September 1, 2009

AFC North preview

by Dan Bilicki In: Football

Well, I figured if I was going to throw down some NFL previews and predictions, I might as well start with the home of the champs; the AFC North, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With both the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, this is the most rough and tumble division there is, even if you have to include the Browns and Bengals. That’s just how tough the Steelers and Ravens are.
 
 Pittsburgh Steelers (Last season: 12-4).
The defending champs don’t have as tough as a schedule as you think they would, but that’s more because of the cyclical nature of it, more than the way people think that schedules are weighted after good/bad seasons (The reality is that only two games are set like that per season). The Steelers didn’t lose any real key players that weren’t replaceable, but also didn’t upgrade an offensive line that was their biggest weakness last season. There shouldn’t be much fall off from last year.
Predicted Record: 14-2.
 
Baltimore Ravens (Last season: 11-5).
Joe Flacco will not see a sophomore slump and the Ravens, who lost their defensive co-ordinator, still have enough player-coach types out there to keep even the best of offences in check. There were some key losses with the departures of Bart Scott and Jake Brown, but at least Brown’s been replaced by all-pro centre Matt Birk. The offence won’t have any problems moving the ball and the defence won’t have any trouble stopping teams. The only thing standing in the Ravens’ way is the Steelers.
Predicted Record: 13-3.
 
Cincinnati Bengals (Last season: 4-11-1).
The Bengals were back to their old ways by picking up other teams’ cast offs (“safety” Roy Williams) and by drafting the player with the most questionable character available (Andre Smith). They lost perhaps the best “good guy” they had in T.J. Houshmanzadeh and gained Laveraneus Coles, now 31-years-old. The offensive line is still a trouble spot and Carson Palmer needs to stay upright to have an impact. At least they get to play the Browns twice a season.
Predicted Record: 6-10.
 
Cleveland Browns (Last season: 4-10).
The Browns may have solved their issue of horrible coaching by canning the utterly inept Romeo Crennel, but they didn’t really solve their other big issues at QB and on defence. Hiring a coach known for offence like Eric Mangini won’t bring around a schematic improvement and there hasn’t been a big upgrade in talent either. At QB, there’s still a battle being waged between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson to take the starter’s role, but whoever wins, may be the loser. Trading away a good target like Kellen Winslow doesn’t help and Braylon Edwards had the worst hands in the league last year. It’ll be another tough year in Cleveland.
Predicted Record: 5-11.

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