2010 NFL Preview: AFC North

2009: Cincinnati Bengals, 10-6
2008: Pittsburgh Steelers, 12-4
2007: Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-6
2006: Baltimore Ravens, 13-3
2005: Pittsburgh Steelers, 11-5
2004: Pittsburgh Steelers, 15-1
2003: Pittsburgh Steelers, 11-5
2002: Pittsburgh Steelers, 15-1

As you can see, the Steelers have owned the division since it's inception, starting it off with 2 very impressive 15 win seasons in 3 years. They also have two Super Bowl championships to show for it. The Ravens have been up and down, mostly up, and have finished second to Pittsburgh most of the time. The Bengals have also been up and down, mostly down, but currently have bragging rights. The Browns managed to squeak out a 10 win season in 2007, but have been holding down the cellar door pretty much every other year.

1. Baltimore Ravens, 12-4. The Baltimore Ravens have managed to stay relavant for over a decade, mostly thanks to great GM Ozzie Newsome's ability to retool instead of reload. The offense is as good as it's ever been, with the 9th best scoring offense last year despite a murderous schedule. Ray Rice became a star and Joe Flacco did not suffer a sophomore hangover. The additions of Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth gives the Ravens a ridiculously deep arsenal of weapons for Big Joe. The defense has question marks, however. They were spectacular in 2009, finishing 3rd overall in points allowed. The secondary has been hit hard by injuries however. Domonique Foxworth will miss the year and Ed Reed is coming back from major surgery. Baltimore might be involved in more shootouts then they are accustomed to. The front seven, while long in the tooth, should continue to hold it down and remain solid. With the offensive additions and a strong defensive veteran presence, Baltimore has to be on the short list of true Super Bowl contenders.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-6. The Steelers continue to be one of the most solid run franchises in the NFL, but the 2010 offseason was not kind to them. They gave away Santonio Holmes and probably would have done the same to Ben Roethlisberger if quarterbacks weren't so hard to come by. Despite not having Big Ben for 1/4 of the season, the Steelers still enter the year strong contenders. And it begins where it always begins, on defense. Most notably the linebacker position. No team in the league has quite the arsenal to throw at opponents. James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, Larry Foote and some solid backups. It's an embarrassment of riches. The rest of the defense is solid as well. On offense, the team hopes to return to their smash mouth ways after having speedster Willie Parker in the backfield for the last few years. Rashard Mendenhall is more of a bruiser, though not in the Jerome Bettis class. The key is Ben though, who has become much more then the game manager he started his career out as. If he can bounce back after his suspension the Steelers should be back in the playoffs.

3. Cincinnati Bengals, 9-7. After Marvin Lewis has seemed to wear out his welcome in Cincinnati, the Bengals came out of nowhere to make the playoffs and play some stifling defense. They were a miracle Brandon Stokley tip drill touchdown from winning 11 games, mostly due to a defense that gave up 18 points per game. The unit boasts perhaps the best set of starting cornerbacks in the league, two players no one has heard of. Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph anyone? The rest of the defense is equally as unheralded. They could be this decade's No Name Defense. They are deep and solid. Offense is a question mark though. Plodding running back Cedric Benson had a decent year, but he is overworked and could break down. I would like to see them give Bernard Scott more time, as he could be the fastest running back this side of Chris Johnson. Carson Palmer has never quite recovered from his horrific knee injury in the playoffs a few years ago. He is simply a game manager quarterback at this point. He could bounce back though, because he has never had this many weapons. Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant and Jermaine Gresham join rejuvenated Chad Ochocinco. The Bengals are deep enough to make a Super Bowl push or crazy enough to finish 4-12. They are the most unpredictable team in the league this year.

4. Cleveland Browns, 3-13. In a very tough division one thing is certain. The Browns will finish in last place once again. They seem to be forever rebuilding, both the old and new Browns. This year they are close to starting from scratch again. Mike Holmgren is in the front office now and he brought plenty of new faces with him. Of course, none of them are any good. Jake Delhomme was a disaster in Carolina and should be just as bad this time. The running game could be decent, as they are running behind a good line, including the star with the average name, Joe Thomas. I still think the Browns are going to have an extremely tough time scoring this season. The defense should keep them in games, as Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown join quite a few good holdovers. Overall though, until Holmgren can get some talent onto the field, especially on offense, the Browns will continue to be the doormat in this division.

Jonathan Carrano

Phasellus facilisis convallis metus, ut imperdiet augue auctor nec. Duis at velit id augue lobortis porta. Sed varius, enim accumsan aliquam tincidunt, tortor urna vulputate quam, eget finibus urna est in augue.

No comments: