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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - AFC North

Rick Gagliano | July 23, 2013

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

2012 Record: 10-6

2013 Expected Finish: 12-4

Replacing Ray Lewis at middle linebacker is going to be a tough task, but the Ravens hope to get some help in the defensive front seven from both veterans and the draft, picking up Elvis Dumervil from the Broncos and second round draft pick, Arthur Brown, out of Kansas State.

The offense will likely be improved, but still somewhat old school, with Joe Flacco back behind center with a new multi-million dollar contract and reliable Ray Rice returning from a year in which he gained 1143 yards but set new standards of excellence and poise in pressure situations.

The Ravens didn't bowl anyone over statistically in 2012, but came together as a team when it mattered most, in the playoffs and Super Bowl. That's where Baltimore will miss Ray Lewis most, as he was the spiritual and emotional leader of this group.

Still, the competition in the division may allow the Ravens a smooth run to the top of the division and into the post-season.

Cincinnati Bengals

2012 Record: 10-6

2013 Expected Finish: 11-5

In 2012, the Bengals were just a few plays away from being something really special, and 2013 my be the year in which they put it all together.

Quarterback Andy Dalton has matured and is ready to enter the realm of the elite QBs in the NFL. Dalton threw for 3669 yards and 27 TDs, but he'll have to cut down on the picks (16 ITNs), but that should come from improvement in reading defenses and a beefy front line, which should protect him well.

An improving defense which ranked 7th overall in opponent passing yards and 12th against the run will be even better this season with most veterans returning and another year of coaching under their belts.

The Bengals were ousted from the playoffs in the first round last season and could go further this time around.

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Pittsburgh Steelers

2012 Record: 8-8

2013 Expected Finish: 6-10

With their worst record in more than a decade last season, time and injuries seem to be catching up to the once-mighty Steelers. While the defense was top-notch, the offense relied too heavily on the arm and play-making ability of QB Ben Roethlisberger to get the job done, and, more times than not, the Steelers couldn't muster the late-game drives that had become their trademark.

Pittsburgh used to be a lunch-pail type of team, reliant on a running game to get the job done, but injuries to various backs left most of the ball-carrying to Jonathan Dwyer, who was overused and probably not talented enough to carry the team.

The Steelers hope that LeVeon Bell, drafted in the second round out of Michigan State, will be the answer, but rookie running backs have not always worked out for many teams, and Pittsburgh's troubles may be deeper.

Though the defense will still be the envy of the rest of the league, there are too many holes on offense for Pittsburgh to be considered a serious post-season contender.

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Cleveland Browns

2012 Record: 5-11

2013 Expected Finish: 4-12

For continued incompetence and ineptitude over a lengthy span of time, Cleveland is rivaled only by possibly Detroit or Kansas City and they are not expected to be much better than their dismal 6-10 finish from 2012, despite improvement from quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns last year.

The rest of the backfield is a mosh pit, with aging Trent Richardson the only reliable, though slow, back.

Statistically, Cleveland was possibly the worst of the NFL, with no offensive or defensive ranking above 19th. They've been rebuilding in Cleveland for a couple of decades; this will be yet another year of frustration for Browns fans, though they may surprise and win both games against the Steelers.

Copyright 2013, 2014, 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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