kevin Stefanski solved that issue this past season. Another year in his system for a team returning all of its relevant starters will be tremendous.

Odell Beckham will return from injury, the offensive line remains top notch, and the defense is talented where it matters at edge rusher and in the secondary. I am all in on the Browns to push for a championship game appearance and possibly even compete in the Super Bowl. 

 

Expectation: Reach the AFC Championship Game 

Expected Wins: 11+

Fantasy Implication: Focus on drafting the big names and stash the youth in dynasty. 

 

Baltimore Ravens 

 

Overall Power Ranking and Tier: No. 7 (Above Average)

Notable Additions: WR Sammy Watkins, OG Kevin Zeitler, Re-signed 2 DE and 2 IDT

Notable Losses: LB Matt Judon, DE Yannick Ngakoue, DE Jihad Ward, C Matt Skura

Summary

Baltimore’s losses this offseason are negated by their signings and re-signings. The organization is well established and trusted to keep this squad disciplined and consistent.

Lamar Jackson and this offense may be one dimensional, but most teams can not stop them even if they know the gameplan. Jackson’s raw talent and playmaking ability is that good. More playmakers at receiver would be nice, and they may draft some. Expect this team to come to play every Sunday and compete directly with the Browns for control of the AFC North. 

 

Expectation: Compete for Division and make the playoffs

Expected Wins: 11

Fantasy Implication: This offense revolves around Lamar’s legs and so should your fantasy expectations.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers 

 

Overall Power Ranking and Tier: No. 10 (Average, Upper)

Notable Additions: Re-Signed Juju Smith-Schuster and OT Zach Banner, added four total OL, Promoted Matt Canada to Offensive Coordinator, Re-Signed DL Tyson Alualu and DL Chris Wormley  

Notable Losses: EDGE Bud Dupree, C Maurkice Pouncey (retirement), CB Mike Hilton, HB James Conner 

Summary

Placing the Steelers in the top 10 hurts me more than throwing a pass further than five yards downfield hurts Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow. We all witnessed the painful collapse from 11-0 in 2020 to playoff bust. Recency bias makes a fool out of the sharpest of analysts, but looking at the big picture can help avoid a poor evaluation. Mike Tomlin, Big Ben, and the Pittsburgh defense almost never face a losing season. Bud Dupree is gone, but younger studs like T.J. Watt will continue to elevate their play and terrorize opposing offenses.

 

The skill position players are adept and will be much healthier than they were down the stretch last year. Roethlisberger is washed but can still lead an offense to a winning season. Lastly, the aging offensive line will see four new faces added in free agency. They will flop late in the year as usual, but they’ll be in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in 2021. Try not to discount their 2020 win total just because they were ugly to watch. 

 

Expectation: Make the Playoffs 

Projected Wins: 8-10

Fantasy Implication: Just copy and past any Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson touts from last year and pray any running back they add isn’t overpriced.

 

Cincinnati Bengals 

 

Overall Power Ranking and Tier: No. 29 (Below Average)

Notable Additions: OT Riley Reiff, OG Quinton Spain, DE Trey Hendrickson, Signed four CBs & two Safeties

Notable Losses: WR A.J. Green, CB William Jackson, DE Carl Lawson, WR John Ross, S Shawn Williams

Summary

Cincinnati will feel relevant all offseason with Tee Higgins hype, Joe Burrow injury talk and debate about Joe Mixon‘s value. This team is fun for fantasy and progress is being made, but expectations are low for 2021. The offseason moves here feel like a one-step-forward-but-two-steps-backwards situation.

Burrow’s protection will improve with Jonah Williams returning and some new additions along the line, but they didn’t add a backup quarterback in case he needs to be eased back. They added Trey Hendrickson and six new defensive backs, but at the cost of Carl Lawson and William Jackson. Cincinnati will be better in the future, but the win total will remain low in 2021 as Burrow recovers.

 

Expectation: Lost season as Burrow works back from serious injury

Expected Wins: 4-7

Fantasy Implications: Pursue the undervalued pieces and don’t reach on Tee Higgins

 

Division Summary

The AFC North enters 2021 as the division of dominance. Cleveland has a dominant offensive line, Baltimore can dominate on the ground, and Pittsburgh’s defense can bully most offenses in the league. The schedule will allow for all three teams to finish near the top 10 with matchups against the NFC North and AFC West. That means winnable games against the Vikings, Bears, Lions, Chargers, Broncos, Raiders and Bengals twice.