The two teams that faced off in the AFC Title game a season ago came from the AFC North, and once again 2009 looks like a dogfight between the Steelers and Ravens. The Bengals are a team that could look better this year, and the Browns have a new look with a new coach. Here’s the breakdown of the AFC North:
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – The Steelers a year ago had the NFL’s toughest schedule, but came though and ended up with a 6th Super Bowl title. This year they seem to be primed for another run, and return 20 of 22 starters. Their defense was #1 in the league, and the offense came up big when they needed it trailing 23-20 in the Super Bowl with 2 minutes left. The O-line and running games are still issues, and we’ll see if at some point that comes back to bit them in 2009.
Baltimore Ravens (9-7) – It remains to be seen truly how big losing defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and LB Bart Scott will be for this club. They did get back team leader Ray Lewis, and he’ll be counted on to have a big year despite being a year older. As for the offense, Joe Flacco will be allowed to throw more, and Ray Rice is going to be the feature back. It will be tough to be as good as a year ago, but again should be in line for a wild card spot.
Cincinnati Bengals (8-8) – The Bengals get their best player back in Carson Palmer, and he right away makes them a better unit. The defense has a number of young talented players, and it remains to be seen if Chad Ochocinco can rebound and be the WR he was before last season. The running game is a big question as Cedric Benson will be the feature back. They may start slow, but this club by years end could start to turn some heads.
Cleveland Browns (5-11) – New coach, new starting QB, same results. Sorry Browns fans, your team is once again going to have a long season. Eric Mangini wants his team to be more fundamentally sound than a year ago, and while they may, they still don’t have the talent to compete in a tough division. The fan base is going to get what they want in getting to see Brady Quinn as the starter at QB, but it’s not going to translate into a lot of wins in 2009.