Thursday, July 30, 2009

2009 AFC North Preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a great season, as they plowed through the AFC on their way to another Super Bowl title. 2009 is a new season, and they should have a smooth sail into the playoffs with no competition coming from within the division to spoil their attempt for another AFC North championship. The Cincinnati Bengals will have to endure one of the toughest schedules in the NFL and that could disqualify them. The Baltimore Ravens showed great promise last season, but have they lost some of their nastiness on defense with the move of Rex Ryan to New York. And how bad are the Cleveland Browns…well we will find out later this season.

In order of finish:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are looking for back-to-back titles and securing their seventh Super Bowl ring in the 2009 season. Their interior defense is the best in all of the NFL, with nose tackle Casey Hampton anchoring the seven-man front. He continuously takes on multiple blockers to allow room for the inside linebackers to stuff the run. Hampton’s interior play also allows the outside backers to be more aggressive and apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Their offense has held them back from becoming a full-blown dynasty in the sport, as QB Ben Roethlisberger has a tendency to hold the ball too long for a sack or throwing an interception. Head Coach Mike Timlin has built this team to control the game clock with a strong running game.

2. Baltimore Ravens
What an impressive rookie season, as QB Joe Flacco led the Ravens to the AFC Championship game last January. Defensive intimidation is still their calling card, as opposing teams will run away from LB Ray Lewis or throwing in the direction of S Ed Reed. And all teams must respect the pass-rushing talents of DE Terrell Suggs. The Ravens biggest weakness for several seasons has been not acquiring a game-breaking receiver to stretch out opposing defenses. Their running game just isn’t strong enough to overcome the liabilities in the receiving corp.

3. Cincinnati Bengals
Team turmoil is back for another season together and they have a lot of unanswered questions. Will Chad Ochocinco return to Pro Bowl form this season? Is Carson Palmer back to full health and ready to lead this dysfunctional group to the playoffs? The Bengals had a great draft last April, as a couple of rookies on both sides of the ball could have a major impact on their success. OT Andre Smith of Alabama is considered by scouts to be the best pure run blocker coming out of college and is projected to be an above-average pass protector, which will put a smile on Palmer’s face. LB Ray Maualuga of USC could become the vocal on-field leader desperately needed for a young defense. Patience will be needed from the Bengal fan base, as talented rookies are slow to develop and prone to make mistakes.

4. Cleveland Browns
Eric Mangini has been hired to bring stability to a team that was in disarray for most of last season, as they were last in the league in scoring and giving up points. His first acquisition was LB Eric Barton, who led the New York Jets under Mangini in total tackles last season. The Browns still lack cohesive pieces and standout performers on the offensive side of the ball. They shipped often-injured, hot-headed TE Kellen Winslow to Tampa Bay, and WR Braylon Edwards has talent, but drops too many passes to be considered a big-time receiver in the league.

Written By Thomas Conroy