2010 NFL Preview Part 2: AFC North

Team                                        Projected Wins-Losses(Range)

1. Baltimore Ravens                    10-6 – 13-3

The Ravens could be one of the best teams in the NFL this season and have very few weaknesses. Joe Flacco is ready to be an elite QB if he wasn’t already. The offense around Flacco is stacked with talent including. At Running Back the Ravens have a very versatile player in Ray Rice. Rice is not only a great runner but he is also a major weapon in the passing game. Backup Willis McGahee is a beast at the goaline, but this year Rice should get more carries. Baltimore also has a solid group of Wide Receivers with Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Donte Stallworth (although he is out for 2 months). Throw in 3 time Pro-Bowler Anquan Boldin and Joe Flacco has a lot of good options to work with. The Ravens also have one of the best offensive lines in the league, and now Michael Oher, who was great as a rookie, has a year of experience. The Ravens have put together a great defensive line with run stuffer Haloti Ngata, veteran tackle Kelly Gregg, and situational pass rusher Trevor Pryce. They also added veteran DE Cory Redding and drafted Terrence Cody who is a monster (Cody was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list July 27th). With Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, and underrated Jarrett Johnson, Baltimore has an excellent group of linebackers. The spot opposite Ray Lewis in the middle is still a question mark. Tavares Gooden, Jameel McClain (currently listed as the starter) and Dannell Ellerbe all have potential, but none of them have a great resume in the NFL. The Ravens biggest concern is their secondary. Strong Safety Dawan Landry is good, but with Ed Reed likely to be put on the PUP list, 3rd year player Tom Zbikowski steps in at Free Safety. Zbikowski is a good hitter and tackler but he just doesn’t have the ball skills Ed Reed has. Top CB Domonique Foxworth is out for the year leaving the Ravens corner position in shambles. Hopefully for the Ravens their superb front 7 will save the defense from giving up too many big plays. If Baltimore can control their secondary issues they might be the AFC favorite, if not their just another 10-6 team.

2.Cincinnati Bengals                     7-9 – 11-5

The Bengals have put together a pretty good football team, but not an elite one. Carson Palmer showed us last year he is not the same QB he once was, but with a strong running game (provided Cedric Benson stays healthy and can handle another year with a high amount of carries), and the addition of Terrell Owens, he will look a little bit more like himself. Until the recent release of receiver Antonio Bryant, I thought the Bengals would have a very nice passing game. Chad Ochocinco and T.O. should be a nice duo, but can 2 teammates with huge egos and both have reality shows learn how to share? I think that releasing Bryant without him even taking a snap is not a good move because they would’ve been set at their top 3 WR positions. Now who the slot receiver will be is in question. Andre Caldwell only averaged 8.5 a catch last season and in my mind the only other option is rookie Jordan Shipley. Shipley has had a strong preseason could make an impact, plus he is suited perfectly for the slot. Looking at Cincinnati’s offensive line I can’t say I’m too impressed. Last year Marvin Lewis surprised us by coaching a top 10 defense, and I think they will have a similar year. The return of Antwan Odom could help their pass rush quite a bit, but I’m thinking his 8 sacks in 6 games last season was a fluke. Rookie Carlos Dunlap is listed as the starter over Odom, but unless he works hard all year, stays out of trouble, and matures, I don’t see him keeping that job. Defensive Tackle Domata Peko has turned into a pretty effective run stopper, but the rest of starter on the line are Tank Johnson (or Pat Sims), and Robert Geathers. Johnson can be pretty good, but I’m not sold on him, and Geathers is ineffective at pass rushing. I really like the Bengals linebackers. Both Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers are ready to break out, and middle linebacker Dhani Jones is still a productive player. Cincinnati easily has one of the best corner combos in the league with Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, but the rest of their corners and safeties are just average. Like I said earlier the Bengals have a pretty good team who could end up in the Wild Card spot.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers                   7-9 – 11-5

With Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers are always a threat to make it to the Super Bowl. But Big Ben has been suspended for 6 games, which could be reduced to 4 depending on how his meeting with Roger Goodell goes this friday. RB Rashard Mendenhall is ready to build off his excellent 2009 campaign, and could be a top 10 back this year. Troubled star receiver Santonio Holmes may be gone, but Pittsburgh has 2nd year man Mike Wallace, who is a threat to go deep on any play. Slot receiver Antaawn Randle El was brought back after a few productive years with the Redskins, and Hines Ward is still on top of his game, giving the Steelers a good batch of wideouts. One of the strangest offseason moves this year was the Steelers signing of former Cowboys RT Flozell Adams. Adams is 35, slow, and gets too many holding penalties called on him. Pittsburgh has a mediocre offensive line at best. On the defensive line the return of underrated veteran end Aaron Smith will help a lot. Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel make this a very good line. 2nd year player Ziggy Hood should have a bigger role this season. Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are both Pro-Bowlers, and on the inside James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons are very good players. This front 7 is one of the best in the league, but last year the Steelers did not live up to their high expectations on defense, mostly because of the loss of Smith and Troy Polamalu, arguably the best strong safety in the league. The return of Polamalu helps the Steelers tremendously. Free Safety Ryan Clark is also a very underrated player and the Steelers would suffer if they lost him. At corner Ike Taylor is good, but the return of Bryant McFadden will help a lot. Pittsburgh should be a very good team, but without Roethlisberger it could be disastrous, which is why the Bengals get a slight edge.

4. Cleveland Browns                    3-13 -6-10

Cleveland does not seem like a place you’d want to live if your a sports fan, the Browns haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, LeBron is in Miami, the Indians are terrible, but at least they the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not to mention a nice stadium. Their consensus best player is Josh Cribbs, who is a great return man but not much of a receiver. He is going to be featured more in the offense but without any other weapon at wideout, QB Jake Delhomme is going to be throwing a lot of interceptions again. Running backs Jerome Harrison and rookie Montario Hardesty, (who has a great name), should complement each other very nicely. Tackle Joe Thomas, Center Alex Mack, and Guard Eric Steinbeck form a pretty decent offensive line, but without a passing game the Browns will struggle on offense. Defensively the Browns are among the worst in the league. Shaun Rogers is still a good player but he cannot stop the run by himself. MLB D’Qwell Johnson is solid, but is injured making his season unclear. The Browns have absolutely no pass rush, trading Kamerion Wimbley to the Raiders was a big mistake. Cleveland does have some talent at corner, with Eric Wright, veteran Sheldon Brown, and the 7th overall pick in this years draft, Joe Haden. Haden is currently listed as the nickleback but could overtake Brown. Rookie safety T.J. Ward could be good, but needs time to develop, the other safety Abram Elam a player Eric Mangini brought over from the Jets in the Braylon Edwards trade, is average. The Browns have a couple of things to be excited about, Mike Holmgren knows how to build a winner, they’re going to have a very high draft pick, they did play well the last couple games of the season, and Colt McCoy could be the QB of the future, but for this year expect another typical bad season.

Check Back soon for the rest of my previews

This is also posted on ESPN.com

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