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 fourth year quarterback Joe Flacco. The running game for the Ravens is solid featuring the dynamic Ray Rice. The wide receiver core is a little aged but got better last season with the recent addition of Anquon Boldin. The offensive line pretty much returns in tact and should be better with another year under their belt.
Defensively the Ravens are immense. They have a ferocious defensive line and the linebackers, led by the great Ray Lewis should be great once again. The secondary will be the biggest question as pro bowl safety Ed Reed continues to get plenty of turnovers for his team.
Key Players: Joe Flacco (QB), Ray Rice (RB), Anquon Boldin (WR), Haloti Ngata (DT), Ray Lewis (LB), Ed Reed (S), Fabian Washington (CB).
Projected division finish: Second
The Cincinnati Bengals have made the most changes of any group in the division. They can’t negotiate with their veteran quarterback Carson Palmer. Carson has opted to retire this season instead of playing with the Bengals. The running game should be solid again this year as Cedric Benson returns trying to recapture the form 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 A.J. Green to go along with Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby.
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 linebacking core brings back a wealth of experience but will be sured up by third 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: A.J. Green (WR), Cedric Benson (RB), Andre Smith (OT) Rey Maualuga (LB), Roy Williams (S).
Projected division finish: Last
The Cleveland Browns are reestablishing their identity this season after a year with General Manager Mike Holmgren. Unfortunately for the Browns, they are in a city that stay’s losing. No one wants to go to Cleveland. The Browns biggest offseason acquisition was drafting of UNC wide receiver Greg Little. The quarterback situation got better as Colt McCoy will hold it down. The Browns have a solid running game with Peyton Hillis, and Monterio Hardesty doing most of the work. At the wide receiver position the Browns have talent as Joshua Cribbs returns along with Mohammed Massaquoi, but the addition of Greg Little should bolster both the running and passing game as he is a high motor type of player. 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 formidable defense. The front seven is anchored by big bodies. 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), Peyton Hillis (RB), Joe Thomas (T), Colt McCoy (QB), Eric Wright (CB)
Projected division finish: Third
The Pittsburgh Steelers have probably the most solid roster in the division. They have a proven Super Bowl quarterback in Ben Rothlesburger, who will not have to sit out the first five games of the season this year. That could be big as the Steelers will not be playing to make up ground early in the season. This makes the Steelers interesting. The Steelers also come to town with a solid running game with the emergence of Rashard Mendenhall and Mewlede Moore. The wide receiver position is also loaded, as they have solid playmaker Mike “60 Minutes” Wallace and playmaker Hines Ward in the fold. 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 are without a doubt the best foursome at linebacker in the business. The secondary will return in tact 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: First