This year’s AFC North promises to be one of the best divisions in the NFL. Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh all threaten to be playoff teams. And Cleveland……..well, they still suck.
Predicting the order of finish this season is going to be tough. Let’s take a look at each of the four AFC North teams.
Cincinnati Bengals- The Bengals swept the AFC North last season. Not many people saw that coming.
The most surprising thing about Cincinnati’s season was that they won by playing Steeler football. The Bengals ran the ball well, and their defense was stout against the run. Sound familiar?
It was the Bengal’s defense that led the way in 2009. They were the 4th ranked defense in the NFL.
Despite having Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco, it was running back Cedric Benson that led the Bengals’ offense. The Bengal’s passing game was ranked #26 in the NFL. That’s nothing to brag about. In an effort to improve their passing game, the Bengals brought in free agent wide receiver Terrell Owens. They also drafted tight end Jermaine Gresham from Oklahoma.
The big question is whether Carson Palmer is still the elite quarterback that he once was. In my opinion, the answer is “no”. Palmer is probably the 3rd best quarterback in the AFC North. Similarly, I think the Bengals are going to be the third best team in the AFC North this season.
Baltimore Ravens- On paper, the Ravens look to be the Steelers’ toughest opponent in the AFC North this season. They are extremely well-balanced. They too, seemed to win last season by playing Steeler football. The Ravens had the #3 ranked defense in the entire NFL last year, and they had the top rushing attack in the AFC North.
The Ravens are always a threat with their defense. However, the defense is getting older. Ray Lewis is 58 years old (okay, maybe not that old), and Ed Reed spent the preseason on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after undergoing hip surgery.
Like the Steelers have done in recent years, we may see the Ravens transition into a passing team in 2010. The Ravens have a talented young quarterback in Joe Flacco. Ozzie Newsome did a great job of bringing in more targets for Flacco to throw to. As if Anquan Boldin weren’t enough, the Ravens also recently signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
As much as I hate to admit it, the Ravens look good. They should provide the greatest challenge for AFC supremacy this year.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns suck. Need I say more?
Pittsburgh Steelers – I am surprised at how many Steelers fans I hear say that the Steelers are going to have a bad season this year. I don’t see that happening. In fact, I anticipate the Steelers having a great season.
The Steelers defense suffered due to injuries to Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu last season. Either of those would be a devastating loss. But losing both of them proved to be an insurmountable loss.
The Steelers’ defense never looked good in 2009, despite finishing the regular season as the #5 defense in the NFL. In fact, they were the third ranked defense in the AFC North, behind Baltimore and Cincinnati.
The Steelers have both Polamalu and Smith back this season. Moreover, they have added a slew of young, talented linebackers. I truly believe that the Steelers’ defense will be greatly improved this year.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will miss the first four games of the season, but I have confidence that Dennis Dixon can lead the Steelers to a few victories in Big Ben’s absence. In fact, not having Roethlisberger may prove to be a blessing in disguise.
In 2009, the Steelers became too dependent on the pass. They were the worst running team in the AFC North. That’s right. They finished dead last in rushing. That’s almost blasphemy for a Steelers team.
With Big Ben out of the line-up, the Steelers may be forced to re-emphasize the running game. That should ultimately help the team.
With a rejuvenated running game, and their already potent passing game, the Steelers offense should once again be the class of the AFC North. Moreover, the defense should also regain their rightful place as the best in the division.
Having said all of that, my predicted order of finish for the AFC North in 2010 is as follows:
#1 – Pittsburgh Steelers
#2 – Baltimore Ravens
#3 – Cincinnati Bengals
#4 – That other team
I’d love to hear what my readers think about my analysis and my predictions. Am I being too much of a homer? Do you agree with my predictions? Leave a comment and let me hear your thoughts.
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