The AFC North may be the best division in the league, as you have 3 somewhat even teams which can beat up each other, and a Cleveland Browns team that is looking to jump into the fray and get better with a group of young players and free agents. This division has had a different division winner each of the last three seasons, meaning that 2007 could be another total toss up. Here is our breakdown of what we think will happen this season in the AFC North.
Cincinnati 2007 Prediction: 11-5 – There is no doubt that the Bengals have a ton of talent, the question is – can they put that talent to use on the field, instead of in the court rooms and in police stations? The lack of maturity last season cost the Bengals dearly, as they went from 11-5 in 2005 to 8-8 last season. This year Marvin Lewis has made it a point to make sure his players are more focused, and the opener at home vs the Ravens on Monday night September 10th is going to tell us a lot. I think the Bengals rebound and have a solid 2007 with a great offense led by Carson Palmer and a refocused defense that plays much better against the run.
Baltimore 2007 Prediction: 10-6 – The Ravens are still going to be good, but I just don’t have confidence that the offense is going to be able to score enough to win more than 10 games this year. They did make a great move in grabbing former Bills back Willis McGahee after losing Jamal Lewis, but the QB is still an aging Steve McNair, who is now 34, and a wide out core that was led by their tight end Todd Heap with 73 catches. The defense is good, but they lost linebacker Adalius Thomas and the group as a whole is getting a little long in the tooth. Jarret Johnson, who replaces Thomas, will have big shoes to fill. I expect Baltimore to contend for the division, but in the end be a wild card.
Pittsburgh 2007 Prediction: 8-8 – For the first time since 1992, the Steelers will have a new voice on the sidelines as head coach in Mike Tomlin, and the new coach will have a lot of work to do. The biggest question facing the Steelers is the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and if he can rebound from a subpar 2006. Big Ben was 23-4 in his first 27 games, which included a win in Super Bowl XL over Seattle, but last season was 8-8 as the Steelers failed to play up to the level they did in 2006. The offense will have new looks, as new coordinator Bruce Arians says he will open things up, which is to the liking of Roethlisberger. As for the defense, look for them to be more aggressive, but the secondary and linebacker core is down a bit from the past few years. Overall, this is a team that is hard to figure out, but they do have the talent to be in the playoff hunt.
Cleveland 2007 Prediction: 5-11 – The Browns might as well schedule a January 2nd 2008 press conference to announce the firing of head coach Romeo Crennel, as owner Randy Lerner already has Bill Cowher on speed dial. Cleveland had what appears to be another productive offseason, grabbing two top talents in the draft (Joe Thomas and Brady Quinn), and some high profile free agents (Eric Steinbach, Jamal Lewis). Problem is they are still weak in a lot of areas, and other teams will exploit them week after week as the losses pile up. They are not strong at QB, are slow speed wise across the board, and have issues stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. Their first four games (vs Pittsburgh, vs Cincinnati, at Oakland, vs Baltimore) will tell if Crennel even makes it through the season.