Thursday, August 2, 2007

AFC North Preview

Each of the contributors is going to be previewing one division and the remaining divisions will be assigned to several guest writers. We're going to try to do one or two a week until the start of the season. Here's the first one.

1. Ravens

I’m picking the Ravens to go 11-5, but make no mistake; this is a better team than the one that went 13-3 last year. They added Willis McGahee who will add much more diversity to their offense attack than they’ve had in the past. Not only is he more of a cut back runner with big play potential but he will also improve their passing game. With better hands than Jamal Lewis they will be able to run more screens and flares. Also, unlike Lewis, McGahee is comfortable in single back sets, meaning they will be able to use three WRs more often and spread the field. McNair just needs to stay healthy for the entire season again.

On defense the Ravens should still be pretty dominating. I mean they do have God’s Linebacker on their team. The only real question mark is how they will replace DE/LB Adalius Thomas who cashed in with the Patriots. More than likely they will turn to former backup Jarret Johnson, with Antwan Barnes and Dan Cody also seeing some time on third down.

The Ravens do have a pretty tough schedule, at one point playing at San Diego, then coming home to play New England and Indianapolis. But I expect them to match up well against division foes, going 5-1 and taking the division.

2. Steelers

I’m very excited about the start of the Mike Tomlin era. I loved Cowher, but he just didn’t seem motivated last year. I think Tomlin will bring a breath of fresh air while retaining a no-nonsense attitude. Here’s what he said when he was asked why he was wearing long sleeves in the ninety degree heat at training camp: “Its part of the mental warfare. I don’t want guys coming up to me telling me how hot it is because they know I don’t care. I hope it gets hotter.” Not quite the same as Mangini playing Mozart during practice.

The only significant loss the Steelers suffered was Joey Porter, who, in my opinion had become very one dimensional. They’ll look to replace him with draft picks Lawrence Timmons and Lamar Woodley. Timmons didn’t get off to a great start in training camp and word is he’s already slipped on the depth chart, but Woodley has been very impressive. They didn’t really do much to improve their secondary which was sometimes prone to big plays, but Polamalu should be completely healthy so that should help.

While the Steelers don’t have any significant new personnel on offense they do have a new offensive coordinator, former wide receivers coach Bruce Arians. Hopefully he will not only involve the receivers more (especially Santonio Holmes, who seems poised for a breakout year), but get the ball to TE Heath Miller who has some of the best hands in the league and was woefully underutilized last season. The question that everyone is asking is whether Roethlisberger’s struggles last year were the result of his off the field misfortunes or just evidence that he is nothing more than a good game manager who is not capable of throwing more than 25 passes a game effectively. Only time will answer that one.

I have them going 9-7 and 3-3 in the division.

3. Browns

Most people expect the Browns to be terrible. I disagree for several reasons. Regardless of who starts at QB (hint: not Brady) they will be much improved because of the upgrade in the offensive line. First-round pick Joe Thomas is signed and hardly missed any time in training camp. They signed the best available offensive lineman Eric Steinbach (from Iowa) and also should have LeCharles Bentley, who was the best available lineman from last year’s free agent class, returning. These three very large men should also help new running back Jamal Lewis . He may not be the same RB who rushed for 2,000 yards in ’03 but he’s definitely an upgrade over Reuben Droughns. His coke business might suffer in Cleveland though.

I know they haven’t really improved that much on defense but I think the D will gain confidence simply because they won’t be forced to stay on the field for 45 minutes a game.

I’m predicting that Browns go 9-7. Wait, before you ask me if I’m smoking crack (someone already did), look at their schedule. They play the Raiders, Dolphins, Texans, Bills, Cardinals and 49ers. If they can win one division game and surprise say, the Jets and Seahawks, that would put them right there. Ok, so maybe 8-8 is more likely, but it’s more fun to put them ahead of the Bengals. Anyway, they still go 1-5 in the division (their lone with coming in Week 1 against Pittsburgh).

4. Bengals

I don’t understand why everyone is assuming the Bengals are a lock to finish second in the division this year. Yes their offense is good. It was good last year too and it didn’t get them into the playoffs. They also lost some key players. Chris Henry is suspended for half the season and with all that time on his hands a marijuana or gun charge seems pretty likely. He may be suspended longer, who knows? Eric Steinbach and Kelley Washington are also gone and they only have basically one tight end.

The bottom line is that without a serviceable defense it doesn’t matter how good the offense is. The Colts already proved that. They did add Leon Hall at CB but they are really going to miss Odell Thurman and David Pollack. I’ve watched Chinedum Ndukwe at Notre Dame; he’s not that good. Leon Hall on the other hand is a pretty good pick and should add to the already solid secondary.

The Bengals will finish 8-8 this year and 3-3 in the division.


Buzzsaw said...

