This time I turn my highly questionable gaze upon the AFC North. Will the Bengals once again sweep the division? Will Ray Rice continue his rise as an elite RB? Will the Browns continue their late 2009 season form? Will Ben Roethlisberger...ah.. restrain himself? Read on, fella, read on.
Division Champion, Baltimore Ravens, 11-5. Once again under the leadership of young QB Joe Flacco the Ravens reached the playoffs in 2009, an achievement both in part to their marvelous defense and strong running game. Ray Rice has exploded onto the scene with some genuine numbers despite supposedly being a part of a committee and having many goaline TD's vultured. But this year that's not all: The Ravens picked up Anquan Boldin from Arizona, giving their WR corp immediate respect, particularly in yards after the catch, and teams who spent most of their off-season game planning for Rice suddenly have to cover the pass as well. Not to mention the two strong DL 2nd round picks in Terrence Cody (DT) and Sergio Kindle (DE) and the two late TE picks in Ed Dickerson and Denis Pitta. The pass could become quite dangerous in Baltimore. Nice.Division Runners Up, Cincinnati Bengals, 9-7 or 10-6. If the Bengals get 10 wins this season its because they beat Baltimore and have actually won the division. Possible, sure, but I wouldn't bet on it. Last year the Bengal's ran the ball a lot, and with the resurgence of Cedric Benson it proved a hit. However the pass certainly suffered for it, and Carson Palmer did nothing to reclaim his earlier success a few years back. This is an issue that the Bengals to their credit have addressed this off-season by picking up Antonio Bryant on a 5 year contract and very recently signing Terrel Owens to a 1 year stint. It really wouldn't be outlandish to think for the most of the time all three WRs will be on the field. Picking up Jermaine Gresham (TE) in the first round in the draft clearly indicates that the Bengal's will be trying to go back to the air this 2010 season. Did I mention they have more or less maintained their top 10 defensive team as well? Certainly dangerous. Then, Pittsburgh Steelers, 7-9. The Steelers had a terrible season in 2009 and perhaps a worse off-season. Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes both had off field 'issues' with the law (to put it as mildly as possible) and now the star QB is suffering a massive suspension and superbowl MVP Holmes was traded away. However not all is lost: last season both Rashard Mendenhall (RB) and Mike Wallace (WR) took full advantage of their chances and gave us flashes of brilliance. Despite this with the injury of one of their best tackles Willie Colon (what an unfortunate name) there are a lot of questions hovering over the Steelers camp this pre-season. The Colon injury (ha!) has dangerous implications as the OL has been a consistent issue with the Steelers (in part due to Roethlisberger's reluctance to let go of the ball). Thankfully they have made efforts to fix it by drafting Maurice Pouncy (C) in the 1st round and grabbing ex Cowboy Flozell Adams as Colon's replacement. However, with Byron Leftwich opening the regular season until Big Ben returns don't expect fireworks. Finally, Cleveland Browns, 6-10 or 7-9. The Browns ended their previous season on a high note with some nice wins but have struggled to carry that momentum into the pre-season. In the draft they addressed their struggling secondary with 1st round pick Joe Haden (CB) and 2nd round pick T.J. Ward (FS), both could develop into solid starters. Am I the only guy who noticed that Jerome Harrison exploded in the last 3 games of the season? He ran for 286 yards in week 15, I'm not kidding. Despite this they still drafted another RB in the 2nd round in Montario Hardesty, continuing the tradition of bad teams drafting to replace well performing RBs. Grabbing Jake Delhomme (QB) in the off-season is a small improvement although I do like Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy waiting in reserve. I have said it before but Joshua Cribbs is amazing and because of him alone the Browns deserve some wins this season, I'm hoping they get it. Preferably against the Steelers. The way I see it there are going to be two key battles this 2010 season: Firstly, between the Ravens and Bengals for the top spot, and then the Steelers and Browns for 3rd. Both battles are up for grabs and if we get half as many surprises as we did last season from these teams the AFC North should be paid close attention to by any true NFL fan. Ochocinco and Ochouno! Madness! Also, don't forget you can sign up to our fantasy league by emailing me at email@example.com. We want YOU to stand up and be counted! Show us your fantasy stripes! Enlist Signup now!