Following off from his look at the NFL AFC East line-up, Jon E. Bagg now casts his eye over what the NFL AFC North has to offer.
Time takes its toll and the Pittsburgh Steelers are definitely not getting any younger at all. Their offensive line is still awesome and capable of beating anyone in the league, but it’s old legs on old lags, as they say in England, and I just don’t see them remaining healthy throughout. Of course, the Ravens will be all the poorer for allowing so many superb free agents to slip through their fingers. The Browns will be better, but negligibly so, leaving the barn door open for the Bengals – Yes! Really! – to take their place in the sun.
Cincinnati Bengals: This is the season. They are for real! Division champs, y’all, and off to the Super Bowl. With depth upon depth in defense, you’ve got to love quarterback Andy Dalton’s chances. He’s a confident player who has a great rapport with a confident wide receiver in A.J. Green. Their weakness has been a reluctance to pour it on. Once the playoffs happen their weakness in the secondary will surely show. If ownership spends some money next Summer I expect a renaissance in 2014-15. Bagg says expect an 11-5 season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Big Benny Roethlisberger had his worst season ever last year. The Steelers are not a team who do adversity well. Their defense is still way past decent, but offensive issues have plagued them. An inspirational old school QB like Roethlisberger thrives on taking hits, but his tendency to improvise is, now that his legs have almost gone, potentially disastrous. If Bill Cowher were still around, none of this rot would have ever been allowed to set in. Suspect receivers and nervous running backs look different when their QB is executing. Thus, all bets are off this year. Look for an 8-7 season.
Baltimore Ravens: in spite of winning the Super Bowl last year, the Ravens were only 10-6 when they entered the playoffs. Not having Ray Lewis, Anquaun Bolding and Dennis Pitts around will hurt. That ruthless defense will still hold its own however, even against the Giants juggernaut. All their rookie defensive line is tooled to serve and protect QB Joe Flacco. Coach Harbaugh is a patient builder, as is ably supported by a very satisfied ownership. A run of good form will surely help this moody crew to get back on track should the first few games go badly. Prediction 7-8.
Cleveland Browns: Something about that Al Davis saying, “Just win, baby!” avoids definition for the losing-addicted Browns. Yet, just how bad can things be when you can give Brendan Weeden the ball? Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will have a grand time coaching Weeden and Josh Gordon, when he finally returns from suspension. Their new defense coordinator, Ray Horton, is blitz-crazy. This will make his players happy, but will not surprise opponents. Prepare for the worse! All else is gravy. Prediction 3-12.
Up next: NFL AFC South.