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AFC North preview: Week 1

A quick preview of all four AFC North challengers for Week 1

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL regular season officially underway, here is a preview of every team in the AFC North for Week 1.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The reigning division winning Pittsburgh Steelers will face the previously winless Browns to begin the 2018 season. Pittsburgh has been a source of controversy this offseason regarding the contract of star running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell is expected to miss the opener against Cleveland and it’s possible he could extend his holdout deep into the season. The Steelers will look to second-year running back James Conner to step up in Bell’s absence, though his absence will certainly be felt.

Pittsburgh has several new acquisitions on defense, including veteran safety Morgan Burnett, linebacker Jon Bostic and rookie safety Terrell Edmunds. The Steelers’ defense suffered a huge blow last season with the injury to linebacker Ryan Shazier. Pittsburgh also parted ways with veterans Mike Mitchell at safety and cornerback William Gay. The most notable departure was offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who is now with the Browns.

The Steelers will look to come out firing against an improved Cleveland team as they work towards winning the AFC North division title for the third year in a row.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals will face the Colts this Sunday in a game of two teams hoping to rebound from disappointing seasons. Quarterback Andrew Luck is returning for Indianapolis, but if the preseason is any indication, Luck will take some time to return to his top form. Cincinnati will look to capitalize off this and limit Luck in this match up.

Second-year running back Joe Mixon is pegged to have a big year for the Bengals. Also, 2017 first-round pick wide receiver John Ross hopes to prove himself on the field after an injury-riddled and lackluster rookie season. A.J. Green is still one of the best receivers in the game and star tight end Tyler Eifert is returning from injury. Cincinnati’s offensive line has been upgraded with the signing of left tackle Cordy Glenn and drafting of center Billy Price in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Glenn has been dealing with an injury but it looks like he will play against the Colts.

Head Coach Marvin Lewis is facing a critical season in 2018. If the Bengals fail to make the playoffs again, Lewis’ long tenure in Cincinnati could finally come to a close.

Cleveland Browns

After going 0-16 last season, the Browns will look to prove that this is a new team. Tyrod Taylor was signed in free agency and will start for Cleveland this Sunday. With Taylor serving as a bridge quarterback, the Browns drafted Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first-overall pick in the draft. They also selected Denzel Ward, the top cornerback in the draft with the fourth overall pick. Other notable acquisitions include running backs Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb and wide receiver Jarvis Landry.

Second-year first-overall pick Myles Garrett is poised to become a premier pass rusher in the NFL and second-year tight end David Njoku is set for a breakout season. The biggest loss Cleveland suffered this offseason was the retirement of future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas. Rookie Desmond Harrison has been named the starter at left tackle for Sundays’ game against Pittsburgh. The loss of Thomas cannot be understated.

Head Coach Hue Jackson is on the hottest seat possible after only winning one game in the past two seasons. Jackson must turn things around in 2018 with the new influx of talent added this offseason. The Browns could shock the league with a Week 1 upset over the Steelers.

Baltimore Ravens

Missing the playoffs for three straight years has led to an all-or-nothing season for Head Coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco. After drafting Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round of the draft, Flacco knows he must perform better this year or it could very well be his last in Baltimore. The Ravens return all starters on defense and will look to improve on a unit which led the league in turnovers a year ago.

Baltimore looks to provide Flacco with better weapons this year including wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV, as well as rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. The offensive line will benefit from the return of All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda after missing most of last season. The biggest absence for the Ravens is star cornerback Jimmy Smith, who is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the leagues’ personal conduct policy.

Baltimore knows it must make the playoffs this season or major changes will occur. The Ravens face Buffalo on Sunday, who many predict to be among the leagues’ worst teams this season. The Bills will start quarterback Nathan Peterman over rookie Josh Allen. Peterman threw five interceptions in one half against the Chargers last season, so Baltimore’s defense will look to force a similar outcome.