AFC And NFC North Division Previews

By: Michael Markoch

Two of the most intriguing divisions in the NFL next season are the North divisions.  Both divisions have a team that was at the bottom of the league last year, each have a team that fell short of expectations, and each have a team that was top tier in the league last season.  Some of these teams have made head-scratching moves and some have made very predictable ones, but one thing is for certain, these two divisions are going to be some of the most intriguing next season.

AFC NORTH

Cincinnati Bengals (Last Season: 2-14, 4th place AFC North):  Entering this offseason, the Bengals were in clear rebuilding mode, and so far, all of their moves have replicated that notion.  In free agency, the Bengals were surprisingly active.  Starting with franchise tagging star wide-out A.J. Green, the Bengals added good pieces in many areas including former Texan D.J. Reader on the defensive line, Xavier Su’a-Filo on the offensive line, and Trae Waynes and Vonn Bell to shore up the secondary, and they have the first overall pick in the draft on Thursday.

            With that pick, the Bengals are expected to select LSU quarterback and reigning Heisman trophy winner Joe Burrow to become the face of their franchise. The Bengals hold six other picks besides number one and should look to address the significant lack of depth they experienced last season.  If all things go well, the Bengals could be a force in the AFC North next season, I’m not saying worst to first, but they could make some noise if young Burrow pans out.

Cleveland Browns (Last Season: 6-10, 3rd place AFC North): If there’s one question surrounding the Browns this offseason, it is what happened?  How did a team with such high expectations fall so flat on their faces?  Entering free agency, it was all about Baker Mayfield and his development after a rough sophomore season.  So they added All-Pro Jack Conklin to be their starting right tackle as well as one of last year’s leading statistical tight ends in Austin Hooper to give the offense a two-headed tight end monster.  They also added multiple defensive pieces on one and two-year deals such as safeties Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph, and pass rusher Adrian Clayborn without locking in any long-term commitments. 

            As for the draft, the Browns hold the tenth overall pick and have one glaring need; left tackle.  Fortunately, it is one of the best offensive tackle classes we have ever seen and the Browns are almost surely guaranteed one of the top tackles at tenth overall.  Other needs the Browns might decide to address are linebackers and overall depth on the defensive side of the ball.  The people who weren’t going around crowning the Browns champs last season said they were a year away.  Well, now with a new coaching staff and less optimism, the Browns are now primed to make a gigantic leap, but the AFC North is going to be a gauntlet to prove themselves in.

Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Season 8-8, 2nd in AFC North): The Steelers have a lot of question marks, especially surrounding Ben Roethlisberger, who is coming back for possibly his last season.  After season-ending elbow surgery a year ago, no one really knows what he will be able to bring to the team and how effective he will be.  However, there is one side of the ball the Steelers aren’t lacking in and that’s defense.  With a top five scoring defense last season and all of the main pieces still intact, the Steelers will most likely look to the offensive side of the ball to get the most out of Roethlisberger next season.  In free agency, Pittsburgh added tight end Eric Ebron, who will be a much-needed red-zone threat, guard Stephen Wisniewski, and fullback Derek Watt to help with the run game.

            Unfortunately for the Steelers, they do not have a first-round pick due to the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade last season, but that shouldn’t stop them from adding depth.  There aren’t many holes on this Steeler’s roster, but they should probably start looking for Ben Roethlisberger’s replacement because if last year proved anything, Mason Rudolph and Develin Hodges are not the answer at quarterback.   They could also use another wide receiver as Juju Smith-Schuster had a disappointing season as the number one guy.  But for the Steelers, it all depends on Big Ben, if he returns to old form the Steelers could be contenders, but if he shows his age and disappoints, they might just end up at the bottom of the dangerous AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens (Last Season 14-2, 1st in AFC North):  For a while last year during the regular season the Ravens were the best team in the NFL, and it wasn’t even close.  Then the Tennessee Titans happened.  It was arguably he biggest upset of the season because the Ravens had won 12 games in a row up to that point with the MVP at quarterback in Lamar Jackson.  However, Baltimore has almost everybody coming back this year and added some nice pieces such as former Bronco Derek Wolfe and kept some vital players in Matthew Judon and Jimmy Smith. 

