Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Steelers Rule the North

The AFC North has two teams that could go far into the play offs this year. Like every other team in this division, how long they play depends on their quarterback. Here is a team by team break down of the AFC North.

BALTIMORE RAVENS Projected Finish 11-5 (2nd)
KEY QUESTION: Is this Kyle Boller’s year to break out?

I think it’s safe to say that Baltimore’s season hinges on Kyle Boller. They have everything else they need to win the division and compete for the Super Bowl. All pro running back Jamal Lewis has the ability to carry the team if he needs to, but I don’t think you really on him to do it for 16 games. The Ravens have a solid tight end in Todd Heap and rookie Mark Clayton will add explosiveness to the receiving corps along with free agent Derrick Mason. As long as Boller can protect the football and get it into the right hands at the right time the Ravens offense is looking strong this season.

On defense what more can you say? Sparked by Ray Lewis the Baltimore defense enjoys punishing people. However, the departures of LB Peter Boulware and CB Corry Fuller will provide new challenges to the Ravens D. I wouldn’t worry just yet about this unit though. They are always one of the best in the NFL.

KEY LOSSES: LB Peter Boulware, CB Corey Fuller.
KEY SIGNINGS: WR Derrick Mason, LB Tommy Polley, CB Samari Rolle.

CINCINNATI BENGALS Projected Finish 8-8 (3rd)
KEY QUESTION: Can Carson Palmer carry the team?

The Bengals are in the same situation as the Ravens only with a lot less talent. Carson Palmer will have to make due with what he has been given in order for Cincinnati to have a winning season. If he crumbles so will the Bengals hopes. He has a solid running back with Rudi Johnson and wide receiver Chad Johnson has loads of talent but he needs to be able to back up his mouth when he talks a big game. On the other side of the field receiver Peter Warrick gives them two legitimate options and opposing defenses will take notice.

The Bengals defense will be their weakness this year. There just simply isn’t enough talent to go around. They’ve got solid corners in Tory James and Deltha O’Neal but the linebackers and defensive line will be susceptible to the run. Look for the Steelers and the Ravens to take advantage of that.

KEY LOSSES: S Rogers Beckett, LB Kevin Hardy
KEY SIGNINGS: DE Elton Patterson

CLEVELAND BROWNS Projected Finish 6-10 (4th)
KEY QUESTION: Who is going to step up and lead this team?

It’s not a matter of talent, at least on the offense, it’s a matter of someone stepping up and leading. TE Kellen Winslow is the king of making bad choices as well as bad comments; the same can be said of RB William Green. Trent Dilfer led the Ravens to the Super Bowl, but has it really him or the Ravens defense? So, who is left? Only four players on the current roster have 10 or more years of experience, so that means the Browns will have to suffer through some growing pains. This ultimately translates into a long season.

The Browns will struggle to move the ball on offense which puts all their hope in their defense. Head Coach Romeo Crennel is a defensive mastermind. He built the Ravens defense in 2000 and has turned New England’s defense into championship form over the past four years. However, in Cleveland there isn’t the personnel yet. The Browns have done the right thing by building a young team. They are just going to have to be patient while their players develop. It won’t be this season.

KEY LOSSES: DE Courtney Brown, G Damion Cook, DE Ebenezer Ekuban, QB Jeff Garcia, QB Kelly Holcomb, DT Mike Myers.
KEY SIGNINGS: QB Doug Johnson.

PITTSBURG STEELERS Projected Finish 14-2 (1st)
Key Question: Can Roethlisberger avoid a sophomore slump?

The Steelers have one of the best teams in the NFL and should be one of the favorites to be in the Super Bowl. They are loaded with talent and experience on both sides of the football and have a coaching staff that is just as fired up come game time as the players. Their running backs are deep and good. Led by Duce Staley and a nasty offensive line the Steelers will be a smash mouth team. When they have to pass they will need to rely on Big Ben getting the ball to a talented group of receivers. The Steelers lost TE Jay Riemersma and Plaxico Burress, but still have Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El. QB/WR chemistry should not be a problem for the Steelers. Pittsburg will be a team that has big play threats in the running game as well as in the passing game.

On Defense the Steelers lost LB Kendrell Bell and CB Chad Scott, but they still have the core of the defense that took them deep into the play offs last season. Look for LB Joey Porter to be the heart and soul of a Pittsburg defense that will play “in your face” defense. The Steelers should be playing football well into January.

KEY LOSSES: LB Kendrell Bell, WR Plaxico Burress, TE Jay Riemersma, CB Chad Scott.
KEY SIGNINGS: WR Cedrick Wilson.

Pittsburg 14-2
Baltimore 11-5
Cincinnati 8-8
Cleveland 6-10