2016 AFC North Previews & Predictions

Burfict returns however S Reggie Nelson has moved on.

Burfict returns however S Reggie Nelson has moved on.

The last time we looked in on the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers were embroiled in an epic playoff battle with the Cincinnati Bengals when the unexpected happened… Vontaze Burfict sealed what looked like the first playoff win of the Marvin Lewis era. Then a Jeremy Hill fumble while trying to run out the clock opened the door, and a few senseless defensive penalties allowed the Steelers to steal an 18-16 win.

These two antagonists renew acquaintances in week 2 in Pittsburgh and a few questions arise. Will the Steelers be able to move the ball on the ground with LeVeon Bell serving a 3 game suspension?? Can QB Andy Dalton get that signature win vs. a top AFC contender??  Have the Bengals learned from last year’s meltdown in January??

2016 AFC North Predctions

steelerimage1. Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5 **

2. Cincinnati Bengals 11-5 *

3. Baltimore Ravens 6-10

4. Cleveland Browns 4-12

Cincinnati has a tough beginning to their season with 4 of 6 on the road which includes trips to Pittsburgh in week 2, and to New England in week 6. How New England fares during Brady’s 4 game suspension dictates how desperate the Patriots could be for a win. Typically these are the games Andy Dalton always seems to lose. Will 2016 be different?

bell2Speaking of suspensions, the Steelers will be without LeVeon Bell for the first 3 weeks of the season. The only AFC team they play in that stretch will be against the Bengals. So they have time to catch Cincinnati with a slow start. They’ll have to run the ball with DeAngelo Williams and rely on Ben Roethlisberger (319 of 469 for 3,938 yds 21 TDs/ 16 ints) and Antonio Brown.

Last year Brown came in 2nd to Cam Newton for the Taylor Blitz Times MVP for 2016. With 136 receptions for 1,834 yds and 10 TDs, he was within reach of both NFL records for receptions and yards. He’s quick in and out of his cuts and has the speed to get deep. Barring injury he’ll have a similar season with the added attention in Bell’s early season absence

With age catching up to Adrian Peterson, Bell is arguably the best back in the NFL when he’s healthy and will be rounding into shape as the Steelers make their playoff push.

The Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns will definitely be on the outside looking in. The Ravens will have Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith to lead them into battle on both sides of the ball. However the Ravens struggle to run the football and Joe Flacco will be coming off of major knee surgery himself. Before his injury he was playing like the east coast version of Alex Smith and checking the ball down too much. Now with him possibly being gun-shy expect more of the same.

One intriguing story to watch is the resurrection of Robert Griffin III and Terrelle Pryor in Cleveland. Head coach Hue Jackson has mentored a series of NFL quarterbacks to successful seasons. This could be a perfect storm of coaches and players all having something to prove and the ability to get it done. If Josh Gordon stays with the team, this could be fun to watch. It will come to fruition in 2017 not this year. However they will be a competitive team to watch offensively.

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Has Marvin Lewis Become the New Tony Dungy??

At the beginning of the season, Taylor Blitz Times had the Cincinnati Bengals picked to face the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. The season before they were picked to make it to their first Super Bowl since 1988. The prevailing theme is they would come of age where their temperament would match their talent and win a few signature games.

Has Marvin Lewis become the new Tony Dungy??

Has Marvin Lewis become the new Tony Dungy??

The type of wins that would send the message to other teams in the conference and the NFL they were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. How long have we been waiting for Marvin Lewis’ Cincinnati Bengals to come through with that signature win??

A few short weeks ago, this team was 3-0 and faced the staggering 2-2 New England Patriots. Tom Brady and co. had just come off the business end of a 41-14 thrashing from the Kansas City Chiefs. After traveling on a Monday night no less. The Bengals were ripe to gain that landmark win, yet were thoroughly outclassed 43-17.

Fast forward to this past Sunday. The Bengals know the Colts will figure prominently in the AFC playoffs. Where they had a chance to redeem themselves and send a message, they were blanked 27-0. Are you serious?? In a month they have gone from the last unbeaten team to an 0-2-1 record in that time. Before anyone can point to injuries take a look at the 5-1 Arizona Cardinals and all the players lost to injury.

Andy Dalton is linked to Coach Marvin Lewis. Like it or not, their chance to change their legacy could be in jeopardy.

Andy Dalton is linked to Coach Marvin Lewis. Like it or not, their chance to change their legacy could be in jeopardy.

