Browns, Ravens rise up in AFC North awards

Browns DE Myles Garrett posted 13.5 sacks in his second season and promises more to come. Jason Miller/Getty Images

The seven-win turnaround of the Cleveland Browns in 2018 gave their fans plenty to cheer about and great hope for the future, and much of the excitement was fueled by their first-round draft picks of the past two years. The Baltimore Ravens weren't to be overlooked, either, after storming from behind to overtake the Pittsburgh Steelers and win the AFC North crown.

Coach of the year -- John Harbaugh, Ravens: An argument can be made that Harbaugh should be the NFL Coach of the Year, not just of the division. He put together his best coaching job in his 11th season in Baltimore, leading the Ravens to the playoffs by overcoming distractions and pressure-filled situations. Many teams would’ve fallen apart at the bye, when Baltimore faced a three-game losing streak, questions about Harbaugh’s job security and a hip injury to starting quarterback Joe Flacco. But Harbaugh rallied the team around rookie QB Lamar Jackson and a new offensive scheme, which transformed a 4-5 team into a playoff contender. There had been questions about Harbaugh’s future in Baltimore because the Ravens had gone 40-40 in five seasons since winning the Super Bowl (2013-17), including a three-year playoff drought before the season. But, in 2018, Harbaugh left no doubt that he remains among the upper echelon of coaches in how he steered a struggling team to the division title.

Offensive MVP -- Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Pittsburgh relied on Roethlisberger’s arm more than ever in 2018. Big Ben was prolific as a passer in his 15th season, leading the league in passing yards (5,129), completions (452), attempts (675) and interceptions (16). Roethlisberger’s 34 touchdown passes were a franchise high. Without running back Le’Veon Bell in the lineup, Roethlisberger and the Steelers decided to increase the quarterback's workload with a combination of no-huddle offense, five-wide sets and screen passes that served as de facto running plays. This was especially the case on the road, where Roethlisberger averaged 49.2 attempts in each of his last five full games away from Heinz Field. Roethlisberger’s rib injury cost the Steelers a loss in Oakland and a playoff berth. If the 9-6-1 Steelers had qualified, Roethlisberger and the offense would have been among the most dangerous attacks in the AFC. Despite the turnovers -- including four red zone interceptions -- Roethlisberger gave the Steelers a chance in every game. Five of the Steelers’ six losses were decided by seven points or fewer. In achieving his first 5,000-yard passing season, Roethlisberger proved no quarterback in the AFC North was better.

Defensive MVP -- Myles Garrett, Browns: Garrett reached the Pro Bowl in his second season, but the star pass-rusher said he has bigger goals. Among them: All-Pro, Defensive Player of the Year, a playoff run and a championship. As for his 2018 season? “B-minus,” he said the day after the season. Because? “Thirteen and one-half [sacks] is all right,” he said. “I had a couple of TFLs (tackles for a loss) to go along with it. It is a good year. It was not great. It was not bad. Right there in the middle.” Garrett is hard on himself. He came within one-half sack of matching the team record held by Reggie Camp. Garrett’s 13½ sacks were the most by a Browns player since 1984, and came with frequent chips and double-team attention. Garrett was the first overall pick in the draft in 2017, and the only thing that held him back as a rookie was a sprained ankle and concussion that forced him to miss five games. In his second season, he started every game, often playing more snaps than most of the other defensive linemen. Garrett’s 1,012 snaps put him on the field for 86 percent of the Browns' defensive plays.

Rookie of the year -- Baker Mayfield, Browns: Terrell Suggs summed up the feeling about the AFC North’s future after he battled to stop the team's rookie quarterback in Baltimore’s season ending win over the Browns. “Everybody knows the history of football in Cleveland, and that guy is going to be something for years to come,” Suggs said. Suggs' assessment was shared by many, as team after team praised the play of Mayfield. In a season in which Nick Chubb came 4 yards short of 1,000 and Lamar Jackson changed the Ravens’ season, Mayfield had the finest rookie season for a quarterback in NFL history, setting a rookie record with 27 touchdown passes and throwing a touchdown pass in each of his 13 starts. Mayfield didn’t just energize a team -- he energized a city. He lived up to the billing of the first overall pick and guided the Browns to the biggest season-to-season turnaround in team history.