Last season, the Ravens won the division at 10-6, with the Steelers finishing second at 9-6-1. While the AFC North has sent two teams to the playoffs on several occasions over the past decade — always some combination of the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals — last year only the Ravens made the cut.
The real storyline here is, of course, the Browns. After going a combined 1-31 in 2016 and 2017, the Browns fired off a 7-8-1 season that contained the emergence of both rookie quarterback Baker Mayfieldand rookie running back Nick Chubb, as well as the firing of head coach Hue Jackson.
Since the end of last season, the Browns have just kept chugging, too. They added Odell Beckham Jr., Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon. They drafted Greedy Williams. Due to all this, they are the sportsbook's favorites to win the AFC North.
Woodson, however, disagrees.
And while Woodson did play 10 of his 17 seasons with the Steelers, he also played four with the Ravens, including a Super Bowl-winning 2000-01 campaign. In the end, he sees the Steelers edging out both the Ravens and the Browns, with the Bengals a distant fourth.
Making predictions this early is crazy, but I do see the AFC shaking out in this order:
Basically, one through three are toss-ups here and, as Woodson suggests, all three will finish in a cluster. The Bengals, however, feel certain to finish a distant last.
While I concede the Browns look the scariest on paper — if I'm playing Madden, they're probably my team — we've seen too many times throughout history how that doesn't always matter. The Eagles "Dream Team" comes screaming to mind, but having more "superstars" on one team doesn't always work.
Add in a first-year head coach, a volatile personality like Mayfield, two receivers who, while close friends, demand a massive volume of targets in Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and it's not too difficult to envision this Browns team going off the rails.
For that, I place the proven consistency of the Steelers, particularly at quarterback and along the offensive and defensive lines, alongside their key additions in Devin Bush, Donte Moncrief and Steven Nelson to place ahead of the pack for 2018-19.