            The Ravens have the 28th pick in the draft and have a few holes in their defense, mainly at linebacker.  In consecutive seasons, Baltimore lost Za’Darius Smith, C.J. Mosley, and Terrell Suggs, and are missing that x-factor linebacker Ray Lewis once was.  Maybe Wisconsin’s Zach Baun or Ohio State’s Malik Harrison will be a good fit, but the position must be addressed for this team to reach their potential.  As for that potential, the Ravens will be and should be the favorites in the AFC North next season with eyes set on the Super Bowl.

NFC NORTH

Detroit Lions (Last Season 3-12-1, 4th in NFC North): The Lions are in an interesting position this offseason.  After a lost season in which franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered a season ending injury, some believed the Lions should consider taking a new quarterback with their 3rd overall pick.  That is not likely to happen because they believe Stafford is more than competent, plus the Lions need so much more help elsewhere.  Along with those rumors the Lions have made some strange moves this offseason by releasing Damon “Snacks” Harrison, trading Darius Slay, and signing even more former Patriots like Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins that haven’t showed much in their careers.

            With the trade of Slay, it makes complete sense for Detroit to take Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah with their pick, but recent news mentions that they may be looking to trade down with the right team.  The Lions have good pieces but lack significant depth and have a coach that is running out of time in the organization.  The thing the Lions need most is good football players, so taking the best player available might be the best thing for them.  The more talent and depth they gain, the closer they will get to climbing out of the NFC North cellar.

Chicago Bears (Last Season, 8-8, 3rd in NFC North): Who is going to play quarterback for the Chicago Bears?  Will they give former number two overall pick Mitchell Trubisky another chance, or will they turn the reigns over to Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles, who they recently acquired in a trade?  This is the main question surrounding the Bears next season.  The defense will still be pretty good, and they have decent weapons on offense, they just need to pick someone to get them the ball. 

The Bears paid Jimmy Graham a head-scratching amount of money and signed Robert Quinn and Artie Burns to help their dominant defense, but without a first-round pick, they aren’t in a great position to add more pieces. For the Bears, it’s simple, settle on a quarterback and stick with him.  The Bears were 12-4 two short years ago and have all the pieces to do that once again, but if not they will have another rough season.

Minnesota Vikings (Last Season, 10-6, 2nd in NFC North): The Vikings are one of the only teams that arguably got worse this offseason.  They released All-Pro Xavier Rhodes and traded star wide receiver Stefon Diggs to Buffalo.  They also lost veterans Andrew Sendejo and Everson Griffin on their defense as well, which makes a person wonder, what are they doing?  The Vikings are going all in on Kirk Cousins, signing him to a 2-year, $66 million extension to remain their quarterback.  Running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Adam Theilen are back as well to give their offense some firepower, but defensively, they ae missing key pieces.

            If there was any positive from the Diggs trade, the Vikings acquired a second first-round pick.  They desperately need a cornerback, as well as another bookend pass rusher.  They also could use significant upgrades on the offensive line.  That doesn’t sound like a team that was in the Divisional Playoff round a year ago, but they were, and if they want any chance of getting back there or even farther, they will need to hit on their draft picks.

Green Bay Packers  (Last Season, 13-3, 1st in NFC North): If there was a glaring need for the Packers last year, it was wide receiver.  Sure, they have Davante Adams who is one of the best wideouts in the game, but after him it’s hard to even remember anybody’s name.  They added Devin Funchess in free agency, but he hasn’t shown much in his career, so they need to hope someone falls.

            Top draft receivers such as Jerry Jeudy, Henry Rugss III, and Ceedee Lamb will most likely not be on the board when the Packers pick at 30th overall, so they’ll have to find a diamond in the rough.  Maybe Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. or Baylor’s Denzel Mims will be a good pick, but they need to give Aaron Rodgers someone to throw to.  Add one of them with their already top ten defense and the Packers can be Super Bowl contenders.

