The AFC North has become the new black and blue division in the NFL. This division fields some of the best defenses in football and often has a legitimate Super Bowl contender in their midst. This year, I like the Ravens very much to win the division and possibly to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2000. Their defense has been extremely solid for the last 10 years or so, but this year it is their offense that will push them over the top. This division battle is an all out war though, and the way these teams play against each other could have a large impact on what happens in the playoffs.
1. BALTIMORE RAVENS
The Ravens are totally stacked this year. On offense, they can finally compliment their defense with a totally revamped arsenal including Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmanzadeh. Stupid Flacco hair finally has some good targets to add to the Ravens power-run game.
On defense, the Ravens are always a tough matchup. Ray Lewis seems as if he doesn't age, and their defensive line completely snuffs out the opposing run game. Look for Joe Flacco to reach his potential, the Ravens D to dominate as always, and the Ravens to go 13-3 and win this division. Nevermore.
2. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Everybody seems to be focusing on the turmoil of the Steelers offseason with Ben Roethlisberger when it comes time to forecast their season. I am going to look at the positive however, and highlight that the man that brings the energy in Pittsburgh is back after an injury-plagued season. Troy Polamalu is the most important player on the Steelers defense, and his return means a return to form for a once great D. This means a return to Super Bowl contending form for a team that was 9-7 last year.
On offense the team might take their lumps while GD is out, but they can still rely on their running game and probably will not miss a beat when Roethlisberger comes back. I'm not worried. The Steelers could be a real sleeper this year. When Roethlisberger comes back, I think all is well and I like them to go about 11-5 and make the playoffs.
3. CINCINNATI BENGALS
The Bengals are in prime position to take a step back this year after a division title and playoff appearance in 2009. On offense, they are pretty much the same team as they were last year. Jermaine Gresham and T.O. are nice acquisitions, but I don't think they will make a huge difference in the offense, and you never know what could happen with T.O. on the roster.
On defense, this team was expected to make big strides. In week one they got completely torched by B.B. and the NEP. Obviously this was only one week, but I think that the Bengals are going to be surpassed by the other teams in the AFC North this year. They stayed pretty much the same while the other teams got much better. Or, to put it in Dorne language, they are playing checkers while the other teams are playing chess. Look for the Bungals to go 8-8 and miss the playoffs.
4. CLEVELAND BROWNS
The Cleveland Browns have Jake Delhomme so it is not OK to like them anymore. That said, because of him they might do a little bit better this year. He'll have games where he will lead them to victory because of his veteran guidance over their young guys like Jerome Harrison, Mohammed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs; but he will also have his classic Delhomme five interception games. Because of the latter, I hope he is just keeping Colt McCoy's seat warm for him. Suffice it to say, the offense isn't gonna be good though.
On defense, the Browns lost their only good player, and their first round pick Joe Haden isn't even pegged in as a starter. What the hell's going on out there? If you can't already tell, I really have nothing to say about the Browns. 4-12.
Tomorrow, AFC and NFC East previews followed by playoff previews. Huzzah!