We can’t make excuses and the biggest problem is we have seen this before. Whether we’re talking about Marvin Lewis or QB Andy Dalton. The question has been “What are you going to do in January??” With one of the NFL’s most talented teams, The Chancellor has to raise the question “Has Marvin Lewis taken this team as far as he could??”

This is starting to look eerily similar to the plight of the Tampa Buccaneers of 1998-2001. Head Coach Tony Dungy had built the league’s best defense and had acquired a few offensive pieces, yet couldn’t get over the hump. After multiple playoff flame outs, management turned to Jon Gruden and the team went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII. A change of leadership with a new motivation strategy was the ticket then, is that what the Cincinnati Bengals need now??

Super Bowl caliber teams don’t go a month without a win nor do they get embarrassed by teams they figure to face come playoff time. For the record, The Chancellor of Football is a fan of Marvin Lewis, and has been so since his 2000 champion Ravens defense. However the question needs to be raised. Its de ja vu all over again.

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2014 AFC Pedictions

Under normal circumstances Taylor Blitz Times would have these published before the season starts. However this has been a different off-season where more focus was on historical articles. Although we’re 1 week into the new season, we still haven’t seen a sample size large enough to alter The Chancellor of Football’s picks.

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

AFC North Champs: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots

AFC South Champs: Indianapolis Colts

AFC West Champs: Denver Broncos

Wildcards: Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens

The representative to make it to Glendale, AZ and Super Bowl XLIX will be the Denver Broncos. They will narrowly defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game they should win at home.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Lets face facts, not many trust Bengals QB Andy Dalton but he will take a big step up this year and win his first playoff game. He won’t have the moxie to take on not only Peyton Manning but what should be one of the AFC’s best defenses. The signing of DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, and Aquib Talib give the Broncos a defensive swagger they haven’t had before.

More importantly none of these players have won a championship which only adds to the overall hunger of the team. The Broncos won’t score anywhere near last year’s 606 point performance. They won’t have to as they will become more balanced.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

Right behind these two teams will be the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. Was there anyone more impressive than Andrew Luck in week 1 of the NFL season?? The fight he brought the Colts back with was infectious. He made his entire team believe they could come back and they were playing without DE/LB Robert Mathis. The Colts gained more from that 31-24 loss in Denver than teams that won in the first week.

The Patriots will bounce back from week 1 but will they feel the effects of trading away G Logan Mankins the rest of the season?? Brady and the offense was under attack in their 2nd half loss to the Dolphins. They gained less than 100 yards as Miami pulled away. Bill Belichick will right the ship and they should win the AFC East with at least 11 wins.

The Bengals and Colts look like the two that will play in the 2015 AFC Championship Game however we have to get through 2014 first. The Broncos will look to take a more battle hardened team to Glendale than the one they took to New York last year. Will Denver win Super Bowl XLIX??

 

AFC Wild Card: San Diego Chargers v Cincinnati Bengals

Welcome to day two of the National Football League playoffs for 2013. One of the items being thrown around by television pundits is “No one wants to play the San Diego Chargers.” It’s true that the Chargers have won 5 of their last 6, but so have the Cincinnati Bengals. In the 6 Cincy has won, one of those was a 17-10 victory over these exact same Chargers on their home turf just a month ago. The media is at it again…

The Cincinnati Bengals should be the best of the AFC North in 2013.

The Cincinnati Bengals should be the best of the AFC North in 2013.

What about the fact the Bengals were not only 8-0 at home but tied the National Football League record for scoring 40 points in four of those games?? Last performed by the 2000 St Louis Rams of The Greatest Show on Turf vintage. They averaged 34.4 points per game at home and are being treated like an after thought by the media. Everyone is pointing to Andy Dalton throwing 4 interceptions in the finale against Baltimore. Yet they still scored their average with a 34-17 rout ending the reign of the champion Ravens.

Now the Chargers show up on wild card weekend with the NFL’s 23rd ranked defense that has given up 30 on the road to Philly, 30 to Washington, 38 to Kansas City, and even 27 to the lowly Raiders. Do you realize the Chargers have only forced 6 turnovers in 8 road games this year?? Now they’re going out in the cold and will do it in the playoffs?? Isn’t this the team that barely beat the Chiefs playing with a second string group 27-24 in overtime just to get into the playoffs?? What juggernaut “no one wants to play team” are they talking about??

The National Football League's #3 defensefeatures Vontaze Burfict. Who is seriously considered  for TBT Defensive Player of the Year.

