Reason to be cheerful: Lamar Jackson.
The former Louisville quarterback helped spark the Ravens offence when he was inserted into the starting line-up late last season.
Granted, the recipe for success isn’t perhaps sustainable in the NFL when Jackson is running that much and being opened up to big hits from opposing linebackers. But he now has an offensive coordinator in Greg Roman who has proven success in running an offense with a dual threat QB.
Roman was Jim Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator when Colin Kaepernick was running the Niners offence with great success en route to a Super Bowl appearance against the Ravens and he should be better able to put together an offensive scheme enabling Jackson to develop as an NFL quarterback whilst still maintaining his threat as a runner.
Reason to be fearful: cap room
This is a minor one really. Eric DeCosta, the new general manager, has a wealth of experience from working alongside long-time Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, and can be trusted to handle the fairly limited cap room the Ravens have.
You would think the priority free agents for the Ravens would be to re-sign linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs. However, the Ravens ranked second in the league in rushing yards per game last season and halfbacks Ty Montgomery, Javorius Allen, Alex Collins and Gus Edwards are free agents also. In addition to that, the Ravens need to add some talent at wide receiver to cater to Jackson’s skill set which is drastically different to that of long-time QB Joe Flacco.
Green, the fulcrum of the Bengals offense, will be back from injury for the 2019 season, which will be a welcome return for quarterback Andy Dalton.
Green managed eight games last season before injury and the 2018/19 season marked only the second time in his professional career that the former Georgia Bulldog accumulated less than 1,000 yards receiving. Nonetheless, Boyd stepped up in Green’s absence with 1,028 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his third season.
New head coach Zac Taylor will be hoping to generate that level of production out of both his top two wideouts next year.
Reason to be fearful: the defence
Whilst the team will be counting on new head man Taylor to have a Sean McVay-like effect on the offence, it remains to be seen what happens to the defence.
Former head coaches Jack Del Rio and John Fox have been mentioned as possible defensive coordinators.
Either way, they have to fix a defence which gave up the most yards per game in the league last season. There are quality players in the secondary, including 2018 second round draft pick Jessie Bates III who led the team with 111 total tackles and was second on the team behind fellow safety Shawn Williams, with three interceptions. Nonetheless, the team needs to add talent at linebacker and pass rusher (a recurring need, where DT Geno Atkins led the team with 10 sacks).
Reason to be cheerful: young nucleus of talent
It feels a little obvious to say Baker Mayfield here, so let’s say Baker Mayfield, but also include a range of other players on the Browns roster.
Mayfield is giving Cleveland reason for optimism at the quarterback position for the first time in aeons, but it is the talent level on the whole team that makes this young Browns team really exciting.
Nick Chubb emerged as the lead running back for the franchise this season, making last offseason’s acquisition Carlos Hyde expendable. The ex-Georgia player was only four yards short of a 1,000 yard rushing season despite only becoming the full time starter in week 7!
Defensive end Myles Garrett made the Pro Bowl with 13.5 sacks; third round defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi emerged as a starter with 5.5 sacks of his own, whilst first rounder Denzel Ward accompanied Garrett to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Browns general manager John Dorsey made the most of those first round picks accumulated by his predecessor Sashi Brown, making the Browns a real threat within the division for the first time in years.
Reason to be fearful: first time head coach
I liked the Freddie Kitchens hire, and the staff he’s assembled with Todd Monken and Steve Wilks as his offensive and defensive coordinators respectively, was amongst the best hired this offseason.
However, it does come with a certain amount of risk. Kitchens didn’t take on a coordinator role until midway through the past season, taking over the offensive coordinator role left by the firing of Todd Haley.
Prior to that he coached tight ends, quarterbacks and running backs for the Cowboys, Cardinals and the Browns. Whilst he seems to be a good fit for Mayfield, he has had a meteoric rise to the Browns hot seat. Having said that, Dorsey and his assistant Eliot Wolf, are highly respected football decision makers who won’t have gone into this hire lightly.
Reason to be cheerful: a chance to put the 2018-19 season behind them
The Steelers season turned into a bit of a nightmare, starting with the opening game tie with the Browns, and ending with missing out on the postseason, whilst potentially losing star wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Mike Tomlin’s team has a lot still going for it though, if they can put the drama of last season in the rear mirror.
Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t show much sign of serious decline, whilst receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner emerged as focal pieces of the offence. Both those players can mitigate the loss of Le’Veon Bell this offseason, as well as the possible departure of Brown.
The pass defence, which has been a real weak spot for Pittsburgh the past few years, ranked 10th best in the league in yards given up per game during the regular season and has pieces to build around like safety Sean Davis, as well as pass rusher TJ Watt.
Reason to be fearful: Antonio Brown
It seems unlikely that Brown will leave, given the amount of cap it would hit for the Steelers.
In addition, a team would have to be willing to give up a decent amount of draft capital for the controversial receiver. If Brown leaves, and it’s a big if, it places the burden squarely on the shoulders of Smith-Schuster and Conner. Can they handle that?
It also means the Steelers would only have three wideouts under contract meaning it becomes a more pressing need in the draft (the Steelers are often reluctant to pay out big money in free agency). If Brown stays, how does he fit back into the locker room? Does it cause further locker room drama for a team that Smith-Schuster recently said have to “stop being the Kardashians”.