AFC Central

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by jeff beyel

AFC Central Preview (In Predicted Order Of Finish)

For the first time in many years, the Cincinnati Bengals are not the pre-season favorite in the Central!  Coach Bob Durfee, who’s teams are always tough, holds that spot this year.  Indianapolis will be led at QB by Deshawn Watson who is a dynamic signal caller. Veteran back Todd Gurley still has some gas left in his tank but he will be more of a chain mover than big play type.  WR Keenan Allen heads a balanced group of receivers along with aging TE Greg Olsen.  The offensive line is a just a solid, good five that should be able to get the job done.

   Under-sized De Robert Quinn paces the defensive line with Luke Kuechly and Kyle Van Noy patrolling the line-backer zone. CBs Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams are excellent back there.  The entire defense, when taken as a whole, is pretty solid.

The Bengals have finally begun to show some decline.  Annual All-Pro QB Drew Brees is still excellent but could be limited.  RB Devonta Freeman looks like the top back along with Jordan Howard but neither put fear into the hearts of defenses. The receiving unit is still very good with TE Zach Ertz and explosive WR Chris Godwin the best there. The offensive line is good and leans a bit more towards pass protection but it is, arguably, the best unit in the division.

   Ageless Calais Campbell still can play along a solid defensive line but the line-backing, outside of Preston Smith, is not to the level the Bengals have been accustomed to. Perhaps the biggest decline will be seen in the secondary that once was one of the best in football. CB Nickel Robey-Coleman rates as the best corner on the team.

Coach Mark Farrell has the best QB in the division with Aaron Rodgers but, sadly, ARod has few targets to throw to as the wide receiver corps is lacking depth.  RB Saquon Barkley is still scary.  Perhaps the best unit on this team can be found in the offensive line where the Titans boast a healthy and consistent grouping with all five linemen rating as above to elite level.

   The defensive line lacks elite players and depth and the same can be said for the line-backing outside Matt Judon who is very talented. Cb Kenny Morre and veteran S Harrison Smith are good but health is going to be a problem for Farrell.

The Steelers and coach Pete Katsafanas will probably continue to suffer this season. Perennial signal caller, Ben Roethlisberger , is out and that means Sam Darnold will become the first Steeler QB in quite a while not named Big Ben! Rb Peyton Barber will start at RB but does not pose a major threat catching the ball out of the backfield. WR Allen Robinson is legit but the rest of the receivers are mundane. The Oline is a bit of a muddled unit that does have some talent but also has some injury worries.

   The defensive line is ok and should at least be consistent.  Young DE Clelin Ferrell shows promise. OLB Jordan Jenkins is solid but the over-all line-backing is average and has serious injury problems. The same can be said for the secondary where Jamel Dean and Eli Apple will play CB.  The defense is, as a whole, capable on any given day but the lack of depth and the injury problems will probably add to inconsistency.

 

Final Analysis:  The AFC Central has dominated the conference for years but that reign is in jeopardy this season with the rise in power in the East.  Indianapolis has the best team but even they have some flaws.  The Bengals could make the playoffs if they can hold off Tennessee and maybe win a big game here or there.