The National Football League’s #3 defensefeatures Vontaze Burfict. Who is seriously considered for TBT Defensive Player of the Year.

The Bengals will win this game 37-24 on the strength of a couple things. The first is they field the only top ten defense from the AFC that is in the 2013 playoffs. They rank 3rd… Another is the Bengals know the Chargers very well. Not only did they beat them in San Diego 17-10 this year, they beat them 20-13 last year on the road again. Now they get them at home where the Bengals really put up points?? That doesn’t bode well for today. Who and what were the teams ranked Cincy draped 40 on at home this year?? Try 49 on the 11th ranked New York Jets, 41 on the 9th ranked Cleveland Browns, 42 on the 20th ranked Indianapolis Colts, and 42 on the 31st ranked Minnesota Vikings. Last but not least these were totaled from week 8 on so this is very relevant.

Don’t listen to ESPN try to sell you a bag of goods on San Diego and not bring up the strength of the Bengals. They are peaking at the right time and are right where we predicted they would be: https://taylorblitztimes.com/2013/04/16/2013-cincinnati-bengals-team-preview-slowly-building-a-winner/

Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have only known playoffs in their 3 seasons in The Queen City. Today should show the growth of the team with a win.

Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have only known playoffs in their 3 seasons in The Queen City. Today should show the growth of the team with a win.

The Chargers really would pull off a tremendous upset if they were to win today. The Chancellor of Football doesn’t see that at all, not in spirit, way the teams are playing, nor in stats. But that’s why they play the games as Chris Berman always reiterates. However the Bengals should win easily 37-24. We predicted they would be in New York for the Super Bowl. Step one is today…

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2013 Cincinnati Bengals Team Preview – Slowly Building A Winner

Pau Brown Stadium

Pau Brown Stadium

Over the last two years the Cincinnati Bengals have charged into the NFL playoffs. It’s the first time they have gone in back to back years since 1982, the year after their appearance in Super Bowl XVI. In these recent years, they fell to the Houston Texans in the wildcard round of the playoffs. In 2011 they fell 31-10, however last year they lost a tightly contested contest 19-13. This year many pundits are calling the Houston Texans a Super Bowl favorite. If the Bengals have made strides to catch the Texans what does that make them??

If they were to meet the Texans for a third straight time in the playoffs, you do realize the odds are on the Bengals side…correct?? Over the course of NFL history, there are few teams that have won 3 in a row against an opponent in a five year period in the playoffs. Since 1950, only 4 times out of 11 had a team won all three times. Remember how the Indianapolis Colts vanquished playoff nemesis New England on their way to the Super Bowl XLI title?? How about when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned the tables on Philadelphia in the 2002 NFC Championship on their way to the Super Bowl XXXVIII title?? What are we getting at here?? Keep reading

Third year pro has led the Bengals to the playoffs in back to back years.

Third year pro has led the Bengals to the playoffs in back to back years.

Quarterback: Well coming off a sophomore slump is Andy Dal…wait…what sophomore slump?? Dalton is entering his third year where he improved on his rookie numbers in completion percentage (62.3% v. 58.1%), yards (3,669 v. 3,398) and touchdowns (28 v. 20). Now don’t forget he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2011. Now that the Bengals have opened up the playbook further for a growing quarterback, he did suffer a few more interceptions (16 v. 13) and sacks (46 v. 24) than the year before. However the arc is going up on this kid at the exact same time the division is losing Raven Safety Ed Reed, and he’ll face 32 year old Safeties in Troy Palamalu along with a 34 year old Ryan Clark when he faces the Steelers. If their healthy.

He has gained NFL playoff experience over these last two years and you have to ask yourself; Is this the year he can break through and win a playoff game?? He has to continue his maturation for this to happen. Last year he didn’t look good in the wild card loss to the Texans. He was 14 of 30 for only 127 yards and 1 interception. He was a little unnerved by the crowd noise in Houston. He was apprehensive in that game and had to live with that the whole off-season.

He hasn’t missed a game in his brief career. At 6-2 215lbs, he is a big strong quarterback. He isn’t a threat to run like some of his contemporaries who have dazzled in The Pistol, however he did run for 4TDs last year. He isn’t afflicted by the Bengals losing ways of the past and has helped the team improve from 9-7 in 2011 to 10-6 in 2012. Only an injury seems to be all that could derail further development. Dalton is no fluke and gives the Bengals a fighting chance and ranks as a playoff caliber quarterback.

