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2008-2009 AFC NORTH - PREVIEW - ODDS - PREDICTIONS
The AFC North is such a special division that we actually have two separate writers covering it. Ok, we're kidding. But two of our guys just so happened to turn in previews of the ACF North, so you get double coverage of the Browns, Steelers, Ravens and Bengals. Not surprisingly, both of our guys are high on the Brownies this year. Read on......
Cleveland Browns: Odds 8-5
Head Coach: Romeo Crennel (4th year)
Off. Coord: Rob Chudzinski; Def. Coord: Mel Tucker
2007 Record: SUR 10-6, PSR 12-4, O-U 9-6-1
This team will shine this season for numerous reasons. There is no quarterback controversy first of all. They now have more of a potent offense courtesy of a free agency. Management did a good job addressing their needs on defense in the off-season.
Andersonís job is reasonably secure in 2008 despite Brady Quinnís full participation in minicamps. His mechanics are a slight concern as Anderson likes to throw without planting his feet. His 4-INT effort in a loss to Cincinnati in week 16 cost Cleveland its shot at securing a playoff spot. Andersonís biggest games were against the weakest opponents Ė Miami, St, Louis, Cincinnati Ė but again it was his first year as a starter. Thereís lots of upside here. Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and Donte Stallworth (signed in free agency) are super-talented players. Jamal Lewis put his ankle problems behind him and rumbled for 1,304 yards and is still barely 29 years old. The offensive line is a brick wall with LG Eric Steinbach and LT Joe Thomas. The schedule isnít a monster but there are 4 brutal out-of-division games vs. Indy, Dallas, NYG, and Jacksonville. However, 3 of those are at home.
The Browns suddenly boast a powerful defense that should curb the run. Adding Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams to anchor the D-line was big, literally, and they have the talent to play up to par even though they parted with CB Leigh Bodden. And don't forget that they'll have speedy returner Joshua Cribbs working for them.
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Pittsburgh Steelers: Odds 1-1
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (2nd year)
Off. Coord: Bruce Arians; Def. Coord: Dick LeBeau
2007 Record: SUR 10-7, PSR 9-8, O-U 9-8
A few substantial personnel losses will likely make this team a pretender instead of a contender. With a few key changes, it means every player switches positions and this will screw up the rhythm on both sides of the ball.
BenRoethlisbergerís the 7th player in history to get a $100 million contract. They did lose standout guard Alan Faneca in free agency, but Bruce Ariansí offense is designed to get the ball out quickly. Ben better do just that, because this offensive line is a mixed bag this year. LT Marvel Smith, a former 2nd round pick, had a back injury last year and has never excelled in pass protection. LG Chris Kemoeatu replaces Faneca and he does have upside though heís unproven. They did pick up journeyman C Justin Hartwig, who once kicked some tail when he was healthy in Tennessee. Rookie 4th round pick OT Tony Hills might start on the right bookend. Roethlisberger has one of the 8 easiest QB schedules over the first 12 weeks, but he ends tough with the Patriots (wk 13), Cowboys (14), Ravens (15) and Titans (16) Ė three of them on the road. Overall we expect Roethlisberger, one of the 3 smartest QBs in the game with Brady and Manning, to overcome the creaky O-line and generate big numbers week-to-week. The identity of this offense is changing from strictly power-running to passes on 1st downs and in the red zone. A 3-RB committee? Not so fast. Parker is a proven, dynamic back who knows how to prepare for the 16-game grind. His broken fibula was not severe. If it happened in September he would have been back on the field before 2007 ended. We don't see his carries suddenly drying up, in fact it might serve him well if he got back to the 18-20 carry range. What does concern us is the number of pay dirt carries.
The club didn't address the defense at all this offseason, losing LB Clark Haggans and CB/KR Allen Rossum to free agency. Obviously, one of the priorities for the Steelers is to have a tough defense, but it's a very veteran unit at this point, and with that comes injuries.
Cincinnati Bengals: Odds 9-2
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis (6th year)
Off. Coord: Bob Bratkowski; Def. Coord: Mike Zimmer
2007 Record: SUR 7-9, PSR 7-9, O-U 7-9
Too much of everything has this team in turmoil. Injuries, doubts about playersí capabilities and players causing controversy will cause this teamís downfall.
The 2 guards are not real nimble. Rookie OT Anthony Collins (Kansas) was a 4th rd steal. Can Levi Jones stay healthy? Should they have drafted an OL in rd. 2?This year Palmerís sort of at the crossroads Ė he isnít included in the elite QB conversations, and heís falling to the 5th round quite often. With Chad Johnsonís pending holdout, Chris Henry already released, and even T.J. Houshmandzadeh grumbling about money, thereís some uncertainty here. Plus Rudi Johnson might be past his prime. OB Bob Bratkowski was given a few new toys to play with Ė TE Ben Utecht, WR Doug Gabriel, and rookie WRs Jerome Simpson & Andre Caldwell.
Last year was a nightmare for the Bengals defense thanks to significant injuries at the linebacker position. They ranked in the bottom third in run and pass defense (bottom 10 vs. the pass). Moreover, the club lost stud DE Justin Smith and FS Madieu Williams via free agency and have only DE Antwan Odom to show as a new veteran addition (Marvin White is penciled in as the starting free safety). Keith Rivers also qualifies at linebacker, which helps, but that's about it. Their return game is also short on talent.
Baltimore Ravens: Odds 6-1
Head Coach: John Harbaugh (1st year)
Off. Coord: Cam Cameron; Def. Coord: Rex Ryan
2007 Record: SUR 5-11, PSR 3-13, O-U 9-5-2
Lack of talent at key positions will be the teamís demise this season. A perfect example: Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome points out in retrospect that it was a mistake to go with Boller so soon, because young QBs require a solid supporting group (such as Roethlisberger enjoyed). And while RB McGahee (1207 YR and 48 recs. in 2007) lived up to expectations after his acquisition from Buffalo, the rest of the offense struggled in 2007.
Jonathan Ogden retired, Jared Gaither (2nd yr/Maryland) steps in. Adam Terry has ankle issues. Jason Brown is the best player but he's switching from guard. No help in the draft. KyleBoller maintains his address for the 6th straight year. Bollerís career QB rating is 72 and it doesnít like heíll ever get much higher than that. Last year he started 8 games and never reached 300 yards or 3 TDs. Boller threw 3 INTs vs. Indy and looked like heíd even regressed.
Veterans like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are a little more injury prone than we've been used to seeing, and linebackers Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs are coming off down seasons. While they have a good young returner in Yamon Figurs, the fact is that Baltimore is rebuilding and will go through growing pains under first-year head coach John Harbaugh.
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I can see it now. Fireworks are exploding, and players are celebrating on the field. Fans are rejoicing over the first division title since 2005. The Cincinnati Bengals are on their way to the Super Bowl. Hey, I can dream canít I?! In all seriousness, the AFC North division will be ultra competitive as usual during the 2008-09 season. With the added strength of the Cleveland Browns, and the always tough Pittsburgh Steelers winning this division will be a dog fight. The resurgent Cincinnati Bengals also stand a chance, and you never know what the Baltimore Ravens will end up doing. Letís take a look at the AFC North division and try and find the winner.
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