Tuesday, 8 September 2009

AFC North Predictions

As the division with the reigning Super Bowl champion, the AFC North automatically earns respect. In 2008, the Pittsburgh Steelers, led by Mike Tomlin, were crowned as Super Bowl champiopions after beating the Arizona Cardinals. They are joined in the division by the always tough Baltimore Ravens and two teams that struggled in 2008, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will once again be the favorite, as they return their key pieces from a 12-4. Their bread and butter is defense, as Mike Tomlin is a defensive coach at heart and has the top shelf talent with guys like James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. They just might be the best defensive team in the NFL. The offense is led by Ben Roethlisberger, owner of two Super Bowl rings. He doesn't always put up huge numbers, but he makes plays when they need to be made, which is what happened in the Super Bowl last season. The running game should get better with a healthy Rashard Mendenhall. Look for the Steelers to be back in the AFC race.

The Baltimore Ravens will challenge them once again. They, like the Steelers, are built on the backs of their defense. They're led by Ray Lewis, one of the best middle linebackers to ever play in the NFL. Flanked by guys like Terrell Suggs, the defense is ferocious and one of the best in the game. The offense is young at key positions, but talented. Both Joe Flacco and Ray Rice started last season as rookies, and both should be even better with the experience. Their growth will determine how far this team will go.

The Cincinnati Bengals look like the third best team, as they have to hope Carson Palmer will remain healthy. He is one of the most talented QBs in the NFL but has struggled with injuries. He should headline a solid offense, also featuring Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles. The defense was very bad last season, and Marvin Lewis will hope some new faces can turn it around. If they do, the Bengals have a chance of reaching .500.

The Cleveland Browns had high hopes heading into last season, but stumbled out of the gate and never recovered. With a QB controversy still going on (looks like Brady Quinn will get the job, but that is not certain), new coach Eric Mangini will look to provide some stability. They have some big names on the offense, lime Braylon Edwards and Jamal Lewis, but they didn't get much production at all out of them last season. .500 would be a major success for Mangini.

What are your thoughts?