Previewing the 2010 NFL Season – AFC NORTH EDITION

In this segment I am going to preview every team in the NFL, division by division, and predict their level of success throughout the season.  Today, I will cover the AFC North and over the next few days work my way to the AFC East.

AFC NORTH

1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

(Notable games: Week 1 – September 13th at New York Jets, Week 2 – September 19th at Cincinnati, Week 6 – October 17th at New England, Week 13 – December 5th vs. Pittsburgh, Week 15 – December 19th vs. New Orleans, Week 17 – January 2nd vs. Cincinnati)

The Ravens will be looking to improve on their 9-7 record from last season by riding the coattails of third year quarterback Joe Flacco.  No longer are the days in Baltimore where the league’s best defense and a punishing run game were the keys to their success.  While the defense is still good (although Ed Reed on the PUP List isn’t a good thing) and the running game still efficient, the Ravens’ success will lie in Flacco dumping the ball off to Ray Rice and then throwing it down the field to Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason.  The Ravens have a pretty tough schedule this season, compounded by the fact that it is always tough to play in the AFC North.  Therefore my regular season expectations for them are a somewhat dampened 11-5, but they will be one of the most dangerous teams come playoff time.  Watch out Indianapolis, the Baltimore Ravens are in town to challenge you for reign in the AFC.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)

(Notable games: Week 1 – September 12th at New England, Week 2 – September 19th vs. Baltimore, Week 9 – November 8th vs. Pittsburgh, Week 10 – November 14th at Indianapolis, Week 12 – November 25th at New York Jets, Week 13 – December 5th vs. New Orleans, Week 14 – December 12th at Pittsburgh, Week 17 – January 12th at Baltimore)

A 10-6 record for the Bengals last season came as a surprise to many of use.  This year, a 10-6 record is more of an expectation for Marvin Lewis and his team.  Week 17 in the AFC North is going to be awesome.  Cincinnati traveling to Baltimore hopefully to battle it out for rights to the AFC North.  Carson Palmer will be looking to build on a pretty good 2009, where he threw for over 3,000 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.  The arrival of Antonio Bryant was supposed to help Palmer and the passing game, but he has since been replaced by Terrell Owens.  Even with two diva receivers, I expect Cincinnati’s offensive focus still to be on Cedric Benson.  Benson revived his career in 2009 by carrying the ball 301 times for over 1,250 yards while scoring 6 touchdowns.  The defense is still young but looks to build on its 2009 campaign where it was established as one of the better units in the NFL.  Recently acquired Reggie Nelson will look to fill the void at safety left by the injured Gibril Wilson.  I expect the Bengals to miss out on the division crown, but still make the playoffs as a wild card team.  But, their time in the playoffs won’t last long as I look for them to get bounced in the wild card round.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)

(Notable games: Week 4 – October 3rd vs. Baltimore, Week 8 – October 31st at New Orleans, Week 9 – November 8th at Cincinatti, Week 10 – November 14th vs. New England, Week 13 – December 5th at Baltimore, Week 14 – December 12th vs. Cincinatti, Week 15 – December 19th vs. New York Jets)

I can see the headlines now…”Dennis Dixon leads lowly Steelers to 4-0 start!”  Ha, that would be something.  Roethlisberger is a complete dumbass and still deserves a six game suspension.  I also think that it sent the wrong message that Dan Rooney held his quarterbacks hand all the way to the commissioner’s office last week.  Nothing like advocating sexually assaulting women huh Dan?  Anyway, Hines Ward is no longer a number one wide receiver, and Mike Wallace is no Santonio Holmes.  The Steelers will have to rely completely on the running game.  That being said, I question Mendenhall’s durability for an entire season, and I don’t know if coach Tomlin can live with Mewelde Moore as anything more than a substitute.  On defense, the Steelers will be a good unit as always, especially if Troy Polamalu can keep his million dollar hair on the field.  But, their cornerbacks are not much to speak of, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they get burnt deep once and a while.  I expect the Steelers to miss out on a wild card spot, and then the questions will start swirling about Big Ben’s future in the Steel City.

4. Cleveland Browns (5-11)

(Notable games: Week 3 – September 26th at Baltimore, Week 4 – October 3rd vs. Cleveland, Week 6 – October 17th at Pittsburgh, Week 7 – October 24th at New Orleans, Week 9 – November 7th vs. New England, Week 10 – November 14th vs. New York Jets, Week 15-17 – at Cincinnati, vs. Baltimore, vs. Pittsburgh)

I don’t know how anyone in Cleveland can be optimistic about anything.  The Cavs are going to stink.  The Indians have been pretty terrible for a while now.  And, it’s looking like the Browns are going to follow suit.  Jake Delhomme was brought in solely to be a veteran presence on this young team.  Homgren brought Seneca Wallace along from the Seahawks, maybe to be a future starter, but most likely just to solidify the backup spot.  Colt McCoy has been terrible in the limited action he saw in the preseason.  Living in Cleveland must just suck.  As you can probably predict, I expect Cleveland to have a pretty dismal season.  Thankfully, that will lead to another high draft pick for a team that desperately needs one.

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