Ok ladies and gentlemen it time to talk about the REAL black and blue division. For many years now games from this division have been knockdown drag out fights. Ravens and Steelers games that are like 2 heavyweight boxers beating the ever loving snot out of each other. And now the Bengals under Marvin Lewis join the Frey with a dominant defense and run heavy offense.
Lets start with the Steelers. No Big Ben to start the season is a major issue Leftwich has performed very good when he has had to step in so I think they will be able to survive the suspension of Big Ben. Hines Ward will be productive as always and I think Wallace will be a breakout player this year. Mendenhall will have his shot to be the man, the question is can he handle a 16 game season and stay healthy? Last year the defense had a lot of injuries and all these guys will be back healthy so look for the Steelers to be right in the mix this year.
Next lets talk about the Baltimore Ravens. There is a lot of buzz around this team and a lot of talk about them going to the Super Bowl. If I remember correctly wasn't there the same buzz around the Carolina Panthers last year? On offense the Ravens add Boldin and Stallworth to finally give them a decent WR corps and Ray Rice at RB is a stud. But I have not seen nearly enough from Joe Flacco to say that he is a franchise QB and could lead a team to the Super Bowl. Yes he made it to an AFC Championship but that was because of the defense. Now to the defense. For many years just the words Ravens Defense made teams shake in their cleats. But unfortunately for Raven fans that is no longer the case. Ray Lewis is slow (got abused by Addai in the playoffs), Ed Reed is on the PUP list and will miss the first 6 weeks of the season, both CBs are hurt and won't be with the team to start the year, Sergio Kindle falls down 2 flights of stairs and fractures his skull and Cody isn't in shape. This defense will finish the year in the bottom half of the league, will the offense be able to carry the team?
The Cincinnati Bengals are the defending AFC North Champs and only got better in the offseason. The defense that was dominant was able to stay in tact and should be a force again this year. On offense they draft the top TE in te NFL draft and add T.O. at WR. I personally can't stand T.O. but having him and #85 it will make defenses be more honest and instead of 8 men in the box they will have to respect the passing game again. Last year Benson had a breakout year and put up huge numbers running against 8 man fronts. So what is going to happen when they can't bring that extra man into the box to stop the run? 2000yds in Cinci? Lastly there is Carson Palmer. He may not be that top QB he used to be but he is a steady QB who does not make mistakes and puts the balls where it needs to be.
Finally there is the Cleveland Browns. Let's be honest, there is not much to say about this team. No real starter at QB,average running game, average defense and calling anything on the Browns even average is being generous. They have a coach that should have been fired at the end of the season but was given another chance. The Browns are starting to build a good team team but they are still a good 2-3 years away from being relevant, if everything goes perfectly.
So how do I see the AFC North playing out? I have the Bengals going 11-5 and winning the division for the second straight year. Next I have the Steelers coming in at 9-7 and who knows if that will get a wild card or not. After the Steelers I have the Ravens coming in at a disappointing but not surprising to me 6-10. Old injured defenses don't get you far in the NFL today. And bringing up the rear will be the Browns at 4-12. McCoy gets some experience and the Browns show they are on the rise but just can't compete yet.