• Will Cuberos

Grading the Opponents: A Look at the 2019 AFC North Teams Plus the Green Bay Packers

Image Credit: Dylan Buell/Getty Images


The 49ers will take on the AFC North this season in cross-divisional play. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns will make their first trip out west to Levi’s Stadium, with the Cleveland game as one of two Monday Night Football games the 49ers will play. We’ll take a closer look at the four teams in the AFC North and also a quick dive into the Green Bay Packers.

Week 2: @ Cincinnati Bengals


John Miller, guard

B.J. Webb, cornerback


Vontaze Burfict, linebacker

First year coach Zac Taylor was one of many Sean McVay assistants to interview for head coaching vacancies and landed the job of replacing Bengals legend Marvin Lewis. Taylor comes to a team mired in mediocrity: quarterback Andy Dalton has shown serious signs of regression over the last few seasons, while star receiver A.J. Green is in the final year of his contract and turns 31 before the season starts. With a need to add playmakers are both sides of the ball, the Bengals selected tackle Jonah Williams from Alabama in the first round. It stands to reason Taylor will have a rough first season in Cincinnati as the team is projected to finish last in the AFC North.

Week 3: Pittsburgh Steelers


Donte Moncrief, wide receiver

Steve Nelson, cornerback

Mark Baron, safety

Robert Spillane, linebacker

Malik Williams, running back


Antonio Brown, wide receiver

Le’Veon Bell, running back

Ben Roethlisburger visits Levi’s stadium for the first time in Week 3. After starting 7-2-1 in 2018, the Steelers eventually finished 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs. Head coach Mike Tomlin will face his toughest challenge since taking the helm in Pittsburgh with an aging Big Ben and having said good-bye to two All-Pros in Bell and Brown. Pittsburgh traded up in the first round to select Michigan linebacker Devin Bush to replace the injured Ryan Shazier.

Week 5: Cleveland Browns


Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver

Kareem Hunt, running back

Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle


Jabril Peppers, safety

Jamie Collins, linebacker

Emmanuel Ogbah, defensive end

John Dorsey spent this third offseason as the Brown’s GM just as aggressively as his first two. He hired Freddie Kitchens as the team’s head coach, added Kareem Hunt following his release from Kansas City, traded for Odell Beckham Jr. and added help to the defense throughout the draft with Mack Wilson, Greedy Williams, and Sheldrick Redwine. The Browns finished 2018 with a 7-8-1 record, their best since they had a young upstart named Kyle Shanahan as their offensive coordinator. While the Browns are the darling of the NFL media, Las Vegas isn’t as high on this young team; they currently have them at 7.5 projected wins and missing the playoffs. The 49ers will face them in the first primetime game of the season on Monday Night.

Week 13: @ Baltimore Ravens


Earl Thomas, safety

Mark Ingram, running back


C.J. Mosley, linebacker

Terrell Suggs, defensive end

Za’Darius Smith, linebacker

Eric Weddle, safety

Michael Crabtree, wide receiver

The other Harbaugh brother is heading into his 12th season as the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Under Harbaugh’s leadership the team has made the playoffs seven times with one Super Bowl win, but we won’t talk about that. Always known for their defense, the Ravens will have a lot of new faces on that side of the ball after losing four starters from last year’s playoff team. First year general manager Eric DeCosta added Oklahoma receiver Marquis “Hollywood” Brown as a downfield target for second year quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Niners will head east during a brutal stretch of games that could decide if they make the playoffs. Fun fact: The 49ers haven’t won in Baltimore since 1969 when they beat the Baltimore Colts 24-21.

Week 12: Green Bay Packers


Za’Darius Smith, linebacker

Preston Smith, linebacker

Adrian Amos, safety


Nick Perry, linebacker

Bashaud Breeland, cornerback

Clay Matthews, linebacker

Randall Cobb, wide receiver

Mo Wilkerson, defensive tackle

New head coach Matt LeFleur takes over for perennial underachiever Mike McCarthy in Green Bay. The first order of business for the Packers was adding to the defense. They were aggressive in free agency, adding impact players to all three levels, and continuing the trend through the draft with the additions of Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage. LeFleur was denied permission to interview his brother and top Shanahan lieutenant Mike LeFleur for the team’s offensive coordinator position. With Green Bay’s visit to Levi’s, it marks the start of a six game stretch that will decide the 49ers’ season.


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