Is Baltimore the team to beat again? Scouts break down the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers
Baltimore dominated the AFC North last season and entered the playoffs with the best record. But the Ravens were upset in the Divisional Round by the Titans. Lamar Jackson is the reigning MVP but he's also 0-2 in the playoffs.
Baltimore remains the team to beat in the division but Pittsburgh could be poised to bounce back, especially if Ben Roethlisberger returns to form after missing most of last season with an elbow injury. Cleveland is starting over (again) from a leadership standpoint, but new head coach Kevin Stefanski inherits plenty of talent.
No one is expecting Cincinnati to contend for a playoff spot, but No. 1 pick Joe Burrow's arrival gives Bengals fans something to be excited about.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC North looks heading into the 2020 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Ravens, Bengals, Browns and Steelers.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
"The Ravens looked unstoppable last year until their first-round playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans."
"MVP QB Lamar Jackson is the most electric playmaker we've seen at the QB position since Michael Vick. He got the majority of the spotlight for their 14–2 record, but it was their OL, running game, defense and special teams that were the main components to their success."
"This was the No. 1-ranked rushing offense with Jackson and RB Mark Ingram II accounting for a combined 2,389 yards and 17 TDs, but they had the 27th-ranked passing offense with no reliable receiving threats outside Pro Bowl TE Mark Andrews and WR Marquise Brown, who was playing hurt all season."
"The retirement of All-Pro OG Marshal Yanda will hurt this team on and off the field, but don't expect much of a drop-off from the OL unit. Ronnie Stanley has developed into an All-Pro LT."
"This was a top-five defense and got even better with the trade for Pro Bowl DL Calais Campbell and the signing of free agent DL Derek Wolfe, who both seem like perfect culture fits.
"They franchise-tagged edge Matthew Judon, who led the team with 9.5 sacks, and they have high expectations for second-year edge Jaylon Ferguson, who is the NCAA's career sacks leader."
"They drafted athletic ILB Patrick Queen in the first round to address their biggest weakness on defense."
"This is an outstanding DB unit led by enforcing safety Earl Thomas III and All-Pro CBs Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters."
"Having all four top honchos coming back with HC, OC, DC and GM, the team will have higher expectations — but can they win in the playoffs?"
"When the Bengals fired longtime head coach Marvin Lewis at the end of the 2018 season, we never thought that in the span of just one season, they would become the worst team in the NFL."
"QB Andy Dalton had the biggest decline of any player last season, and QB Ryan Finley looks like a backup without much upside — but in comes Joe Burrow, who is dripping with confidence coming off arguably the best season by a college football QB."
"Star RB Joe Mixon amassed 1,137 yards, and WR Tyler Boyd finished with 90 catches for 1,046 yards."
"WR A.J. Green didn't play in 2019, so they drafted WR Tee Higgins to complement WRs Auden Tate and John Ross III."
"There were no stable starters on the OL last season, but with OT Jonah Williams returning and the addition of OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, this unit should be better."
"Pro Bowl DT Geno Atkins and edge Carlos Dunlap (9.0 sacks) have been the faces of this defense, but signing underrated DT D.J. Reader to pair with edges Sam Hubbard and Carl Lawson signals that the end is near for those veterans."
"Expect rookie ILB Logan Wilson to be the Day One starter next to Germaine Pratt."
"They have CB William Jackson III and nickel Darius Phillips (a team-leading four INTs) but added a pair of former Vikings CBs in Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander to help bolster this unit."
"This is an underrated safety group led by rising superstar Jessie Bates III and reliable veterans Shawn Williams and Vonn Bell."
"Head coach Zac Taylor hopes that Burrow can duplicate his college magic, or else there could be a new coaching staff in Cincinnati."
"A season that started off with high hopes came to a crash landing with another regime change, handing the keys to head coach Kevin Stefanski and GM Andrew Berry."
"We saw a prime example of former GM John Dorsey accumulating talent but not building a team, leading to a 6–10 season."
"QB Baker Mayfield had a sophomore slump, but this offense needs to revolve around Pro Bowl RB Nick Chubb, who finished with 1,494 yards and eight TDs."
"This is one of the most talented WR duos, with Pro Bowlers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry."
"Stefanski likes to deploy two-TE sets and therefore signed TE Austin Hooper to a massive contract to pair up with TE David Njoku, who's had a disappointing career thus far."
"They have a solid interior OL but struggled at OT, so they signed free agent Jack Conklin and drafted Jedrick Wills Jr. in the first round."
"They have a talented DL but underachieved last season after DE Myles Garrett had his helmet incident; expect him to come back with a vengeance after being suspended, showing why he's a top-five defensive player in the NFL."
"ILB Joe Schobert, who was a leader for this team on and off the field, departed in free agency, but they found a gem with ILB Mack Wilson last season."
"They have a young CB duo with Pro Bowler Denzel Ward and lengthy CB Greedy Williams."
"At safety, Sheldrick Redwine is intriguing, but they signed veteran Andrew Sendejo and thumper Karl Joseph and drafted rangy Grant Delpit."
"This team is talented enough to make the playoffs, but can Mayfield limit his turnovers and lead them there?"
"This was arguably Mike Tomlin's best season of coaching yet, when you consider the challenge of losing Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2."
"Opposing defenses loaded the box to take away the running game, but James Conner and the unit still fought hard."
"WR JuJu Smith-Schuster had a career-worst season, but rookie WR Diontae Johnson stepped up to the challenge."
"TE Vance McDonald is an underrated player, and this unit got stronger with the addition of athletic TE Eric Ebron."
"Longtime OG Ramon Foster retired, but this is still a top-10 OL unit with good depth."
"This is a top-five defense that led the league in sacks last season, starting with dominant All-Pro DE Cameron Heyward and DE Stephon Tuitt."
"All-Pro edge T.J. Watt finished with a career-high 14.5 sacks, and they franchise-tagged edge Bud Dupree, who finished with a career-high 11.5 sacks."
"In last year's draft, they traded up to get star ILB Devin Bush, who is a perfect culture fit and led the team in tackles."
"Veteran CB Joe Haden had a great season, but at the age of 31, can he be consistent?"
"The early-season trade for ball-hawking DB Minkah Fitzpatrick was electrifying and allowed safety Terrell Edmunds to be a successful run defender."
"Expect this team to be back in the playoffs. The potential for a Super Bowl run will be in direct correlation with Roethlisberger's health."