Who will dominate the AFC North headlines this fall?
Athlon Sports is going division by division, asking and (trying to) answering the biggest question for every team in the league entering the 2015 season.
Baltimore: Who makes plays on offense?
Baltimore’s offensive line is one of the best in the NFL and Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl champion. But what will his supporting cast look like in 2015? Justin Forsett broke out last fall but is still undersized and one year removed from journeyman status while Lorenzo Taliaferro acts as the primary backup with just 68 career NFL carries. The receiver corps is led by a 36-year-old Steve Smith and two rookies in first-rounder Breshad Perriman and second-round tight end Maxx Williams. There are major questions about Perriman’s ability to play right away but both have loads of upside. It will be interesting to see who steps up into a primary playmaker role around Flacco.
Cincinnati: Can Andy Dalton take the next step?
This Bengals team has all of the pieces to win a Super Bowl. The offensive line, skill players, defensive line and secondary are among the best in the NFL. But Andy Dalton, despite four playoff appearances in four years, is under the microscope. He’s 0-4 in the postseason and posted career lows in yards (3,398) and touchdowns (19) last year. If A.J. Green is fully healthy, those numbers should be better but Dalton needs to prove he’s a championship-caliber quarterback sooner rather than later before the Bengals' title window begins to close.
Cleveland: What role does Johnny Manziel play?
The Browns began the year 7-4 last year behind the play of Brian Hoyer before the offense fell flat on its face and lost five straight to end the year. Johnny Manziel entered the NFL with huge fanfare and bright spotlights and it eventually landed him in rehab. Cleaned up and focused, Manziel is set to push free-agent signee Josh McCown for the starting job in Cleveland. Manziel, when good, is a sight to behold, making plays all over the field and he could resurrect the Browns offense. But with so many ifs surrounding his second season, fans are left wondering what role Manziel will play in 2015.
Pittsburgh: What will life after Dick LeBeau be like?
The Steelers were aging quickly on defense but will enter 2015 with lots of new faces and young blood. Dick LeBeau is now coaching the Titans defense, Troy Polamalu has retired and the average age of the Steelers' starting 11 on defense is just 26.5 years old. The core 3-4 philosophy won’t change much under new coordinator Keith Butler and the starting linebacker corps could feature four first-round picks. The Steelers' defense has tons of talent but this group is young and inexperienced. If this unit gels quickly and plays up to the same level as the Pittsburgh offense, the Steel City could easily win the division and push for a deep playoff run. Otherwise, this could be a one-sided franchise once again.