The NFL season preview is now underway. We will be going around the league by division and will give you our opinions on each. So lets start with the AFC North, the division of the Super Bowl champs, Baltimore Ravens.
Cincinnati Bengals (predicted 12-4)
I like this Bengals team. The last two years they have been right there in the mix of the AFC North. In 2011 they finished 9-7 and made the playoffs with the rookie quarterback from TCU. Last year they finished second in the division obviously behind the Super Bowl champs with a 10-6 record.
With Andy Dalton under center for this team in those last two years they have made the playoffs in both of those years. In 2011 he passed for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns with a QB rating of 80.4. Last year he was slightly better and threw 3,669 yards and 27 touchdowns. But none of that would be possible with out A.J. Green to throw to. Last year he had 1,350 yards on 97 catches and brought 11 into the endzone, 4th in the NFL. And to add to the threat, their first round draft pick Tyler Eifert will give Dalton another target at the tight end position.
But what is even better then the offense is the defense. Mike Zimmer’s defense has proved to be the reason they were able push the adequate offense to 2 straight playoff births. Geno Atkins has proved to be one of the best defensive tackles in the league. Last year he was a First-Team All-American with 39 tackles and 12.5 sacks. I think this team has a very good chance to win the division and a possible playoff run.
Baltimore Ravens (predicted 10-6)
The Ravens dished out some serious cash to Joe Flacco this off-season, $120.6 million to be exact. That makes him the 2nd highest payed player in NFL history. This team looks for him to keep up his success behind center. He has lead Baltimore to at least one playoff win in each of his 5 years in the Raven’s backfield.
Some big changes are found in this teams defense. They lost their future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Louis to retirement and safety Ed Reed to Houston as a free agent. But they did snatch Elvis Dumerville from the Broncos. Safety Michael was grabbed cheap to help fill the vacancy at the safety position. On the other side of the ball they traded veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the runner up San Francisco 49ers for a late draft pick and 3 young defensive starters in Paul Kruger, Cary Williams and Dannell Ellerbe.
I think that this defense could pose a threat to other teams compared to the defense that we saw last year that didn’t quite live up to expectations. But that doesn’t mean they will be good, the have some pretty big holes to fill with Ray Louis and Ed Reed moving on, and replacing Boldin is a must if they want the productive offense they had last year. The Super Bowl slump is real and if this team can’t stay healthy they could just become another statistic.
Cleveland Browns (predicted 8-8)
The Browns are in a slow rebuilding phase. With Trent Richardson at running back there is a solid rushing game to be had here. They just don’t have the quarterback in Brandon Weeden, to lead a team into a playoff game. With Norv Turner as the new OC, he most likely will give Richardson 300+ rushes this season.
Brandon Weeden is in no way a franchise quarterback. He lacks a lot of skill sets that is needed to be an elite quarterback. He is, however, a good QB to us as in the transition to becoming a threat in the NFL. The Browns need a strong defense to back an decent offense.
Give them 2 more years and I believe they would be at the top or close to the top of this list.
Pittsburgh Steelers (predicted 5-11)
The Steelers fell short of the playoffs last year when an injury to Ben Roethilsberger derailed them. The biggest problem for this Pittsburg team is that they are getting older and older and injuries have become a big problem. They need to focus on the offensive line to keep their QB in the game. When healthy, this offense can put up some scary numbers against opponents, but can the defense prove to be as strong as it once was.
James Harrison and Casey Hampton are both out and Polamalu is most likely to do the same next year so many are considering this a rebuilding year for the defense. Offensively they lost lots of talent in receiver Mike Wallace and running back Rashard Mendenhall to free agency. They did get a little help back on offense with Plaxico Burress and Emmanuel Sanders joining the receiver corp, and LaRod Stephens-Howling joining the RBs.
Jericho Cotchery will obviously be the candidate to take Wallace’s number one spot and Sanders and Antonio Brown will have more work cut out for them to step up. With age questions and problems on defensive, they have to consider this a a rebuilding year. Just keep your fingers crossed that Big Ben stays healthy.
There you go, my predictions for the AFC North.