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AFC North: Full 2015 Preview and Predictions

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We breakdown how the AFC North will do in 2015 and what you can expect from each team in the division.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

CBS Sports recently ranked the AFC North as the best division in the NFL, and it's for good reason. Three of the teams – the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens – are annual playoff contenders. The Browns are well on their way, with a quarterback being the only thing standing in the way. (Yes, we know you've heard that before.) So let's break down the division, identifying each team's strengths and weaknesses as we preview their seasons.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are always a dangerous team behind Ben Roethlisberger. On one hand, you have an offense that is primed to be one of the best in the NFL this season. Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le'Veon Bell may very well be the best QB-WR-RB trio in the league, as they demonstrated on multiple occasions last year. Bell had a fantastic sophomore season, basically on par with DeMarco Murray in all-purpose yards – even when all the attention was going the Cowboys stars' way. Roethlisberger is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the NFL, quietly putting up remarkable stats, year after year. Don't look for that to come to a halt in 2015.

On the other hand, the issues that the Steelers are looking at come from their largely untested defense and a continuing problem of inconsistency. Pittsburgh will be without head coach Dick LeBeau, iconic Troy Polamalu, and leader Brett Keisel this year, and an already poor passing defense may suffer even more in 2015. Look for the rush to experience some growing pains as well. The Steelers were also very streaky last year. Wins against the Bengals, Colts, and Panthers had the team looking like the best in the AFC, while losses against the Jets and Buccaneers had pundits scratching their heads. The team won't have that luxury with the strongest strength of schedule among NFL teams in 2015.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have long-been known as the doormat of the AFC North, but over the last few years, Cleveland has added a lot of talent to build key strengths on their roster. The secondary is a scary bunch, led by pro-bowler Joe Haden and safeties Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson. In fact, the Browns defense as a whole was the best ranked defense in the NFL in categories of opposing quarterback rating and the completion percentage of opposing quarterbacks. The offensive line is another staple of the team, as defenses repeatedly have trouble getting after Cleveland's quarterback.

Now, if only Cleveland had a quarterback. Johnny Manziel isn't the long-term answer for Cleveland, and his issues at the position only highlight a long line of quarterback problems the team has dealt with over the years. With such a solid offensive line, there's no reason that the Browns couldn't expect some success with a game-manager signal caller. Even journeyman Brian Hoyer demonstrated that last year before he was injured in a game against the Bills. Inconsistency at the most important position will continue to plague an otherwise talented team in 2015.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens will be an interesting team in 2015 – they'll also be a very different one. One of the constants that Baltimore had last year was Justin Forsett, who put up big, perhaps unexpected numbers. He'll take the reigns at running back this season, and expect a great year from him. But we'll also see some new faces on the offense. Rather than the Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels of 2014, we'll see two rookies, Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams.

Now, predicting the Ravens' season is understandably a bit difficult. The team is in a transition period, as they bring in youth from a solid draft to replace a few staple players. The secondary will still be a weak point, but signing Kyle Arrington helps here. I expect some time to be needed for adjustments on the offense, but I think Joe Flacco speeds up that process.

Cincinnati Bengals

This team may have the most talent, overall, in the entire division. The receiving unit is absolutely loaded, with Green, Jones, Sanu, and Eifert all showcasing a variety of skill sets. When they're all on the field – injury-free – the Bengals' offense has the potential to be nothing short of deadly. Pair that with a running tandem of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, and the only thing you're missing is a consistent distributor under center for an all-AFC offensive group, game after game.

At the same time, the defense has question marks, as does the coaching. Lewis' decisions have long been questioned by fans, and the team will hope additions to the defense can help a group that looked desperate in 2014. Johnson and Hawk will be on the team, and Atkins and Burfict should be healthy. The difference this group makes will be immediate, but there's also a youth movement in the secondary that remains largely untested. By Week 6, Bengals fans will have an idea of where this group is headed.

Division Prediction

As has been the case the last several years, the AFC North has all the potential of a three-team dogfight. Tough schedules for the Steelers and Bengals spell pressure to win close games. Each of the three teams – you know the ones – is experiencing some form of change this season. For the Steelers, it's the defense as a whole. For the Ravens, it's the offense, especially the wide receiver group. For the Bengals, it's the secondary.

And for the Browns? Well, we're still waiting on a quarterback. It might be the only thing holding this division back from being home to four AFC playoff contenders. The edge is hard to give to any singular team here, as there are too many factors. If the Bengals are able to get some ounce of consistency at quarterback with a healthy team, they look dangerous. But until that happens, Pittsburgh's offense is hard to bet against, even with their schedule.

Speaking very tentatively, I see the Steelers going 10-6, the Ravens going 10-6, and the Bengals.... what the heck, they'll go 10-6 too. The Browns have a ceiling of seven wins, but expectations remain closer to four or five. Pittsburgh gets the division, and with the same record, the other two look good for a wildcard spot – as long as there are two to go around by Week 17.