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A conversation about the 2015-16 AFC North

September 13, 2015

With a few hours to spare, here's our last attempt to preview the NFL season. Previous discussions can be found for the following divisions: AFC EastNFC EastAFC WestNFC WestAFC South, NFC South, and NFC North. What  follows from here is a look at the AFC North:

Welcome to Cleveland!
Cleveland Browns

Daniel Brody: Let’s start with the train wreck that is the Cleveland Browns. Biggest bust ever or biggest bust ever?

Bryan Harvey: Since I know you’re talking about Manziel, I think the answer’s fairly obvious. It’s definitely the former option. He’s the biggest bust ever, but not the biggest bust ever.

Dan Brody: So do the Browns ever get good?

Bryan Harvey: I know everyone wants to point a finger at either Hoyer or Manziel as the sole reason for last season’s collapse, but they’re not the only individuals responsible. The level of irresponsibility and failing here is on an institutional level. It’s highly likely that David Simon is already working on a script that in season one begins with the Browns and by season five ends with an all-encompassing statement as to why Cleveland is lost in an urban maze of decline. The guy who played McNulty will definitely star in it.

Dan Brody: Yeah, I’m looking at the offensive roster and it’s just awful.

Bryan Harvey: I don’t want to say David has no chance against Goliath, but when your top two running backs are from Alabama State and Towson, I have a hard time believing whatever quarterback the franchise invests in as a project or attempts to resurrect stands a chance.

Dan Brody: Are they really going to start Josh McCown on opening day?

Bryan Harvey: I guess it’s either him or Manziel. I’m also not sure Manziel is even the best SEC quarterback on the roster; Connor Shaw might even be a better option. I would love to see Thaddeus Lewis start. Would he be the first Duke player to ever start at quarterback in the NFL?

Dan Brody: I feel like Russ could answer that question.

Bryan Harvey: I’m definitely not going to answer it.

Dan Brody: They do have Dwayne Bowe lining up at wide receiver—and nothing else. Who was their first pick in the draft?

Bryan Harvey: Does it matter?

Dan Brody: Danny Shelton.

Bryan Harvey: What do we know about him? To be honest, it doesn’t matter. If he’s any good, his future will be a career in the great Pit of Carkoon, which translates to Cleveland. If he wants to know more about this experience in the belly of the all-powerful Sarlacc, he can speak with Joe Thomas who has experienced this torturous existence playing left tackle on the offense. I feel sorry for him.

Dan Brody: Kind of makes Manziel into a Boba Fett cult hero at best. Did they add anything else on defense?

Bryan Harvey: Whitner from San Francisco.

Dan Brody: And they added Tramon Williams from Green Bay. Joe Haden’s also not a bad corner. So yeah the defense might have something, but god the offense.

Celebrating, or loathing, a decade of Pacman Jones.
Cincinnati Bengals

DB: How about the Bengals? Do they make the playoffs?

BH: Isn’t that Dalton’s specialty?

DB: Yeah, but he can’t do anything while there.

BH: We totally sound like we watch ESPN now.

DB: The defense could be good. This division may have the best batch of defenses from top to bottom.

BH: This isn’t really a statement about how good or not good the team will be, but I am interested to see a guy like AJ Hawk play for a new team. I liked him in Green Bay, but I also cursed his name quite frequently. Dom Capers always asked him to cover tight ends and running backs in pass coverage, and it just seemed that any tight end worth a damn would burn him every time. Then you would get mad at him, but really only as mad as someone can get at something that’s always inevitable. I’m wondering how good he actually is or was he set up to be fairly mediocre. Somewhere in all that is the observation that AJ Hawk’s career, even though he’s never been a Bengal before, embodies the Bengal spirit—they are inevitably doomed to mediocrity.

DB: Have you wanted to write an AJ Hawk column for years?

BH: I didn’t know it, but I guess so. I hate change, even when it’s best for both parties.

DB: They do have playmakers on offense.

BH: Yeah, they have a stable of solid running backs. I think their ability to win a playoff game hinges as much on AJ Green’s health as it does on Andy Dalton’s arm.

DB: Going back to your point about what’s changed and what hasn’t, Pacman is still in the league. Amazing.

BH: That is pretty amazing. We’re approaching a decade of Pacman Jones.

DB: Great job Pacman.

BH: Should also be noted that half of the Pacman age has been in Cincy.

DB: Remember when Marvin Lewis coached for Washington as a coordinator.

BH: Yeah, as much as people want to complain about Lewis being unable to take Cincy over the hump, he has provided a consistent level of production. Maybe that brings its own sort of malaise, but I think anyone pulling for Dan Snyder’s flagship would trade the abyss for the plateau.

"You guys wrote 1,200 words on the AFC North and didn't mention me once."
Baltimore Ravens

BH: Have you seen Matt Schaub recently? He looks like a Bizarro World version of himself. Obviously, he’s evil Schaub now.

DB: The Raiders did that to him.

BH: I don’t want to wish anyone harm, but I would love to see Schaub have one more chance at leading a team.

DB: Not going to happen, Bryan. Once again, here’s a team in the AFC North with a solid defense.

BH: The offense has playmakers, but most of them are old.

DB: They did spend their first round pick on a wide receiver.

BH: Breshad Perriman. Is it just me or do receivers drafted by the Ravens typically take five years to develop?

DB: There might be something to that. The offensive line should be alright. This division features three solid teams and then the Browns. No one here is winning the Super Bowl, but almost anyone could make the playoffs.

BH: If you had to pick one, who would it be?

DB: Maybe the Steelers.

BH: That may be some form of nostalgia surfacing, but let’s talk about them then.

He who is without sin cast the first stone.

Pittsburgh Steelers

DB: Well, actually, maybe I want to retract my previous statement. They’ll finish in the following order: Bengals, Ravens, Steelers, Browns. But I still think the top three could be in the playoff hunt.

BH: I feel like the think pieces to be written on Big Ben and Vick could be delightfully monstrous. That’s all I’m really going to say about that, except that I don’t know how one can speak about the Steelers without mining into the past.

DB: The defense seems younger. Since I lived there a few years ago, they’ve definitely made some big changes upfront. I could also be forgetting someone or something.

BH: Pittsburgh is the kind of place where even when players leave, they return. It’s part of the mystique.

DB: Yeah, they do seem trapped at all times in an NFL Films montage.

BH:  If the team loses, does James Harrison collect everyone’s paychecks and burn them in a firing barrel?

DB: Yes, he’s a jerk.

BH: The absence of Polamalu really does seem strange still.

DB: They have a safety named Shamarko.

BH: I would believe in him carrying on Polamalu’s legacy more if his name was simply, Sharknado.

DB: He is from Virginia Beach.

BH: Do you think he was at least born during a Sharknado?

DB: Possibly. But let’s go back to Polamalu. His decline and absence really is what’s made this division such a cluster fuck to predict.

BH: I told you it was about the past. This division is the wreckage of history.

Dan Brody's places of residence include Chicago, Virginia, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh. He currently lives in San Diego. Bryan Harvey lives in Virginia and tweets @LawnChairBoys


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