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- AFC North Outlook: It's Not Raven

Chris Pokorny September 1, 2004
Chris Pokorny
PFC Owner & Writer

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NFC East 2004 Season Predictions - by Chris Pokorny

I have to say I am very impressed with all of the teams in the AFC North. Last year this was considered a rather weak division. This year I believe that every team in this division will be competitive. I know that the preseason doesn't really "count", but the Steelers, Browns, Ravens, and Bengals have shown some good signs during the offseason. Now, I know that when I say my first place team in this division, you will be thinking that I am biased towards the Browns because I live in Cleveland. I can't blame you, because not too many people rank the Browns very high. However, I am seeing a huge upgrade in the Browns from last year - and even better than they were in their playoff game two years ago. Therefore, I'm sure you guessed this...

1st Place - Cleveland Browns

No, don't stop reading this column and think that I'm being unrealistic. Now, I likely would have put the Ravens in this spot if they didn't have so many questions regarding non-football related issues. Anyway, let me get on with the Browns assessment. Tim Couch is gone, and now Couch is struggling to make the Packers as a third back up. How did the Browns survive games with him? Jeff Garcia is now in Cleveland, but has stuff to prove as well. Garcia was one of the best quarterbacks a few years ago, but injuries have slowed him down in San Francisco. Garcia gives the Browns a mobile quarterback, but I don't think he will be doing a lot of throwing. Lee Suggs and William Green have been doing unbelievable things in the preseason. Kellen Winslow has been somewhat of a controversy around the league, but there is a very good chance that he could be dominating for the passing game. The defense will be tested week one against the Ravens, mainly because of how badly Jamal Lewis tore them up last year on a few runs.

2nd Place - Pittsburgh Steelers

"What the heck?" is probably what you are thinking. You thought it may be ridiculous that I ranked the Browns above the Ravens, but now the Steelers too? This one you can't base on the Steelers being my favorite team, because they are an archrival to the Browns. But looking at the big picture, I don't think it's possible for the Steelers offense to struggle for two straight years. Hines Ward and Plexico Burress have too much talent to have another quiet season. Duce Staley upgrades their running game from last year, and Bettis is still a good back-up. I think Tommy Maddox should go for most of the year, and like the Giants, I think the Steelers should stick with Maddox unless they know for sure that they are out of contention.

3rd Place - Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have very high hopes this season. Just take in to mind that I am still predicting the Ravens to finish around .500. If Baltimore could develop a passing game, I would definitely rank them first in this division, without question. I know they survived last season with what they have now, but I still can not be convinced that Jamal Lewis will survive another whole season healthy, along with his trial going on at the same time. Their defense should still be very good, and will probably be the reason they win most of the games that they do. This pick could be the one that really makes me look like a fool at the end of the season, but I'd rather stick with my own opinion rather than being convinced by the majority.

4th Place - Cincinnati Bengals

This would also be different if the Bengals had kept Jon Kitna as their starting quarterback. If Carson Palmer struggles to start the season, I think it'd be a big mistake to pull him then, because it would be a shot to his confidence. Chad Johnson will probably have another Pro Bowl type season. On their running attack, they have chosen to go with Rudi Johnson, and drafted Chris Perry as the backup. Johnson looked great last season, but is still needs to prove that he can stay consistent, which I think he will do at the moment. The defense is nothing special in my mind. Last year was a nice overall season for the Bengals, but I see the Bengals as the Browns or Steelers of last year.

Next up, we look at the NFC North, where I will announce my first Super Bowl team. Could it be the Packers, Vikings, Bears, or the Lions?

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