Top 5 Songs From 5 Seconds of Summer’s “CALM”

Established in 2011 in Sydney, Australia, 5 Seconds of Summer have been climbing to the top. Their careers were boosted in 2013 when they opened for One Direction on their Take Me Home Tour and again in 2014 when they opened on their Where We Are Tour. On March 27th, they released their 4th album, CALM. The album’s name comes from the four members, Calum, Ashton, Luke, and Michael. 

I have listened to the album quite a few times through now and picked my top 5 songs. This was no easy task. Each song has its own meaning and conveys different emotions.  

At #5 is Lonely Heart. I am a fan of faster songs and at first, this song is slow. What I really like is that the first impression of the song is that it is going to be slower and sad, however, it quickly picks up for the refrain, which surprised me when I first heard it.

At #4 is Wildflower. First impression when the song came out was, “WOAH.” It starts off strong. This is the perfect song to dance to and get prepared for the day. This song shocked many 5SOS fans because bassist Calum Hood is the singer, which has become slightly uncommon in the recent years. 

At #3 is Red Desert. Many fans have speculated that this song depicts the band’s move from Australia to LA, or north. The band performed this song during an event for the Australian bushfires, which makes sense if the song is about their love of their home country. The song is fast paced. While it’s not the hype song that Wildflower is, it could definitely be a good tune to listen to while driving. 

At #2 is No Shame. No Shame was released about a month and a half before the album came out. It was my absolute favorite. The sound instantly mesmerized me because it sounds so different than other songs they’ve produced. After listening a bunch, I tried to figure out the meaning, but I struggled. Is it about having “No Shame” being in love with someone in particular? I searched the internet to see if there was a better answer and it turns out people think the song could actually be about their fans having “No Shame” when viewing them. If any of the members do anything that would make fans mad, they would have “No Shame” bashing them or to stop being fans. 

Before I get to the #1 song, I’d like to give some honorable mentions. These songs didn’t make the list, but definitely have huge potential. 

Old Me- It might be because the music video shows flashbacks to 5 Seconds of Summer when they were younger and just starting their career or because they are saying the past shaped them to be where they are today, and I think that is a very true and strong statement. This song is a solid 8/10. 

High- In the honorable mentions section, this is the only song that didn’t come out before the album. This song is about wanting a past relationship to think “High” of you. It’s a little slower, but I don’t mind that. A faster paced song would have ruined the sentiment and the emotion. This song is a solid 8/10 also. 

Easier- The first song to be released on the album definitely paved the way for what was to come. The theme for this song is leaving a toxic relationship. The song was written along with Charlie Puth, which once you know it, you can’t stop hearing Charlie Puth’s style. This song is a 9/10. 

At #1 is Not In The Same Way. I’ve been thinking for a while what about this song strikes me as the best on CALM, since that is a big title to hold. Honestly, I still think back to a few years ago when Luke Hemmings and his ex-girlfriend broke up. From my perspective, it was messy and nasty. However, I was not a part of it, so I can’t really say. What I can say is that 5 Seconds of Summer’s third album Youngblood talked about the break up a lot. This song is about deciding whether to stay or a leave a relationship, but has a very upbeat sound, which I love.”

By: Christina Faessel 

Despite the Downtrodden Season “Brighter Days” are Ahead

By Nikko Weathers

The past five years the world has seen one of the greatest dynasties of all time changing the game in front of our very eyes. Playing up tempo, sharpshooting, undersized, team and pass first style took the league by storm. Now missing Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and the departure of arguably the best player in the league Kevin Durant, this has been one of the worst seasons in Golden State franchise history.

Five straight seasons in the NBA Finals has put a tax on everyone’s bodies and with the subtraction of Durant and the injury to Thompson, the Warriors were in limbo going into this season due to every other team improving while they were on the decline. With the departure of Durant the Warriors made more questionable signings to try and fill the void that Durant left. Leading them to signing an alternate All-Star D’Angelo Russell, who had a career year with the Brooklyn Nets, and the signing of Willie Cauley-Stein an interior defender. These two signings made the fans and experts question which direction they were trying to go in.