There is no way in hell the Browns go 9-7 without great QB play. I don't think that will happen .. this year. Also, I think you are wayyy undervaluing some of those "easy" games for the Browns. The 49ers are going to be really good, possibly playoffs good and same with the Cardinals. I also think this will be a bit of a coming out year for the Texans, but I'm pretty sure I'm relatively alone in that opinion.

Buzzsaw said...

Not sure why I quotes easy, but it was insinuated. I also wanted to give my Braves update for the night.

The Braves were down 5-3 going into the 4th inning, Mark Teixeira just hit a 2-run HR to tie it up. Through 4 he's gone 2/3 with 2 RBIs and 2 Runs. So that's two HRs in two days. I'll be back later with more. Sorry, no Redskins update today.

Logan said...

Unlike the Teixeira argument, I really have nothing to back up this assertion (just kidding). I feel that the Browns will be better than people think and the Bengals will be worse than people think but I really just wanted to go out on a limb since it seems everyone is picking Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Browns. But seriously, if you ever bitch about me talking about the Red Sox too much again, I might kill you.

Buzzsaw said...

Hahaha, complain when I start posting about the Braves (note I said when not if). Comments shouldn't count. I would go out on a limb and say the Ravens won't win the division, I think this is the year their defense starts to look old, and I hate Steve McNair. The tough part is picking who would win, I'd go with the Bengals, just because Carson Palmer is awesome.

Guy said...

Buzz, apparently you are underestimating the fact that "you just gotta feel bad" for the Browns. Please see my article about this to clear up any confusion.

HAUS said...

Well obviously I have to disagree with Log's assesment of the Bengals. It was mentioned that their offense was good last year and it didn't get them into the playoffs. Not really. First of all they choked twice in the last seconds of December games that would have sen thtem to the playoffs with a win in either of them. Last year the offense finished 11th overall, due to many circumstances. They lost two of their best O-lineman in commanding center Rich Braham and LT Levi Jones for the majority of the year, causing two newbies to start for the first year in Andrew Whitworth and Eric Ghiaciuc. Whitworth was too slow on the edge and Ghiaciuc didn't know the offense well enough to command the line well. To make matters worse Carson didn't have an offseason coming off the unmentionable knee injury suffered the year before and was taking hits from holes left by the constantly shuffled line in front of him. However, this year those two linemen have a year under their belt and Whitworth importantly will be moved back to his better guard position where he won't be beat around the corners. Carson wore down at the end of last year and only threw for 52% completion rate in December last year. He is hungrier than ever and is fully healthy with a full offseason of rest and practice. The offense will be in the top 3 of the leauge once again and that WILL put them into the playoffs. THe off-field problems are finally overwith (minus Chris Henry) and several of the troubled players have left the team. If Henry surprises the world and somehow stays out of the trouble he will only make the O more potent, but Carson can throw to anyone in the meantime. Of course who knows if they will have a defense, but look back at the Colts of years ago and yes, they had no defense, but that definitely did not put them in last place of their division (although log definitely put them there to spite me and of course he felt bad for the browns). The line is veteran and appears to have a budding star in Robert Geathers on the end. Justin Smith is on the other side and designated as the franchise player hopes to have a big year for the team, and for hs personal financing being a free agent at the end of the year most likely. THe DB's look to be reinforced with a healthy Madieu Williams and Leon Hall immediately making an impact. If the young tandem of first rounders in Hall and Joseph live up to the hype, and Deltha O'Neal can regain his form of two years ago, the secondary will be a formidable foe. (and yes log, NDdukwe does suck, that's why he's listed as 4th on the depth chart and his fighting for a special teams spot to make the team and isn't a factor, former superbowl MVP Dexter Jackson would be the SS) Regardless, how far the bengals go rests solely on the shoulders of the linebacking core. Ahmad Brooks was picked up out of the supplemental draft a year ago and most likely would have been a first round pick this past spring otherwise. He has the raw talent to become a very solid MLB for the team released Brian Simmons to let Ahmad play, but I'm not sure how his mental abilities will coincide. The bengals will definitely miss Pollack and Thurman, but it's for the best IMO on Odell. I the think Ed Hartwell pick up from the Falcons will do jack-shit for the team and Landon Johnson and Rashaad Jeanty will be average at best. Hopefully the LB's will gel together and surprise Bengals fans, for how far the Bengals go in the playoffs is up to them. Bottom Line, how good the offense will matter. Carson will eat up the secondary of the Browns and Steelers leading to a 4-0 record agasint them and go 1-1 agaisnt the Ravens, who I am scared of with McGahee in their ranks. 11-5, 5-1 divison. Tie for the best record with the Ravens. Browns 6-10, 1-5. Steelers 7-9, 2-4

Logan said...

Well, it took almost three hours to read that book and there's only one word to describe it...propaganda. Allow me to summarize. Offense good. Defense bad.

Daris said...

i definitely agree with all of Log's picks. ravens win, bungal's finish in last.