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AFC North preview: Week 1

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NFL: Preseason-Green Bay Packers at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to Baltimore, the Browns, Steelers, and Bengals are all playing their regular season openers today, too. Here’s a preview of all the Week 1 action around the AFC North.


Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens open the season on the road in Miami against the Dolphins. Despite trading for second-year quarterback and first-round pick Josh Rosen, veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick will receive the start for Miami to open the season.

The Dolphins recently traded away franchise left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills to the Houston Texans, leading many to believe that Miami is intentionally trying to tank the season for a high draft pick and their choice at one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. While it’s true that the Dolphins potentially have the worst offensive line in the NFL, Baltimore’s defense must remain on it’s toes when facing the gunslinger Fitzpatrick. Miami has a solid receiving corps still, with Albert Wilson, speedster Jakeem Grant, and undrafted rookie Preston Williams, who was seen as an early-round pick but went undrafted due to off-the-field issues.

Jackson and the offense will have the chance to showcase Greg Roman’s vision in his first year as offensive coordinator for the Ravens. The Dolphins aren’t expected to have a strong pass rush, although first-round rookie defensive tackle Christian Wilkins could pose a challenge to the interior of Baltimore’s offensive line. Expect the Ravens to establish the run early in the heat of Miami.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns were anointed the media darlings this offseason when they traded for star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to pair with Jarvis Landry and pass rusher Olivier Veron to pair with budding star Myles Garrett. Second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, who broke the rookie touchdown record, will have no shortage of weapons at his disposal. Now is the time for Cleveland to prove whether or not they are worth the hype as they play the Tennessee Titans.

The Browns attention to adding more weapons for Mayfield came at the cost of protecting him. Guard Kevin Zeitler was included in the trade to the New York Giants for Beckham. Zeitler was the best offensive lineman on the roster, leaving much uncertainty along the unit now. Tennessee has several players capable of getting through to Mayfield, including ageless wonder Cameron Wake, who they acquired this offseason.

Defensively, Cleveland’s vaunted pass rush will have the chance to get after quarterback Marcus Mariota with left tackle Taylor Lewan suspended to begin the season. Mariota begins a pivotal season and the last of his rookie contract with what should be a difficult task against the Browns defense.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals enter this season as the punching bag of the AFC North, with many predicting them to be among the worst teams in the league. New head coach Zac Taylor has the chance to silence some of the doubters as his team travels to Seattle to face the Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

If the Dolphins don’t have the worst offensive line in the NFL, then that title quite possibly belongs to Cincinnati. Injuries to several key players, including first-round offensive lineman Jonah Williams, has left an already questionable unit in shambles. Seattle has the pass rushers to make it a long day for Andy Dalton. Former first-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney was acquired via trade from the Houston Texans to pair with former Detroit Lions first-round pick Ezekial Ansah who was signed earler in the offseason by the Seahawks.

Stopping the run and containing the elusive Wilson will the top priorities for the Bengals defense. Cincinnati’s defense was one of the worst of the league last season, despite having talent all over the field. Carl Lawson should provide a boost the pass rush as he returns from missing the majority of last season with injury.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers overwent a drastic change this offseason as they traded star and future Hall-of-Fame wide receiver to the Oakland Raiders and lost star running back Le’Veon Bell to the New York Jets in free agency. Brown has since been released by the Raiders following a dramatic series of events, proving Pittsburgh right in their decision to move on from him. Third-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will be expected to step up in place of Brown, while James Conner already replaced Bell last season at running back while Bell held out.

The Steelers face a huge challenge to start the season in the form of the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football. Despite being the Patriots last season, New England has been the bane of Pittsburgh’s existence for several years. Wide receiver Josh Gordon returns for the Patriots after stepping away from football during last season to join Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman and newly acquired Demaryius Thomas. New England also signed Brown almost immediately after the Raiders released him, but he is ineligble to play in the first game.

Despite a fantastic first two years, many question Smith-Schuster’s ability to perform as a number-one receiver without the presence of Brown on the field to help draw attention. This will be a perfect chance to demonstrate his abilities as the teams go-to receiver as he faces top cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Pittsburgh has the chance to make a strong statement this week if they can start the season with a win in Foxborough.