SPORTING MISCHIEF & MAYHEM: NFL preview - AFC North and South

By Inigo ‘Naughty’ Zenicazelaya

WELL the countdown is on and the NFL season is near. Over the next few weeks I will break down the AFC and NFC conferences division-by-division and who I like to make a playoff run and win the Super Bowl.

This week we start in the AFC, with the North and South divisions respectively. (I’m following my compass North, South, East and West).


This may be the toughest division in football, and it should be decided right down to the bitter end in weeks 15 or 16.

Baltimore Ravens

I feel like the Ravens are poised for a comeback this season after last season’s disappointment, barely missing out on the playoffs.

Offensively I think the Ravens will be fine, with Flaco, Forsett and Steve Smith returning to the fold as well as a healthy Dennis Pitta at tight end.

The Ravens have always been a “smash mouth” football team; it’s a direct reflection of head coach Jon Harbaugh. Nothing changes in this vein: the Ravens will run the ball to establish play action for Flaco downfield and to put close games on ice by grounding out yards and eating up the clock late in the game.

It’s on the defensive side of the football for the Ravens that concerns me here. The unit is getting a bit long in the tooth and key free agent losses and question marks regarding starters returning from injuries make for a very uncertain product defensively.

The special teams unit has always been solid and I look for it to be one of the stronger areas. Taking all of this into account, I see the Ravens going 10-6 in a tough division and being in the playoff hunt right down to the wire.

Cincinnati Bengals

This team consistently makes me pull my hair out by the roots when it comes to weekly NFL picks.

The Bengals are the “roller coaster” of the NFL, playing up to strong opponents and down to weaker ones!

Defensively the Bengals will always be a solid unit. Head coach Marvin Lewis will ensure it.

The Bengals defence will always be a tough, physical one. Add that to a strong special teams unit and it makes the Bengals a player in the division race.

The problems are on the other side of the ball. Offensively this team is loaded with talent: running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard may be the best tandem in the NFL, both possessing “big play” potential every time they touch the ball.

A J Green, Muhammed Sanu and Marvin Jones are a very talented and dynamic trio at the wide receiver position, provided they stay healthy.

The offensive line is solid as is their special teams.

All of these factors and talents, still can’t disguise QB Andy Dalton’s glaring deficiencies. (Say nothing bad about Tony Romo as long as Dalton is lining up under centre)

I have watched Dalton consistently snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This is the clear reason, along with Marvin Lewis’ lacklustre playoff record why the Bengals will remain underachievers.

I see them going 10-6 and being in the hunt for the division crown and playoff berth. Expectations should be higher, but Dalton grounds all of that.

Cleveland Browns

Rebuilding again, around young talent and aging veterans. It’s the same old song coming out of Cleveland - lots of talent on paper with little transition to the field.

There are too many questions on both sides of the ball to even take the Browns seriously (not to mention suspensions and injuries).

They have some talent that may keep them in some games and may even afford the Browns a few surprise upsets. When it’s all said and done I see the Browns at 6-10, not even close to the playoffs waiting for another NFL Draft to begin!

Pittsburgh Steelers

I really like the Steelers and their Head Coach, Mike Tomlin, to bounce back in a major way in this AFC North division.

“Big Ben” Rothlisberger, LeVeon Bell (once he returns from suspension. DeAngelo Williams is a capable back up). Andre Brown, Martavious Bryant and Marcus Wheaton provide “Big Ben” with three very potent targets to go along with his “security blanket”, Heath Miller, at tight end.

This unit could be very explosive this season (fantasy footballers take note).

Defensively the Steelers will be back, their entire linebacker corps is healthy and together for the first time in a while, the defensive line is nasty and ageing stars like Troy Polamolu have retired making way for younger more talented players.

The special teams unit continues to be a strength, despite one or two breakdowns last season.

Add all of this up, I like the Steelers to finish 11-5 on the strength of playing a favourable schedule, win their division and earn a playoff berth, and possibly make a Super Bowl run. (Obie Roberts relax, I said possibly ...)


Well we’ve gone from the Penthouse (North division) to the Outhouse (South division) and it’s not even close.

This may be one of the weaker divisions in the NFL (thank goodness the Colts can play with anybody ... providing their game balls stay inflated) but we have to cover it anyway.

Hold your noses, we’re going in!

Houston Texans

As long as you have perhaps the best player in football - and most certainly the best defensive player in the league - you will have a chance. However it doesn’t guarantee victory.

Yes, the Texans defence should be lights out with Watt and a healthy JeDevon Clowny returning from a knee injury, not to mention resident “psycho” Brian Cushing manning the linebacker spot.

This unit will keep games close and allow the Texans chances to be successful.

The offensive side of the ball poses too many questions to envision it being a dominant unit, despite the presence of Arian Foster at running back and DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver (Andre Johnson left big shoes to fill).

Special teams leaves a lot to be desired, couple that with a new QB in Ryan Mallett and I can only see the Texans at 9-7 at best playing spoiler late in the year and just missing out on the playoffs.

Indianapolis Colts

“Deflategate” has come and gone and the Colts are no worse for wear. In fact they may have improved.

Offensively the additions of Frank Gore at running back and Andre Johnson at wide receiver to go along with Andrew Luck, T Y Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener makes this unit one of the best in all of the NFL.

Head Coach Chuck Pagano is a defensive guru so the Colts defence will be re-tooled and dangerous, not dominant though. This unit may be their weakest of the three as their special teams unit remains very good.

The Colts will be in every game, unless they decide to not show up like they did a few times last year. Those mental mistakes are a thing of the past, in my opinion, and the Colts are poised to make a deep run in the playoffs and possibly a Super Bowl championship.

I see the Colts going 12-4, dominating and winning a weak division and making a strong run in the playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Again I must write something since the Jaguars are in the division.

Yes, Blake Bortles is the future at quarterback, Alan Robinson can become a productive wide out, T J Yeldon is a stud at running back and was a great pick in the second round for the Jaguars, further proof they are building for the future correctly.

Sadly the future is not now; there are too many holes on both sides of the ball for this squad to be taken seriously this season. They are about two years away from being a good team.

However that doesn’t mean the young Jags can’t orchestrate a few upsets, especially in the division.

I see the Jaguars improving to 6-10 but in the end it’s back to the draft board early while others play in the post-season.

Tennessee Titans

The Marcos Marriota era begins in the Music City. I don’t see it being a great premier either.

The Titans were 2-14 last season. Add several key free agent departures and a rookie quarterback to the equation ... there’s no need to beat around the bush.

The Titans will be 2-14 again, not even making the playoffs on Madden 2015, but key rookies will be earning their stripes in the process, building a foundation for a successful future for the franchise.

  • Next week we will take a look at the AFC East and West divisions.

Until next week I will leave you with this - “The best way to predict the future is to create it”.

• Naughty presents ‘Mischief and Mayhem in da AM’ on KISS FM 96.1 from 6am to 10am, Monday to Friday. Comments and questions to naughty@tribunemedia.net


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