BALTIMORE (AP) — As long as Mike Tomlin is standing on the Pittsburgh sideline, watching Ben Roethlisberger pass to Antonio Brown or give the ball to Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers will be favored to win the AFC North.
It makes no difference that Randy Fichtner is the new offensive coordinator, or that Roethlisberger turned 36 in March.
The Steelers are going to score points, and they’re going to play their best against division rivals in big games.
Baltimore knows this all too well. Two years ago, Bell rushed for 122 yards and Roethlisberger connected with Brown for a last-minute touchdown in a 31-27 victory that clinched the AFC North title.
Last December, Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two TDs, Bell scored twice and the Steelers beat the Ravens 39-38.
Baltimore hopes to turn things around this year, but if the Ravens are to break a run of three straight years without a playoff appearance, it will likely be as a wild card.
There are, by the way, two other teams in the division. Cincinnati and Cleveland deserve mention only because one will likely finish in third place and the other will occupy the cellar.
In Cincinnati, coach Marvin Lewis got a two-year extension despite his NFL-record 0-7 mark in the playoffs. After two straight losing seasons, he’s getting a 16th chance to finally get it right.
Cleveland is coming off an 0-16 embarrassment and can only hope to be respectable. Since the creation of the current AFC North in 2002, the Browns are the only team never to finish in first place.
Some things to know about the AFC North:
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOILS: Pittsburgh and its “Killer Bs” — Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell — have reached the playoffs four straight years. Yet all those trips to January have turned into just three postseason wins and no trips to the Super Bowl.
While the rejuvenated Roethlisberger believes he can play until he nears 40, this may be his last legitimate shot to win a third championship. Bell is likely in his final year in black-and-gold after being unable to come to terms with the club on a new long-term deal.
Bell is one of the most versatile backs in the league and not easily replaceable. He won’t lack for motivation. He believes he’s a unique talent and wants the paycheck to prove it.
Pittsburgh’s best chance to return to the Super Bowl will rely heavily on having Bell at the top of his game and will certainly take the tradeoff of seeing Bell elsewhere in 2019 if it means hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February.
FAREWELL TOUR: Ozzie Newsome is the only general manager the Ravens have ever had, running the show in Baltimore since the team arrived from Cleveland before the 1996 season.
Newsome will be stepping aside after this season, to be replaced by current assistant GM Eric DeCosta, who in 2019 will finally get the job he wanted after spurning offers from several other clubs.
The Ravens have won two Super Bowls under Newsome, who in his final season has assembled a team that appears better than last year’s model.
Having provided quarterback Joe Flacco with a new receiving group, Newsome addressed Baltimore’s most glaring weakness in 2017.
BENGALS ON THE LINE: Cincinnati’s offense finished last in the league in yards last season, the worst showing in franchise history. The focus of their offseason was overhauling the line, which failed to protect Andy Dalton or open holes in the running game.
The Bengals fired line coach Paul Alexander, traded with Buffalo for left tackle Cordy Glenn, signed right tackle Bobby Hart and drafted center Billy Price in the first round from Ohio State. Despite all that, the right side of the line struggled against the Cowboys in the second preseason game, renewing concerns that problems remain.
GOTTA BE BETTER, CAN’T GET WORSE: Cleveland coach Hue Jackson is 1-31 in two seasons with Cleveland, but Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam still believe they hired the right coach in 2016. Time will tell, but the pressure is on Jackson from the get-go to win or there could be more changes in a team that has known mostly upheaval for 20 years.
The Browns drafted quarterback Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick, but the Heisman Trophy winner will begin the year as a backup to Tyrod Taylor, who helped Buffalo snap a 17-year postseason drought last season.
Predicted order of finish: Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, Browns.
AP Sports Writers Joe Kay, Tom Withers and Will Graves contributed.
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Tailgating Playbook: Play it Safe This Football Season
COLUMBUS, Ohio (August 30, 2018) – As football season kicks off, many Ohioans will celebrate the season with tailgates. To keep these fun-filled gatherings from turning into costly blunders, AAA’s insurance agents encourage tailgaters to follow three plays from the tailgating playbook.
”We all look forward to game day festivities with our friends and family, and insurance coverage is likely the furthest thing from our minds at that time, but we all must remember that tailgates can be breeding grounds for costly accidents and injuries,” says David McMullen, vice president of insurance. “Be aware of your surroundings, leave your valuables at home, and look out for the safety of yourself and others.”
1. Drive sober:
On average, drunk driving crashes kill one person every 45 minutes in the United States. Last year, in Ohio, impaired driving accounted for 34 percent of all fatal crashes, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. To prevent impaired driving, tailgaters should designate a sober driver, or call a cab or ride-sharing service.
Those hosting a tailgating party at their homes should be aware that Ohio’s host liability law holds those who serve alcohol liable if their drunken guests are involved in a crash on the way home. Homeowners insurance policies may cover this liability, but it can be avoided by making sure nobody drives home drunk.
2. Grill safely:
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, some 5,700 grill fires take place on residential properties every year. Most are caused by malfunctioning gas grills. These fires cause an average of $37 million in damage annually, and send thousands to the emergency room with burns. When grilling at a tailgate or at home, remember:
• Place your grill at least 10 feet away from walls or tents
• Keep a fire extinguisher nearby
• Cook food thoroughly
• Never leave a grill burning unattended
• Clean grease from the grill and grill trays
• Make sure the grill is cool before placing it back in a vehicle
If a grill fire occurs, a standard homeowners insurance policy will typically cover the damage. The liability portion of the policy will also cover any burns or food-borne illnesses suffered by your guests. If a hot grill catches your vehicle on fire, a comprehensive auto insurance policy can help cover the damage.
3. Deter thieves:
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Unified Crime Reporting Program, nearly 213,000 larceny-thefts occurred in Ohio during 2016, the latest available year of data. Those tailgating outside sporting venues should either leave valuables at home or hide them in the trunk with the doors locked when they go into the stadium to watch the game.
If theft does occur, a homeowners or renters insurance policy can help replace what’s lost. Most standard homeowners and renters policies ensure the same personal property coverage away from home as they do at home. Policyholders must present receipts or some proof of stolen items to receive reimbursement.
Not all insurance policies are the same. As an independent agency, AAA Ohio Auto Club Insurance Agency encourages consumers to regularly review their policies to ensure they are getting the best rate on coverage that fits their current needs.
“The right coverage is critical, both on the football field, and on your insurance policy,” said Ed Conley, director, Insurance Sales and Financial Services for AAA Ohio Auto Club. “Take some time to review your policy now and make sure you’re not leaving your family exposed to some of these costly mistakes. Having a good game plan is the key to a safe and fun tailgating season.”
Additional insurance information is available at AAA.com/Insurance.
As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 58 million members with travel-, insurance-, financial- and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited online at AAA.com.