Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be without running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Martavis Bryant to start the season. (John Raoux/Associated Press)
Baltimore Ravens (2014 record: 10-6)

OUTLOOK: The Ravens were the most formidable challenger to the Patriots during last season’s AFC playoffs and would have spared the world from DeflateGate if only they’d held a 14-point lead in Foxborough. They should be right back in the mix. But they must deal with some offseason losses, including those of WR Torrey Smith on offense and DE Haloti Ngata and LB Pernell McPhee on defense. Will the secondary be good enough and sturdy enough this time around? And does WR Steve Smith Sr. have another productive season in him as he prepares to step away from the sport?

IMPACT ADDITION: Rookie WR Breshad Perriman was plagued by a knee issue in training camp. If he can get healthy and catch up on the work that he missed, there should be an opportunity for him to be a contributor after Torrey Smith’s exit.


QB Joe Flacco’s passer rating under pressure.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

OUTLOOK: It is a new era for the Steelers on defense with Keith Butler taking over as the coordinator after the departure of Dick LeBeau. The retirement of S Troy Polamalu added to the offseason overhaul. Butler is well regarded and should be able to make things work, although there clearly will be an adjustment period. QB Ben Roethlisberger will have to lead a short-handed offense in the season’s early stages with RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Martavis Bryant serving suspensions.

IMPACT ADDITION: The Steelers love to use first-round draft picks on linebackers and they did so again this year with Kentucky product Bud Dupree. He has the potential to help immediately as a pass rusher but must demonstrate that he also can excel in other areas of the game as he vies for playing time at a crowded position.


Yards per drive, the second most in the league.

Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1)

OUTLOOK: The Bengals’ regular season success behind Coach Marvin Lewis and fifth-year QB Andy Dalton has been commendable. They have helped to make the franchise into a consistent winner and contender. But they’re yet to produce a single postseason victory, and their season has ended in the wild-card round each of the last four campaigns. It’s time for them to take the next step and win in the playoffs.

IMPACT ADDITION: LB A.J. Hawk was signed after he was released by the Packers. The 10th-year player gives the Bengals an experienced presence and a steadying influence on a defense that ranked 22nd last season after ranking third in the league the year before.


Sacks, hits and hurries allowed by T Andrew Whitworth, the fewest in the league among offensive tackles lining up for at least 500 passing plays.

Cleveland Browns (7-9)

OUTLOOK: Troubled WR Josh Gordon is suspended and second-year QB Johnny Manziel is not the starter. Manziel had his moments during the preseason, at least putting himself back into the quarterback conversation in Cleveland. But he also was plagued by elbow problems, and the Browns clearly weren’t going to trust him enough to start ahead of veteran newcomer Josh McCown, anyway. It is difficult to envision the Browns moving up in such a rugged division.

IMPACT ADDITION: DT Danny Shelton so far has looked every bit like he is worth the 12th overall selection in the draft. The 6-foot-2, 339-pound behemoth certainly appears capable of being a mainstay on the defensive line, but the real tests are yet to come.


Percentage of yards that came in the air (total yards minus yards after the catch) for McCown, the most among qualified quarterbacks.