Day 3 of breaking down the divisions has led us to the AFC North. When I say AFC North all you should think of is power football. This conference is responsible for earning Super Bowl titles with one word “physicality.” If you aren’t a physical team, you have no business even trying to compete in this division.
The Baltimore Ravens are the benchmark of being physical. They are led by their defense and when playing the Ravens expect to have the ball pounded down your throat. The Ravens offense is led by third year quarterback Joe Flacco. The running game for the Ravens is solid featuring a trio of backs headed by Ray Rice. The wide receiver core is a little aged but got better with the recent addition of Anquon Boldin. The offensive line pretty much returns in tact and the tight end postion is held down with the great Todd Heap.
Defensively the Ravens are immense. They have a ferocious defensive line led by newest addition Terrance Cody. The linbacking core is led by the great Ray Lewis. The secondary will be the biggest question as pro bowl safety Ed Reed will probably miss the first 5 – 6 games as former Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin steps in and takes his spot.
Key Players: Joe Flacco (QB), Ray Rice (RB), Anquon Boldin (WR), Todd Heap (TE), Terrance Cody (DT), Ray Lewis (LB), Ed Reed (S), Fabian Washington (CB), Dawan Landry (S).
Projected division finish: First
The Cincinnati Bengals are an up and coming squad to be reckonded with. They are led by their quarterback Carson Palmer. Carson should have plenty of weapons to work with this year as Cedric Benson returns from his pro bowl season and Bernard Scott will be an asset as a speedy backup. The Bengals have also added some depth at wide receiver with the addition of Matt Jones and Antonio Bryant to go along with Chad Ochocinco and playmaker Terrell Owens. There has also been rumors speculating that Carson Palmer is lobbying for the team to sign Terrell Owens. If that’s the case the Bengals would have a monster receiving core.
Defensively the Bengals should be just fine with Mike Zimmer at the helm they have unlimited potential in many positions. The Defensive line will be anchored by the likes of Tank Johnson. The linbacking core brings back a wealth of experience but will be sured up by second year player Rey Maualuga. The secondary boasts some excellent cover men and solid safety play as Roy Williams has regained his form of old as a playmaker in the secondary.
Key Players: Carson Palmer (QB), Chad Ochocinco (WR), Terrell Owens (WR), Cedric Benson (RB), Andre Smith (OT), Tank Johnson (DT), Rey Maualuga (LB), Roy Williams (S).
Projected division finish: Second
The Cleveland Browns are reestablishing their identity this season with the addition of new General Manager Mike Holmgren. Unfortunately for the Browns, they are in a city that stay losing. No one wants to go to Cleveland. The Browns biggest offseason acquisition was Jake “the Goat” Delhomme. Jale will hold down the quarterback spot for a few weeks this season but I honestly don’t think he’s the answer. The Browns have a solid running game with Jerome Harrison and former Clemson standout James Davis. At the wide receiver position the Browns have talent as Joshua Cribbs returns along with Mohammed Massaquoi. The Browns are also anchored up front by top 3 offensive tackle Joe Thomas.
Defensively the Browns are solid. They have a good mix of youth and veterans to form a formidalbe defense. The front seven is anchored by big Sean Rodgers. The secondary is young but fast. They are held together by the speedy Eric Wright. Special teams is where the Browns will make the most noise as they have arguably the best return man in the game with the exception of maybe Devin Hester. Josh Cribbs is a playmaking machine. The Browns will have to find a way to get him the ball early and often.
Key Returners: Josh Cribbs (WR), Jerome Harrison (RB), Joe Thomas (T), Jake Delhomme (QB), Sean Rogers (DT), Eric Wright (CB)
Projected division finish: Last
The Pittsburgh Steelers have probably the most solid roster in the division. They have a proven Super Bowl quarterback in Ben Rothlesburger, who will have to sit out the first five games of the season for conduct unbecoming of a professional. This makes the Steelers interesting. They will probably start the season with Byron Leftwich and mix in Dennis Dixon a little as a change of pace. The Steelers have quarterback issues early but they have a solid running game with the emergence of Rashard Mendenhall and Mewlede Moore. The wide receiver position, although loaded, took a hit with the departure of Santonio Holmes but they still have a playmaker in Hines Ward. The offensive line is built to last and they will probably give everyone a big dose of their running game this year.
Defensively is where the Steelers butter their bread. The front seven is always amongst the best in the NFL. The defensive line for the Steelers will be a little inexperienced with the departure of Hampton, but they make it up with depth at linebacker. James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, and Lamar Woodley is without a doubt the best foursome at linebacker in the business. The secondary will return in t act as well with hopes that Troy Polamalu will stay healthy this season. They are not the same team without Troy out there.
Key Returners: Ben Roethleberger (QB), Rashard Mendenhall (RB), Hines Ward (WR), James Farrior (LB), Lawrence Timmons (LB), Lamar Woodley (LB), James Harrison (LB), Troy Polamalu (S).
Projected Finish: Third