The AFC North has had the same two teams on top for quite some time now, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. Sure, the Bengals made the playoffs last season and are on the up, but the AFC North reminds me of the AL East in baseball. The two teams at the top are very hard to topple. Baltimore almost made the Super Bowl last season and won the division. Will they repeat as division champs again?
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
Ben Roethlisberger is a two time Super Bowl winner for a reason: he is a pretty good quarterback. The Steelers had another playoff season in 2011, but it ended surprisingly early to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. This season starts with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos which promises to be entertaining. The Steelers offense is not what I would call high flying, but they do get the job done on a regular basis. Holdout Mike Wallace is back, but he has not practiced much. Wallace may not be a big factor at the beginning of the season, or even worse, he may get injured because of lack of a training camp.
Also, the Steelers have hired Todd Haley to help the offense. I do not have a lot of faith in Haley, as he did not really do a stellar job as the head man in KC. That being said, if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. If he lets Big Ben do what he has done over the past few seasons, the Steelers should be able to win the division and get back to the playoffs.
And what is there to say about the Steelers defense? It has been good, and will continue to be good. Pittsburgh has been fun to watch, and that will continue. I look for the Steelers to beat the Bengals and Browns twice and split with the Ravens to take the division.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
This team won the division last season, but it won't sweep the division this season like in 2011. The Steelers are not going to get swept two years in a row by the Ravens, and for that reason alone the division will not go to the Ravens this season. With Flacco at quarterback, Ray Rice at running back, and a pretty solid receiving core including Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin the offense should be pretty good again this season. If Baltimore opens up Flacco and really let him chuck the ball down the field this season, their offense could be even better.
The Ravens have always been known for their defense, but this season it won't be as good as we all have come to expect over the last five to ten years. Ray Lewis, although great, is not getting any younger, and the loss of Terrell Suggs is not going to help things on the defensive side of the ball. It won't be a big step back, but it will be an adjustment for the defense this season. Also, they have a very tough schedule which includes the Patriots, Texans, Cowboys, Giants, and Broncos just to name a few. Still, they will make the playoffs pretty easily, but as a wild card.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
Andy Dalton was surprisingly good last season and lead the team to their first playoff appearance in a very long time. The last time the Bengals had back to back playoff experiences was five years before Andy Dalton was born. His favorite target in 2011, Jerome Simpson (no relation to Jessica, Bart, or O.J.) is not a Bengal anymore, but a Viking. He does have A.J. Green and rookie Dre Kirkpatrick who should be a pretty good pair for Dalton, and the pick up of Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis should help the offense as well.
Their defense is pretty good, but not good enough to stand up to the Steelers and Ravens. They play the NFC East and the AFC West giving them one hard division (NFC East) and one easy division (AFC West). Inside their own division is going to be tough, so improving on last season's record seems unlikely.
Cleveland Browns (4-12)
The Browns have finally decided who their quarterback is going to be, and it is not Colt McCoy. In my humble opinion (and in full disclosure I am a UT fan) Colt wasn't the main problem last season. Instead they are starting 28 year old rookie Brandon Weedon. Weedon was a good college quarterback at Oklahoma State, but he had an offensive line at Oklahoma State.
In truth, the Browns O-line has been bad for a long time, but they have been drafting O-lineman early in drafts over the past few seasons. What the Browns have now is a young offensive line protecting a rookie quarterback. They have a chance to have a good line in another season or two, but most likely not this season. The Browns offense will struggle to score again this season, and Weedon will get a whole lot of exercise running away from potential sackers.
On the defensive side their supposed best player, cornerback Joe Haden is reportedly going to miss four games for failing a drug test and has also been reported to have some serious attitude problems. Overall, it is going to be another ugly season for the Cleveland Browns and at some point you will see McCoy back with the starting job.
This post was written by Ben Dieter and originally appeared on thehaguesports.com. Check it out for more clever sports commentary.