Football is finally back!
And with the new season just a few hours away, here are some of the AFC North news stories that you may have missed.
DeCastro locked up
The Pittsburgh Steelers helped solidify the centre of their line for the foreseeable future as they signed former first-round pick David DeCastro to a new deal. DeCastro is a player on the rise. Last season he was voted to both the Pro Bowl and the associated press All Pro team. DeCastro, 26, has proven fantastically durable missing only one game in three years. He’ll no doubt relish clearing the way for Le’Veon Bell when he returns to the Steelers after his suspension.
RGIII voted team captain
RGIII was seen as a ‘me first’ player who divided the locker room in Washington. It appears to have been a humbling experience. Today he was voted as one of the team captains in Cleveland. The Browns need some veteran leadership. After all RGIII has been through its not surprising the team thinks that he can help motivate them in the tough times.
Could his fall from grace be a blessing in disguise? Perhaps. He’s quoted as saying “I’ve been able to grow as a player and as a leader in this locker room”. Something he was never able to do in a Washington team that didn’t use his talents at all well.
Looking at the week one schedule here are the key matchups.
Steelers v Redskins
This one could be interesting.
The Redskins made a big splash in free agency when they signed former Carolina star Josh Norman to a huge contract. Norman emerged as a shutdown corner in Carolina but many suspect he was the beneficiary of a fantastic front seven controlling the game. He’ll likely be locked onto star receiver Antonio Brown in one of the top week one battles. Although Martavis Bryant, Le’Veon Bell and Ladarius Green are all out, the Redskins will still have their hands full. DeAngelo Williams will fill in running the ball, and is an impressive back. Look for Jesse James to emerge as a receiving threat.
On defence, the Steelers will be without Bud Dupree. Their linebacker corps will be put to the test against second year runner, Matt Jones. James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, and Arthur Moats will be expected to hold the fort. Ryan Shazier has the potential to be a top player if he stays healthy. Justin Gilbert will also get the chance to reclaim his career but I just don’t think the Steelers secondary can contain DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon and Josh Doctson.
Bengals v Jets
The Bengals have a couple of injury concerns. With Tyler Eifret still out they will turn to Tyler Kroft who’s recovering from a knee sprain that kept him from all four preseason games. Cedric Ogbuehi is still nursing an injured toe but he will likely start at right tackle. Toe injuries can severely limit a player’s ability to fire off the ball, making them particularly difficult for offensive and defensive linemen.
Vontaze Burfict will also be missing. He was suspended for the first three games of the 2016 regular season “for repeated violations of safety-related playing rules.”
Before his injury last year Andy Dalton looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I expect to see Dalton maintain those standards and come out throwing early. Aside from A.J. Green Dalton will have new targets to get used to: the aforementioned Kroft, Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd. Despite this I think the Bengals will be just too good for the Jets and Fitzmagic.
Ravens v Bills
Many NFL analysts expect the Ravens to flounder this season. I think the news of their demise may be premature. With a healthy Joe Flacco targeting off season acquisition Mike Wallace the Ravens will look to stretch the Buffalo defence and cause some trouble. Wallace has the speed to deliver and will be hoping to prove that he is a better player than the one we saw for the Vikings last year (when he gained a career low 473 yards and just two touchdowns). He’ll be helped by the fact that teams will need to stop dropped-and-then-signed-again Justin Forsett.
Defensively the Ravens will be without aging star Elvis Dumervil, but Terrell Suggs returns from last year’s injury. Eric Weddle joined from penny pinching San Diego in the off season and will be looking to prove he’s worth the sizeable contract he received. For the Bills, Tyrod Taylor, Sammy Watkins, LeSean McCoy and new addition Charles Clay will look to impress but the Ravens D should make a statement and hold for the win.
Browns v Eagles
The Browns will take to the field for their first regular season game under new head coach Hue Jackson, but his team looks firmly in rebuilding mode. RGIII spent the majority of his pre-season running for his life behind a less than impressive line. For Cleveland the one bright spot was the big play potential of wide receiver Terrell Pryor. This may not be the game to see it though. The Eagles led the pre-season with 9 interceptions and boast
an imposing front seven with the likes of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin.
The Browns were outscored 71-37, during the preseason and have jettisoned many of their past draft disappointments. Even with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and an offence that is lacking a dominant receiver, the Eagles should be too much for the Browns. In fact NFL.com postured that ‘Carson Wentz accounts for four touchdowns against Browns’ in their Bold Predictions section.