Thursday, September 6, 2007
AFC North Preview
As we continue our forray into the eight NFL divisions, we'll take a look at the AFC North, highlighted by three teams expected to make some noise this season (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati). Two of those teams, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, won Super Bowls in the last seven years.
Baltimore Ravens (2006: 13-3) -- Last year, the Ravens, with newly acquired quarterback Steve McNair, stormed through the regular season, before running out of gas against the Colts in the AFC Divisional Round. This year, B-more replaced struggling power back Jamal Lewis with former Bills standout Willis McGahee, an obvious upgrade. The defense is still murderer's row, and McNair and McGahee should add more consistency to an up-and-down offense this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2006: 8-8) -- The Steel Crew were hammered all last year with injuries, specifically to their franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident in the summer. With him healthy, and new coach Mike Tomlin running the show, the Steelers should be back on track as one of the top teams in the AFC. Tazmanian devil Troy Palamatu is still wrecking havoc in the secondary and Willie Parker is still one of the most productive backs in the league.
Cincinnati Bengals (2006: 8-8) -- The Bengals truly underachieved in '06. They were expected to make the leap into elite status and challenge for a Super Bowl spot, instead their season was ravaged due to inconsistent play and a load of off-the-ball incidents. 10 arrests shouldn't happen in one decade, let alone one year. The loss of change-of-pace back Kenny Irons in the preseason will be more hurtful later on in the season than it seems now. But with All-Pro Carson Palmer throwing to Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh, look for Cincy to try to sneak into the playoffs.
Cleveland Browns (4-12) -- All I can say about the Browns is, I wonder who they're going to draft with the number 1 pick next year. Expect Brady Quinn to be starting at QB by Week 5 or 6.
Division Champs: Ravens