The AFC North is usually defined by the two big boys, the Steelers and Ravens, and every once in awhile the Bengals will pop up and surprise, like they did in 2011.
Last year this division sent three playoff teams – Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincy. While they will have more than one team in the 2012 Super Bowl tourney, it won’t be three.
Here’s our breakdown of the AFC North, along with what team (or teams) will make the postseason.
1. Baltimore (11-5) – The Ravens are steaming after falling short in the AFC Title game due to a missed chip shot by Billy Cundiff, who was cut mostly because of it. Joe Flacco needs to have another good year, and Ray Rice needs to grind out yards like he did last season as well. The defense will be tested by the loss to Terrell Suggs, but he should be back in time for this team to make another playoff run.
2. * Pittsburgh (11-5) – Yes, like last season, I think the Steelers and Ravens will tie for a division title, but Baltimore will have more AFC wins, thus winning the division. It’s gonna be interesting to see the new Steelers O with Todd Haley running the show, but the loss of vets like James Farrior and Hines Ward could have his team in a bit of flux. With that, 11 wins for a team that has shown it could run the table on the road and win the Super Bowl without a home game.
3. Cincinnati (7-9) – I think this team takes a step back in year two for Andy Dalton, as the Bengals have some holes they need to fill, and they will stay competitive with 7 wins, and probably be close in a lot of other games, just not finish them. Dalton and A.J. Green are a solid 1-2 combo, and they need to get production from new running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis. The D-line is solid, they will keep them in games.
4. Cleveland (4-12) – A new year, same results. The Browns have a new owner, and they seem to have some sort of direction, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done with this group. They are starting 28-year-old Brandon Weeden, and hope he and new RB Trent Richardson can give the offense a huge upgrade. The O-line still has holes, as does a lot on defense, more so with the linebackers. Weeden needs to learn the pro game fast, but it won’t be enough to get past four wins.