The AFC North begins and ends with the Steelers. Everyone else is trying to catch up to the defending world champs. The Baltimore Ravens are the closest thing to a challenge that the Steelers may face, but they lost all three of the games that pitted them against each other. The Bengals are looking to rebound from injuries to the majority of their core players. The Browns are once again looking to rebuild. Here is how I see the division shaping up in order of victories.
The 2008 Super Bowl champions look to go back-to-back and win their seventh ring. The 2009 Steelers return 20 of 22 starters that led them to a Super Bowl championship. They again drafted well, and they had no real devastating off-season losses. I see no reason why the Steelers won’t repeat as the AFC North champions, and play a big role in seeing who will represent the AFC in the Super bowl.
Predicted Record: 12-4
Upgrade Special: Evander “Ziggy” Hood, DE – The rookie from Missouri is the choice here. At 6’3″, 300 pounds, Hood has the ideal size for a 3-4 end who needs to be skilled at stuffing the run and taking on linemen in passing situations. He won’t be expected to do that much in the system because the Steelers rarely rely on rookies to play a prominent role. Also nothing much has changed from the champs in terms on who they added in the off-season.
Biggest Strength: The defense- This unit has everything they need to become one of the most feared unit’s in the history of the NFL. The holes in this defense are so insignificant that it is hard for opposing offenses to find an area to attack.
Exploitable Weakness: The Offense – For as good as Ben is, he is at time that bad as well. He has a tendency to try and force the action too many times instead of letting the game come to him. The running game is very questionable, and the offensive line is not as strong as it has been in the past. After Santonio, the receiving corps is not on par with the rest on the teams in the NFL either.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Santonio Holmes, WR – Everyone knows who he is, but this, his fourth season, should be the year that Holmes becomes one of fantasy football’s elite receivers. A changing of the guard may have taken place in the Super Bowl when it was Holmes, not Ward who made the game-winning TD catch.
The Baltimore Ravens enter this year just as they do every year, with a chance to contend They have a chance to win every game they play, due to there athletes on defense. However, the defense is getting older and the entirely a threat to put a ton points on the board. Everyone knows that the Ravens are basically a one shot team on offense. They simply lack the ability to throw the ball down field. Still, look for the Ravens to put a significant scare in a lot teams that they face.
Upgrade Special: Ray Rice, RB – The former Scarlet Knight has looked the part of a star in the making early on in the preseason. Everyday he is increasing the pressure on the incumbent starter Willis McGahee.
Biggest Strength: The All Pro Defense – This unit will single handedly win about 3 games by themselves this season, and the Ravens will more than likely need even more. This unit has carried the team before and will look to do the same again this season. Keep your eye on safety Ed Reed who is the best at his position in the NFL.
Exploitable Weakness: Quarterback – It’s not the Flacco is bad or anything like that. Its just the fact that he alone can’t win games for the Ravens….yet. If opposing teams shut down the Ravens ground game, the Ravens don’t really have any answers for that problem. They have a team full of possession receivers and the best one is on the wrong side of 30.
Veteran linebacker Dhani Jones leads the defense. The unit as a whole looks to be much improved this season. They are stacked with youth and athletic ability. Look for linebacker Keith Rivers to build on what was a promising rookie year before he was lost to injury. The Bengals also may had the steal of the draft when they took highly ranked Rey Maualuga after he was passed over. Look for him to have an immediate impact. Tackles Tank Johnson and the athletic 300-pounder Domata Peko will hold down the defensive line.
Upgrade Special: Andre Smith, OL- Smith was a dominant run-blocker for Alabama and projects to a better-than-average pass protector in the NFL. The Bengals will be able to achieve the balance that they need if Smith can anchor his side of the line.
Biggest Strength: Carson Palmer QB– It seems like so long ago that Palmer was an elite player in the league. Injuries had a great deal to do with this as Palmer has missed plenty of time recently. When healthy, Palmer has the arm and ability to do be classified as an elite player in the NFL.
Exploitable Weakness: Past History- I mean, these are the Bengals. For every good thing that this team seems to do, it always seems to shoot itself or get arrested. There are also questions about the health of its core players. As of this writing, Palmer is already having some leg and ankle problems and the tight end position has been hit the hardest by injury through training camp.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Cedric Benson RB- Benson ended up the season with 747 yards on 214 carries. If Benson can continue his production with the ball, the Bengals offense should be able become balanced.
Wow, as a die-hard fan of this team, this analysis is tough to write. There is not a lot to look forward to in this season for the Cleveland Browns. They have a new coaching staff, and this move could finally give the franchise a sense of stability that has been missing since the days of Marty ball (yeah I know how long ago that was). So begins the era of the Cleveland Jets. New coach Eric Manginini brought over a number of his former players from the Jets in order to ease the transition from the old regime to his.
Predicted Record: 4-12
Upgrade Special: Eric Barton, MLB- Barton takes over the starting linebacker spot from Andra Davis. Barton was a tackling machine with the Jets and he looks to add leadership to the unit.
Biggest Strength: Offensive line. The Browns are stacked here on the line. That should bode well for the running game and it should also give whomever the starting quarterback time to get the ball down field. The standout from this unti is left tackle Joe Thomas
Exploitable Weakness: The defense. There are to be some growing pains for new defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s unit. The Browns are very susceptible to the run. The defensive line after Shaun is not very good, and someone will need to step up and contribute.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Josh Cribbs WR-Return specialist- Cribbs is a threat to score everytime he touches the ball on special teams. He is also expected to compete for the third receiver spot on offense this season as well.
What say you?