With the injury to superstar Curry, the Warriors struggled to accumulate wins and they needed a variety of pieces to help get back to their playoff expectations. The league knew that the Russell signing was trade bait, which it ended up being around the trade deadline. On Feb 6, 2020 the Warriors shipped Russell to Minnesota for an underachieving Andrew Wiggins in a trade that also awarded the Warriors a 2021 first round pick and a 2021 second round pick. The Warriors hope that Wiggins can have the same impact that Harrison Barnes, had on the team that went 73-9.

With the Warriors having the worst record in the NBA at 15-50 they are sitting atop of the rankings for the number one pick in the draft. Which could be moved for more pieces. With the core still intact and a healthy rested team for next season, a bunch of draft capital, and a top tier coaching staff, there is no reason that the Warriors won’t return to their old standards.

A “Central” Focus for the Pacific and Central Divisions

by Jamya Kyle

There is very high hope for both the pacific and central divisions within the NBA due to the amount of time taken off as of now due to circumstances, as well the tremendous progression some teams have made before everything occurred. 

Starting with the central division first up would be the Chicago Bulls, the Bulls record currently is 22-43 which would be increasing to last year’s record for them as an overall team. Zach Lavine has done a tremendous job by leading this team in points every night by scoring 25.5 points a night. Taking a look at this roster I can see that most of this team is very young which means that there will be a bright future for these men once they create a strong bond and understanding of how to play together. 

Going 19-42 being number 15th in the Eastern conference is the Cleveland Cavaliers, so far the last past two seasons the Cavs have struggled to adapt to each other’s playing style. There have been various players coming along each season with a nonstop swap in and out between players and coaches. Once there is a set team and specific roles I believe this team will be unstoppable including the chemistry between one another.

With the record of 20-46, the Detroit Pistons has had a very identical season as Chicago Bulls, the majority of these players are young and have a lot of potential which is going to take time to adapt. I feel this team has players which the younger ones could benefit off of rather it be from playing on the court such as Andre Drummond, or when it comes to executing plays Derrick Rose would be a big factor. Once decided who will be drafted towards this team will be able to determine what type of season this team will be looking at in the future.

Being number five within the eastern conference is the Indiana Pacers, this team has come a long way on the offensive side of the ball. The pacers record is 39-26, overall this team has done a tremendous job on both the offensive and defensive sides of the court. This team has surprised many with the record they have pulled off. The expected rank of this record team was expected to be 13 out of 30 which is a good look for the Pacers in the future for a young team.

On the Pacific side of the league with a record being 15-50 in this season so far. The Warriors have struggled to keep their star player Steph Curry healthy with him injuring his index finger and returning in March against the Raptors. The most noticeable struggle the Warriors have is that they do not have any consistency in winning games, the weakness could identify with their main player not being on the floor to lead the team. Overall the Warriors have some work to be done to get everything back to how it used to be consistent as they were before.

With a record of 44-20 which was expected to be the fourth out of 30 teams but the Los Angeles Clippers sit second within the Western Conference. Doc Rivers has done a great job by coaching his players and executing this game, being able to apply his knowledge from when he played himself to being able to coach the game. Although this team has not been together as long when looking at the roster you see most of the individuals have played some time within the league to be able to adapt quickly to new settings. I see a bright future ahead of the LA Clippers and I see this team staying together down the road and winning a championship.

With the first seat in the western conference is the Los Angeles Lakers with a record of 49 and 14. The Lakers started at a very great start to the season and personally no doubt in me they were not finishing off strong as well. In the first game of seeing this team play together, I saw a lot of versatility on the floor and a good understanding of everyone’s role on the floor. There is great leadership on the floor with some veteran players to help lead this team also the players. The Lakers will go as far as they want. I see nothing ruining this team into making it to the finals and nothing stopping them but themselves. 

Placing 13th in the western conference is the Phoenix Suns with a record of 26-39. Compared to the 19-63 record last year the Suns have stepped up tremendously, this team is not only one of the youngest teams as of now in the league but is the most executed in my opinion. I would have loved to see how this team would have reacted to the end of the season if they were able to finish. I believe the Suns will go far next year being able to build those players even more and seeing them at potentially their best at such a young age is very scary. I believe the Suns will shock a lot of fans next season.