Offensive Backfield: This is where the Bengals should use a draft pick in a couple of weeks. Last year the Bengals let go of Cedric Benson and former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 1,097 yards and 6TDs. He is a steady but not spectacular player. Yet just like Benson, they keep grabbing running backs off the scrap heap. To take the next step they need to put a play maker at this position instead of a stop-gap performer. With all the SEC picks in the last few years, would they take Eddie Lacy out of Alabama?

http://www.nfl.com/videos/auto/0ap2000000122777/RB-Green-Ellis-29-yd-run

The time is now to plug in a viable rookie running back with Green-Ellis still in the fold. He’s only 27 and has a few years left in him. Bengals brass has also re-signed Cedric Peerman who had a better average than Green-Ellis (4.7 yard avg v. 3.9 yard avg) but there had to be a reason why they named Green-Ellis a starter over him. It couldn’t have been pass protection with the team giving up so many sacks. Cincinnati needs a runner not a ball carrier to push the envelope. The league average for yardage per rush is always around 4.0 and that’s all they can get with these players. With that in mind the Bengals can only be average at the position. Maybe Green-Ellis in his second year with the team can be that guy. We’ll wait and see.

AJ Green is the best young receiver in the AFC, period.

AJ Green is the best young receiver in the AFC, period.

Receivers: The other component to the equation why the Bengals are rising to prominence has been the play of AJ Green and TE Jermaine  Gresham. Both are coming off back to back Pro Bowl seasons even though they are so young. In only his second season, Green caught 97 passes for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns. Do you realize he caught 32 more passes than his rookie year? He improved in all statistical categories. The Bengals have to develop or draft a complement to him so teams, like the Texans in last year’s playoffs, can’t roll coverage to his side.

Green has been able to blossom due to safeties having to pay attention to Gresham in the middle. At 6’5 261lbs, he is too much man for most safeties and linebackers struggle with his speed. He’s the AFC version of Vernon Davis just not as fast. Last year he had 64 receptions for 737 yards and 5 TDs. Career highs in catches and yardage. If the Bengals weren’t in so many spread formations, he would be a 1,000 yard performer. Do you realize he’s only going into his 4th season?? These two alone make the receiving corps. playoff caliber. Develop or draft another receiver and they will be Super Bowl quality.

Offensive Line: This is another area where the Bengals should look on draft day to improve team fortunes. Last year the Bengals rushed for 1,745 yards and 11 TDs. Very middle of the pack numbers in terms of production. Keep in mind they allowed 46 sacks which ranked 26th in the league. Now is not the time for RT Andre Smith to play hardball in contract negotiations. If they lose him they may have to draft a tackle in the first round. When rushing to the strong side last year, the Bengals were thrown for losses 10 times. While in obvious power situations (3rd /4th and 2 or goal line) they converted on 76% of their attempts. All factors indicate he will re-sign.

Left Tackle Andrew Whitworth just came off his first Pro Bowl and is going into his 8th season. Where he didn’t have to face a James Harrison in Pittsburgh last year, he’ll face division new comer Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore.  Elvis did beat him for a sack in last year’s 31-23 loss to the Broncos. This will be his nemesis when they face the Ravens. However up the middle is where the running game is most solid and should improve with Guards Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling who will be 23 and 24 respectively. This group needs to improve in their pass protection and right now they are just average.

Geno Atkins leads the Bengals beastly pass rush.

Geno Atkins leads the Bengals beastly pass rush.

Defensive Line: One of the best defenses in the NFL is strongest right on the defensive front with DT/NT Geno Atkins and DE Michael Johnson. Atkins is only going into his fourth year and has been to the Pro Bowl two straight years. Last year he was 5th on the team in tackles with 54, had 12 1/2 sacks, and four forced fumbles while being voted All Pro. Johnson was right behind him with 52 tackles, 11 1/2 sacks as the team was 2nd in sacks with 52. Wallace Gilberry and Carlos Dunlap gave them 4 linemen with at least 6 sacks. This is a Super Bowl caliber group.

Linebackers: The surprising play of free agent rookie Vontaze Burfict gave the team a faster look on defense than in years prior. In only 14 starts, he led the team with 127 total tackles and had 1 sack. Rey Maualuga was right behind him with 122 stops and another sack. They just need to force more turnovers by interception or fumbles to be a great group.  If they can get a third blood thirsty linebacker behind that pass rush..watch out! Still a playoff caliber group with Manny Lawson still on board. Former Steeler James Harrison is close to a deal also. To add to the pass rush they already have??

