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2007 NFL Preview - AFC North
By Raul Smith, MOP Squad Sports Staff Writer
Aug 10, 2007 - 3:19:58 PM

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Many say that predicting the NFL season is like trying to win the Idaho lottery: it’s pretty much a crapshoot.   In the past, I’ve experienced that for myself.   And it’s easy to see why: there are only sixteen games in a season, teams can get really hot or really cold really fast, players can go down with season-ending injuries, others come from out of nowhere to make a name for themselves, etc.   You can go on and on with any number of reasons why the NFL is so hard to predict.   But yet, we media members are going to go right ahead and predict it anyway.


So, without further ado, I bring to you my annual NFL prediction columns.   As we head out into the preseason, I will take a look at the NFL, division-by-division.   I’ll give you my thoughts on each team in that division, why I think that team will/won’t be any good this season, and give you an estimated order of finish in that division, one through four.


Yesterday, I wrapped up the NFC.   Today, I start the AFC portion of my columns with perhaps the toughest division race between three teams in the AFC North.


Baltimore Ravens

Head Coach : Brian Billick

Offense : the Ravens’ offense did undergo a slight change this season, losing running back Jamal Lewis while acquiring running back Willis McGahee from the Bills.   Aside from that, and the aging factor, it’s the exact same offense.   Steve McNair, Todd Heap, Mark Clayton, Derrick Mason, and a banged-up offensive line are back once again.   The key factor will be the offensive line and how well they’ll protect McNair.   The draft selection of offensive lineman Ben Grubbs from Auburn should help, but most certainly not by itself.

Defense : the defense also underwent a slight change this season.   They lost linebacker Adalius Thomas, but didn’t acquire anybody of significance.   Ray Lewis is still the unquestioned leader of this defense, which should help offset the loss of Thomas.

Overall : Baltimore may not have the youth of Pittsburgh’s defense or even the look of Cincinnati’s offense, but they have a solid group of guys on offense and a defense that still ranks among the league’s elite.   That should be good enough to win the division this year.

Prediction : AFC North Division Champions


Cincinnati Bengals

Head Coach : Marvin Lewis

Offense : perhaps the scariest-looking offense in the AFC North, the Bengals return with all the familiar faces: Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Rudi Johnson, Jeremi Johnson, and perhaps the best offensive line in the AFC North.

Defense : as scary as the offense is, the defense is not really that good.   Bad enough to lose defensive back Kevin Kaesviharn and linebacker Brian Simmons both to the Saints, even worse is that they didn’t do much to improve that defense, other than drafting cornerback Leon Hall from Michigan.   However, they do have a solid enough linebacker unit, a decent secondary, and an average defensive line, so that might be a good thing.

Overall : while the defense will probably cost Cincinnati a few games, their high-powered offense will be something to watch for sure.  Just think the Chiefs’ offense five years ago.   That’s how good the Bengals offense can be this year, if not better.   That, alone, should win 2nd in the division and a possible wild card.

Prediction : 2nd in AFC North, Wild Card Berth


Cleveland Browns

Head Coach : Romeo Crennel

Offense : well, looking at the positive first…the good news is the running back position is now finally anchored by longtime Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, and the team drafted offensive lineman Joe Thomas from Wisconsin and quarterback Brady Quinn from Notre Dame.   Oh, and Joe Thomas has signed his rookie contract offer.   The bad news is Brady Quinn is holding out, you still have Charlie Frye at quarterback, you still have a subpar offensive line outside of Thomas, you still have Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius as your top two receivers, and Kellen Winslow Jr. is still your top tight end.   Other than all of that, you should be okay.

Defense : instead of breaking it down little-by-little, I will just say that if not for linebacker Willie McGinest, this wouldn’t just be the worst defense in the division or even the conference, it’d be the worst defense in the entire NFL.

Overall : this has to be getting old for Browns fans.   Browns fans are probably thinking, “Why even bother bringing our team back if this is what you’re going to do to it?”

Prediction : 4th in AFC North (again), possibly top three in draft (again)


Pittsburgh Steelers

Head Coach : Mike Tomlin is entering his first season as a head coach in the NFL after one season as the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings and five seasons before that as the defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Offense : the offense looks pretty good this season; maybe not Cincinnati Bengals scary good, but good nonetheless.   Having Ben Roethlisberger as your quarterback sure as hell doesn’t suck.   Just like I’m sure it wouldn’t suck if all of his top receivers from last year (Hines Ward, Nate Washington, Santonio Holmes, and Cedrick Wilson) and his top tight end (Heath Miller) are back, along with his two top running backs in “Fast” Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport.   It also helps that they got a third good running back to backup Parker and Davenport in former 49ers and Jets running back Kevan Barlow.   The offensive line may be one of the best in the league, based on their experience.

Defense : the Steelers’ defense may be the best in the division.   Their top players from every position are back, with the exception of linebacker Joey Porter.   The draft addition of Lawrence Timmons from Florida State should help offset that loss.

Overall : while the veteran leadership and experience of Big Ben will help the Steelers avoid a fate similar to the Browns, it won’t be enough to make the playoffs.

Prediction : 3rd in AFC North, won’t make the playoffs


So, looking at everything overall, here’s how the AFC North shapes up:

1.)      Ravens

2.)      Bengals

3.)      Steelers

4.)      Browns


Tomorrow, I head to the AFC West, home of perhaps two of the worst teams in the NFL and a pretty good two-team race for a division title.

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