The Sacramento Kings are sitting 3rd in the Pacific division with a record being 28-36, compared to the expected record which was 61-21 being 1st of 29. The Kings have done very good in this season with De’Aaron Fox leading points, assists, and steals. Next season I believe Buddy Heild will have an outstanding season stepping up more as he is the second leader in points. Also with a lead in rebounds Nemanja Bjelica who as well will have a huge season next year. The Kings are going down a great road and I believe I will be able to keep the ride going and go even farther next season.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific: Two NBA Divisions May Hold the Keys to the NBA’s present and future

With everything that has happened in the last month, the events of last year almost feel like they happened a decade ago. The Atlantic and Pacific Divisions were in the center of the spotlight all of 2019. From the Raptors and Warriors battling it out in the Finals, to Kawhi Leonard going from the Atlantic to the Pacific Division and teaming up with Paul George in LA for the Clippers, along with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teamed up in Brooklyn. And near the end of the offseason, after months of rumors, the Los Angeles Lakers made a blockbuster move for Anthony Davis. The major, league changing transactions that transpired that summer were supposed to move the league on from the era of Warriors dominance. 

And the season we got up until this point was shaping up to be an exciting one, in both divisions. In the Atlantic, the Raptors (46-18) were 2nd in the East after losing Kawhi Leonard, thanks to Pascal Siakam and the great coaching of Nick Nurse. The Celtics (43-21) were not far behind, with their new all-star point guard Kemba Walker and rise of Jayson Tatum. The 76ers (39-26) were victims of free agency this past summer, losing JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler, two key pieces. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons having injury issues throughout the season, there were many question marks around a team that was still considered to be one of the most talented teams in the East, despite being a 6th seed at the time play stopped. 

The Pacific Division was just as captivating, even with the fall of the Warriors (15-50) due to Klay Thompson’s Torn ACL in the Finals AND Steph Curry’s hand injury at the start of the season. The Los Angeles Lakers (49-14), led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, were a treat to watch every game, leading the West while fighting off the Los Angeles Clippers (44-20). Even while being out of the playoff hunt, the Kings (28-36) and Suns (26-39) were a fun watch, with rising stars De’Aaron Fox and Devin Booker putting on a show every night.

Both of these divisions are possibly going to have representation in this year’s NBA finals if the season resumes. The West was largely seen by fans and the media as a battle between the teams of LA, and the standings and games they fought against each other reflect this. The East has been dominated by the Bucks all year, but the Raptors are the reigning and defending champs, and are great even without Kawhi. And if the season resumes after this extended layoff, the injury issues that plagued the Sixers may be healed, and if they can get it together, they have a chance of giving the Bucks a run for their money.

If this season does not resume, there are so many captivating storylines for next season. KD and Kyrie have still not played a game together, and if they click they could be the team to beat in the East. The Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid relationship is one to watch, as if it does not work out this year or next year, there is no telling who could be moving out of Philadelphia. The Raptors have been a great story this year, and the further development of Pascal Siakam will be a joy to watch. Even though the Celtics do not have the most talented team on paper, with Tatum, Kemba, and Jaylen Brown, Brad Stevens can make the rest work and has always put out a well run team. Even the Knicks have some hope with new GM Leon Rose and plenty of flexibility in the coming years.

Out in the West, the power struggle between LeBron and AD’s Lakers and Kawhi and PG’s Clippers will (hopefully) be something we get to watch for years. The Kings were a sleeper team the season before this one and they have a chance of becoming one once again with some offseason moves. The Kings and Suns are both likely to pick somewhere in the late lottery (10-14). Obi Toppin is a guy out of Dayton who can really score, and with a lack of depth of forwards on the team, the Suns may look to get him. An option for Sacramento might be Saddiq Bey. Harrison Barnes is a fine player, but Bey is a really resourceful and crafty scoring forward, which the team may need if Buddy Hield decides he wants to be traded. If he falls to their pick, Saddiq could be a great piece next to Fox and Marvin Bagley III.

Overall, these two divisions might be the two most exciting divisions in the league. Both have the star power, the history, the storylines, and guys for the future. The teams and players on these teams could help shape the league for years to come. Hopefully, we will get to see them continue doing so soon.