NFL Camp Season: AFC North & South

By: Thomas Capo
Posted: June 22, 2018

It’s that time of year again, so let’s take a spin around the league to look at the questions and controversies before the preseason starts.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were dinged two OTA’s for a violation of the CBA regarding contact during these early preseason activities. Owner Steve Biscotti and Coach John Harbaugh have also been fined for the infraction. Though they selected Louisville QB Lamar Jackson late in the first round, it looks thus far like Joe Flacco is still the starter going into the preseason. I expect that Flacco will hit a rough patch at some point that has the purple camo army screaming to see what Jackson can do. I’m not saying that there’s a controversy, but Flacco does leave room for improvement.

Cincinnati Bengals
Bengals first-round selection, center Billy Price, has been cleared to resume activities following his torn pectoral muscle, which occurred during the combine. Some folks had him dropping into the later rounds, but I had him headed to Cincy in my mock draft. He was clearly the best center in the draft and will help the Bengals ground game and pass protection. Expect him to start week one if he is back to one-hundred percent. In the category of completely un-shocking news, Vontaze Burfict has been suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season, this time for a violation of the policy regarding performance enhancing drugs.

Cleveland Browns
Well, the Browns enter the season with higher than reasonable hopes after going 0-16 last season and having two of the first five picks in the draft. Apparently there IS a QB controversy here, where number one overall pick Baker Mayfield has yet to separate himself from Tyrod Taylor during the OTA’s. Yes. That Tyrod Taylor. I’m not saying that the Browns have, yet again, whiffed on a first round quarterback pick, but the Ravens took Lamar Jackson at thirty-two, and I guarantee that guy is making Joe Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP, uncomfortable. The Browns do boast a strong group at wide receiver, with Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry. If you want to watch the chaos, they’ll be featured on Hard Knocks on HBO this year.

Pittsburgh Steelers
If there’s a team in the AFC North that was content to sit pat, it’s the Steelers. They have a franchise QB in Ben Rothlisberger and the best RB/WR duo in the league with LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown. Bell’s contract situation looks to cause conflict again, with Bell looking to reset the market for running backs in the NFL, and the Steelers reluctant to pay the man anything resembling appropriate money. Expect a franchise tag, a holdout, and again, a disgruntled LeVeon bell at season’s start.

AFC South

Houston Texans
In Houston, all eyes are on the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson. The second- year signal caller had the Texans looking like a contender until he was sidelined with a torn ACL last November. Watson has progressed significantly in his recovery, and was seen during minicamp without his knee brace. Whether he will regain his former mobility is a different matter entirely. I’d expect him to play a bit more during the preseason games than some of the other incumbent quarterbacks.

Indianapolis Colts
He’s been seen throwing again, but are the Colts back in LUCK? The shoulder injury that kept Luck out all last season has been on the mend, and Luck has been throwing the ball during drill at the Colts mandatory minicamp. Rumors are that his throws look serviceable, but he hasn’t displayed much pace on the ball thus far. The Colts are clearly not too worried, selecting Guard Quenton Nelson high in the first round instead of looking for an heir apparent. The Colts must be comfortable with Jacoby Brissett and Scott Tolzein as options if Luck’s injury continues to linger.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Perhaps the biggest surprise team in the NFL last year, the Jags run all the way to the AFC Championship game took a lot of people by surprise, myself included. In the offseason, the Jags rewarded Blake Bortles with a new three-year deal, and expectations are sky high. I felt pretty sure that the Jags would be in the market for a QB this offseason, but apparently the Jaguars like what they see from the journeyman. Dante Fowler will be playing for a new deal this season, as the team has declined the option on the fifth year pass rusher. Fowler had eight sacks last season, despite a reduced workload, playing less than half of the team’s defensive snaps, plus he added two more in the playoffs. That’s a tremendous amount of productivity for a part timer, but with Calais Campbell tearing apart offensive lines, the Jags might see the former first round pick as expensive and expendable. If he doesn’t play well enough to stay on in Jacksonville, he’ll make a mark elsewhere.

Tennessee Titans
Despite being overshadowed by the Jags sudden resurgence, the Titans looked strong last season, going 9-7 before beating the Chiefs in the Wild Card Round, and falling to the Patriots in the Divisional matchup. They’re very happy with the play of signal caller Marcus Mariota, who they’ve locked up until after the 2019 season. They’ve added in versatile Patriot’s running back Dion Lewis to their backfield for the upcoming season, and Mariota will like the flexibility that Lewis brings to the table for check downs and designed passes in the flat. They’ll look to challenge the Jaguars and Texans in what looks to be an extremely competitive division next season.

Image source: Baltimore Sun

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