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SNAP CENTRAL | PREVIEWS: NCAA Top 25 | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - AFC North

Rick Gagliano | August 2, 2011

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 record: 12-4

Predicted finish: 13-3

Head Coach: Mike Tomlin

Departed: WR Antwaan Randle El, OT Max Starks, OT Flozell Adams, LB Keyaron Fox, DE Nick Eason, TE Matt Spaeth.

Incoming: WR Jerricho Cotchery, TE John Gilmore; Rookies: CB Curtis Brown (Texas), DE Cameron Heyward (Ohio State), OT Marcus Gilbert (Florida), CB Cortez Allen (Citadel), RB Baron Batch (Texas Tech), LB Chris Carter (Fresno St.), OG Keith Williams (Nebraska).

Strengths: One of the top three defenses in the league, the Steelers are especially brutal on running backs, allowing just 62.8 yards pr game last year. The next closest was Baltimore, at 90.1.

Weaknesses: If you can find any, let the rest of the league know.

Key Games: Sun, Sept. 11 at Baltimore (season opener), Sun, Sept. 25 at Indianapolis, Sun, Oct 30 vs. New England, Sun, Nov 6 vs Baltimore.

What if?: The Steelers take full advantage of their relatively soft schedule?

It could just result in one of the greatest, though thoroughly workmanlike, seasons in NFL history. With four games against the NFC West and four more against division rivals Cincinnati and Cleveland, the only games the Steelers might lose are at Indianapolis and against New England, though they get the Pats in Pittsburgh.

A healthy Be Roethlisberger and the continued development of running back Rashard Mendenhall will keep the offense on the field in long, plodding drives, which is the Pittsburgh way. 13 wins is within reach and they may do even better than that.


Baltimore Ravens

2010 record: 12-4

Predicted finish: 11-5

Head Coach: John Harbaugh

Departed: TE Todd Heap, RB Willis McGahee, WR Donte Stallworth, S Dawan Landry, OT Jared Gaither, OG Tony Moll, FB Le'Ron McClain, QB Marc Bulger, FB Jason McKie, CB Fabian Washington, OG-C Chris Chester, CB Josh Wilson, NT Kelly Gregg, WR Derrick Mason, DT Kelly Talavou.

Incoming: TE Kris Wilson, TE Jonathan Stupar, S Bernard Pollard, FB Vonta Leach; Rookies: WR Torrey Smith (Maryland), WR Tandon Doss (Indiana), QB Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech), CB Chykie Brown (Texas), DE Pernell McPhee (Mississippi St.), OT Jah Reid (UCF), CB Jimmy Smith (Colorado).

Strengths: Bruising defense, but the Ravens slipped to 10th overall in yards per game (318.9) in 2010, though they were third - behind the Packers and Steelers - in points allowed at 16.9. Also, Ray Rice, following somewhat of an off year, should rebound into his 2009 form this season.

Weaknesses: Passing game. Joe Flacco is solid at QB, but he needs receivers. Todd Heap being traded away doesn't help, though Jonathan Stupar - from the Bills - did some nice work in Buffalo last year. No Derrick Mason, either. The Ravens expect to start at least one rookie at wideout, though which one remains an open question.

Key Games: Sun, Sept. 11 vs. Pittsburgh (season opener), Sun, Oct. 2 vs. NY Jets, Sun Nov 6 at Pittsburgh, Sun, Dec 11 vs. Indianapolis, Sun, Dec 18 at San Diego.

What if?: The Ravens lose both games to the Steelers?

It could very well happen, as Baltimore searches for receivers. There have been a multitude of personnel changes with the Ravens and they get Pittsburgh twice in the first 9 weeks. However, after that, the schedule gets a lot easier. The AFC North gets the NFC West this year, so there are four possible wins for the Ravens, and they close out against Cleveland and at Cincinnati. Even if they lose both games to the Steelers, second place in the division is theirs for the taking, so it's just a matter of how many wins they'll need to grab a wild card spot.


--- Story continues below ---


Looking for the best NFL Handicapper? Good luck. Most of them suck.

Cleveland Browns

2010 record: 5-11

Predicted finish: 7-9

Head Coach: Pat Shurmur

Departed: QB Jake Delhomme, CB Eric Wright, LB Jason Trusnik, LB Matt Roth, LB Blake Costanzo, S Sabby Piscitelli, S Abram Elam, FB Lawrence Vickers, WR Chansi Stuckey, OG-OT Floyd Womack.

Incoming: RB Brandon Jackson, CB Usama Young, DT Brodrick Bunkley, CB Dimitri Patterson, OG John Greco; Rookies: OT Jason Pinkston (Pittsburgh), DE Jabaal Sheard (Pittsburgh), WR Greg Little (North Carolina), TE Jordan Cameron (USC), FB Owen Marecic (Stanford), S Eric Hagg (Nebraska).

Strengths: Special teams. The Browns have one of the most dynamic, versatile runners in the league in Joshua Cribbs. It will be essential to get him into positive kick and punt return situations to make use of his talents. He should also get more time as a slot receiver or as a part of any wildcat offense the Browns choose to run.

Weaknesses: Offense. Only the Panthers scored fewer points than the Browns last season. Colt McCoy is projected to be the starting QB all season, and, with a year under his belt, this would be a make it or break out season for him. The Bowns have a young group of receivers, so this will be a work in progress.

Key Games: Divisional games against Cinncinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Don't be surprised if the Browns win half of those contests and a few more against the NFC West.

What if?: Colt McCoy gets his legs under him and starts delivering dagger throws like he did at Texas?

A positive development for the Browns, though they're still not going to be much better than a .500 team.


Cincinnati Bengals

2010 record: 4-12

Predicted finish:

Head Coach: Marvin Lewis

Departed: WR Chad Ochocinco, WR Terrell Owens, CB Johnathan Joseph, QB Carson Palmer, OT Kirk Chambers, OG Evan Mathis, DE Antwan Odom.

Incoming: QB Bruce Gradkowski, CB Nate Clements, OG Max Jean-Gilles, OLB Manny Lawson, LB Thomas Howard; Rookies: QB Andy Dalton (TCU), LB Dontay Moch (Nevada), OG Clint Boling (Georgia), RB Jay Finley (Baylor), WR AJ Green (Georgia), WR Ryan Whalen (Stanford), S Robert Sands (West Virginia), CB Korey Lindsey (Southern Illinois).

Strengths: Having Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens leave has to be an improvement, but in the process, so went once-highly-regarded QB Carson Palmer. Another positive is the drafting of Andy Dalton out of TCU and AJ Green, a wideout with tremendous upside, from Georgia.

Weaknesses: Defense, having to play the Steelers and Ravens twice each. The Bengals are rebuilding - again - after a circus-like season in 2010.

Key Games: Those four against Pittsburgh and Baltimore will be key to improvement. If they win any of them, that could be seen as a victory over considerable adversity.

What if?: Carson Palmer returns?

Not likely, but he's been a bust with the Bengals and can only hurt the team. Better he stays home and counts his money.

Copyright 2011, 2012, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.

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