The most important position in football is widely regarded to be the quarterback position. In the AFC North, it isn’t an argument, especially when you have the wideout talent that this division boasts, with Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Steve Smith, and the other WRs on the rosters. Without a good QB under center, these guys wouldn’t make the impact that they do in the NFL. Here, I will break down each starting QB, and what they need to do to be successful in the 2016 campaign.
Ben Roethlisberger – The Pittsburgh Steelers
‘Big Ben’, as he is commonly referred to, has been the best man under center for awhile, in the North. Though he has only played a full season 3 times since 2004, he has a knack for leading his team to the postseason, and has 2 rings to back that up. Ben has enjoyed having the (arguably) #1 receiver in the NFL line up next to him for the last 6 seasons, but even when he has had lesser talent around him, he has made moves.
When the 2015 campaign ended, the starting wide receivers were slated to be Antonio Brown, Martavius Bryant, and Sammie Coates, with Darrius Heyward-Bey as the next in line. Bryant has since been suspended for the 2016 season, which diminishes the talent level in the WR corps. However, Ben has Le’Veon Bell and Deangelo Williams to lean on, which will make him look even better. The Pittsburgh offense has the chance to be electrifying if it gets its legs underneath them.
For 2016, the Steelers have their eyes on their 7th Super Bowl ring (as they have since their last one), since they lost by 7 points to the eventual Super Bowl Champions in the Divisional Round of the 2015 Playoffs. But what does Ben need to do to make that possible? Well, for one.. stay healthy. Ben only played in 12 games last season, but racked up 3,938 yards, 21 TDs, and 16 INTs, with an 8-4 record. If he manages to stay healthy for the entire season, the Steelers’ offense should be nigh on unstoppable, especially against the generally weak NFC East. His division games will be played tough, but that is nothing new for any team in the North. He will also have to be more consistent. 16 INTs in 12 games is not a good statistic. He needs to force the throw less, and be more focused on getting the ball to the receivers that can turn them into big plays. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a downfield throw every time. If Ben comes back playing more like 2014, and less like 2015, and can stay healthy, I see no reason why he can’t throw for over 4,500 yards, 30 TDs, and 17 INTs, with a playoff berth to follow.
Joe Flacco – The Baltimore Ravens
I’m starting to feel like everywhere that I turn, there’s another article about Joe Flacco. I’m wondering if that is a good thing or a bad thing, since the articles seem to be evenly split between good and bad. In 2012, Flacco had a historic playoff run, ending in a Super Bowl victory, his first (second for the team). Since then, he is a quarterback with a losing record, despite entering the playoffs in 3rd place and knocking out the 1st place Steelers in the 2014 campaign, and then narrowly losing to the New England Patriots.
Other than his inaugural season in 2008, Joe has never had a true #1 WR, or a WR corp that was anything more than above average. Unfortunately, that trend will continue into the 2016, unless Breshad Perriman or Chris Moore can make a solid impact in their rookie (consider Perriman a rookie since he missed 2015) campaigns, or if Kamar Aiken can turn into a true breakout star. But Joe has done something with nothing more than once in his career. He has missed the playoffs just twice since entering the NFL, and only had one losing season. If ever there was a quarterback not named Tom Brady who had to make the most of what he had to work with, it’s Joe Flacco.
Unfortunately, Flacco’s ‘Ironman’ run ended in Week 10 of the 2015 season when he tore his ACL during the final drive of the game. Previously, he had not missed a start since he opened the 2008 season in Week 1. (I do mean ‘Ironman’.. the man finished the series with a torn ACL just to make sure his team won the game.) Entering 2016, we have not seen him play since the injury, but reports are that he is at 100%. Before the injury, Joe was not playing good football, throwing 14 TDs to 12 INTs. He did, however, throw an average of 279 yards per game, a number that would have put him over 4,400 yards on the season, had he played the final 6 games. All this translated to a 3-7 record when he went down. In 2016, he needs to play more like 2014 Flacco than 2013 Flacco. Stop forcing throws and taking sacks. Move, or dump the ball off. Again, not every throw needs to be downfield, especially when you have solid underneath receivers (Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken) and tight ends (Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta, Benjamin Watson) that can bail you out of bad situations and keep the chains moving. Marc Trestman should have a better grasp on the offensive scheme this year, and since he is a pass-first offensive coordinator (just own it, Marc.. you are), Joe should be able to make the most of the weapons that he has at hand, mediocre though they are. He needs to play like he’s worth the money that the Ravens are paying him, bring the team back to the playoffs, and turn on the heat. 4,100 yards on the season, with 27 TDs and 12 INTs for Joe this year.
Andy Dalton – The Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton is coming off of the best year of his career, but is another quarterback that had a season-ending injury (not as bad as an ACL.. he hurt his thumb). Another season has come and gone, and another Bengals team went one-and-done in the playoffs. At some point, that has to be less motivating, and more depressing. A lot of analysts have Dalton as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, which is true, if we’re looking at simple statistics. However, for whatever reason, he seems to have a mental breakdown in primetime games, or the postseason.
A.J. Green is a huge part of why Andy Dalton looks so good. A.J. is a phenomenal wideout, and is the single reason why they have beaten the Baltimore Ravens for two years running. Simply put, Green wins games. Dalton also has a decent run game to rely on, with Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard, as well as a great tight end (though injury prone) in Tyler Eifert. Dalton has led his team to the playoffs over and over again since he was drafted, and looks to do it again this year.
However. Dalton has lost his No. 2 and 3 wide receivers to free agency this off-season, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. Though not top tier receivers, they made an impact in the 2015 campaign, and since they’re being replaced with Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd, they will surely be missed as teams double-cover Green, ensuring that Dalton takes a step back this year. Combine that with the fact that he consistently has problems in the bright lights of primetime, and the chance is there that Dalton misses the postseason this year. However, as a quarterback alone, Dalton could easily throw for 3,900 yards, with 26 TDs to 11 INTs. (Don’t cry in outrage.. I think they rely more on the run game this year.)
Musical Chairs – The Cleveland Browns
I really wanted to do an article where I didn’t make fun of any team, but then I realized that I was writing about the AFC North, and that that would involve the Cleveland Browns. I simply do not know who will be starting under center at this point in the off-season. The worse part is that they don’t either. Is it Josh McCown? Robert Griffin III? Or maybe even Cody Kessler? Is Austin Davis even still on the team, at this point?
McCown might be the best option, as RGKnee hasn’t played in awhile, Kessler is unproven (behind that line, he would get destroyed, poor guy), and Davis is a question mark. Sure, McCown only won one game last year, but he did throw for 2,100 yards, and had 12 TDs to 4 INTs. Not too shabby, especially in Cleveland. I don’t personally care who starts. I just hope that it is the best quarterback possible for Corey Coleman. That kid has too much talent for it to go to waste (probably too late, he is in the Factory of Sadness now) with a subpar arm throwing to him.
Cleveland QBs combined will total about 3,700 yards, with between 2-20 TDs, and between 10-40 INTs.
No, that isn’t a joke.