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AFC North Preview

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The Steelers opened the preseason as the odd-on favorite in the AFC North, but injuries and suspensions could open the door for a still-talented Bengals team and Ravens squad looking to rebound from a disappointing 2015.

Baltimore Ravens
After making the playoffs in five of the last seven seasons, the Ravens finished the 2015 campaign with a 5-11 record, tied with 2007 for the second-worst mark in team history.

Baltimore’s defense gave up 401 points to opposing teams over the course of the season, which is also second-worst in team history.

Quarterback Joe Flacco, the 2012 Super Bowl MVP, tore his ACL during a game-winning drive at home against the then-St. Louis Rams Nov. 22 but is expected to be ready to open the season.

During the team’s offseason, Baltimore surrounded Flacco with tight end Benjamin Watson and former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace.

Veteran safety Eric Weddle was added to bolster the secondary after the loss of Will Hill. The Ravens also parted ways with veteran linebacker Daryl Smith.

Smith and safety Hill were second and third in team tackles, respectively, trailing only 2014 first-round pick C.J. Mosley.

Head coach John Harbaugh is entering his ninth season at the helm of the Baltimore franchise, and Marc Trestman will be the Ravens offensive coordinator for the second straight season. Sixty-seven year old Dean Pees is entering his sixth season as the Ravens defensive coordinator.

The Ravens will start the 2016 campaign with a home game against Buffalo before going on a two-game road trip to Jacksonville and Cleveland.
   
Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns are, oncCleveland Brownse again, in rebuilding mode.

Hue Jackson, the former Bengals offensive coordinator and Oakland Raiders, is looking to right the ship for a team that has had six head coaches and 15 different starting quarterbacks since the 2008 season.

Former Baylor standout and Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has been designated as the starting quarterback for the start of the 2016 campaign.

The Browns drafted four wide receivers in this year’s NFL draft: Corey Coleman of Baylor in the first round, Ricardo Lewis (Auburn) in the fourth round and both Jordan Payton (UCLA) and Rashard Higgins (Colorado State) in the fifth round.

Running back Isaiah Crowell, who has 12 rushing touchdowns throughout his first two years in the NFL, will likely duel with second-year back Duke Johnson for the starting job.

Tight end Gary Barnidge, a fifth-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2008, will attempt to repeat his breakout performance on the field last year after catching nine touchdown passes.

Other than Griffin, the Browns have not released their depth chart and will not release it until the regular season starts at Philadelphia September 11, according to the Browns’ official website.

Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati BengalsAfter last year's fourth quarter meltdown against Pittsburgh, the Bengals are still looking for their first playoff win since defeating the Houston Oilers in January of 1991.

Despite making the playoffs in every season since 2011, the Bengals have been unable to make it past the wild card round.

Marvin Lewis is entering his 14th year at the helm of the Bengals, as the team enters the 2016 campaign after having the league’s second-best defense and the seventh-best offense from a year ago.

After offensive coordinator Hue Jackson’s departure to the Cleveland Browns, Ken Zampese will get a crack at directing the Bengals’ offense

Zampese had been the Bengals quarterbacks coach since 2003, the first year Lewis coached Cincinnati.

The core of last year's AFC North champions returns this fall, starting with quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert, halfback Giovani Bernard and linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

Burfict is currently serving a three-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on player safety, which will be in effect when the regular season starts -- and keep him out of Cincinnati's first matchup with the Steelers.

Bernard and Eifert signed contract extensions with Cincinnati this offseason, although Eifert may miss the first few games of the season after having surgery on his left ankle in the offseason.

The team also added veterans such as linebacker Karlos Dansby and wide receiver Brandon LaFell over the offseason.

The offense took its biggest hit at wide receiver, where the Bengals lost Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency to Atlanta and Detroit, respectively. During the NFL draft in April, they addressed the issue by drafting Pitt wide receiver and Clairton High School graduate Tyler Boyd with the 55th overall pick.

Cincinnati will start the 2016 campaign with road games at the Jets and Steelers, before hosting their first home game of the season against the Broncos.

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