Secondary: Did you know the Bengals were ranked 7th in the NFL against the pass and was 4th in passing touchdowns allowed  with 16?? They were right there with Atlanta (14), Seattle (15), and Baltimore (15) respectively. You’ll note that one won the Super Bowl and the other two battled to make the NFC Championship Game. However this group hasn’t lost anyone like the Ravens losing Ed Reed or the Falcons losing CB Brent Grimes to the Dolphins.

Defensive Co-Ordinator Mike Zimmer gets the most out of a hodge podge veteran laden group that doesn’t give up the big play. Leon Hall (37 tackles / 2 ints) is solid on one corner where they may need to look for Terrence Newman’s ( 73 tackles / 2 ints) replacement on the other side. He’s still playing well but will be 35 when the season starts. Adam “PacMan” Jones is there to lend support as is Nate Clements formerly of the Bills and Niners. Clements made the switch to safety for 9 games last season yet may have to mold a young safety if the Bengals can draft one. Another season like last year and Reggie Nelson will be in the Pro Bowl. He was 3rd on the team in tackles with 83, defensed 9 passes, and had 3 picks. This group is Super Bowl caliber based on their collective production.

Vontaze Burfict is another reason the Bengals are going to make a move in 2013.

Vontaze Burfict is another reason the Bengals are going to make a move in 2013.

Overview: This is as solid a team that the AFC has to offer. Their greatest asset this year is the continuity in coaches and player personnel. Then you look at the relative youth of all the key positions with Dalton, AJ Green, Vontaze Burfict, and Geno Atkins. Now The Chancellor has had his eye on this defense for some time now. https://taylorblitztimes.com/2011/11/01/week-8-afc-north-protecting-the-nfl-republic/ This team has an arc that is still going up. They were 7th in defense in 2011 and improved to 6th last year. This is no fluke.

If you look at their division record, in 2011 it was 2-4 which improved to 3-3 in 2012. They finished 10-6 which was the identical record of the Super Bowl Champion Ravens. Yet look at all the upheaval of personnel in both Baltimore and Pittsburgh this offseason. Now think of the hole Elvis Dumervil left in the Broncos defense. Who has a better defense than this football team??  The Bengals can finally concentrate on luxuries in the draft without any obvious weaknesses. Having adjusted to playing near the league’s elite, this young team will crash the playoffs and might make it to Super Bowl XLVIII. Don’t forget the first cold weather Super Bowl had the Bengals in the 16th edition. They will at least make it to the AFC Championship Game. You heard it here first.

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Wild Card Week: Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans

Welcome to the post season and here are two Cinderella stories meeting during NFL Wild Card week. Who would have thought that after losing Chad Ochocinco and Carson Palmer, Marvin Lewis would have his Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs?? Very few… Now they have the chance to win a playoff game which is something they didn’t accomplish with Palmer or Chad. He comes in with a growing rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton and the NFL’s #7 defense. They were a top ten defense all season and finished with 45 sacks on the year and will face either T.J. Yates or Jake Delhomme.

Now neither quarterback is a world beater at this time however Yates led the Texans to a 20-19 victory over the Bengals just four weeks ago. Yet they haven’t won a game since. The  Texans have to lean on their defense which comes in ranked #2 and has given up the fourth fewest touchdowns this season with 31. Having Andre Johnson is a huge step in advancing to the divisional round. This team is a little beat up and going into the playoffs with a second or third string quarterback doesn’t bode well. We’re just not sure about Jake Delhomme at this point when facing a formidable pass rush.

You have to remember that Bengal’s rookie quarterback Andy Dalton is from TCU and should have some fans at this game. He will want to have a good showing. In his first year replacing Carson Palmer, the former Horned Frog threw for 3,398 yards and 20TDs. A strong showing overshadowed by the success of Cam Newton in Carolina. With 1,067 yards rushing this season from Cedric Benson, the Bengals are built to win this playoff game. Houston does have Arian Foster (1,224 yards rushing) to counter that but this is the first foray into the NFL playoffs for this team and many of their players.

The Texans would be better suited to win this game had Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson were completely healthy but in this one…we’re taking the Cincinnati Bengals. You don’t go into the playoffs on a 3 game LOSING streak and expect to wake up in the playoffs. The only time we can remember that happening was in 1986 when the Jets lost their last 5 then beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the wildcard game. Yet they had to switch from Ken O’Brien to Pat Ryan at quarterback to achieve this…. Anyway this should be a game for the Bengals defense to get some respect today.