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- Breakdown of the AFC North: 2007

Chris Pokorny July 29, 2007
Chris Pokorny
PFC Owner & Writer

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The AFC took a surprise turn last year when the Baltimore Ravens dominated to the point where they were able to capture the second seed in the AFC. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, teams that had made the postseason the year before, were both left out after beating each other up. This year, the Ravens are looking to control the top of the division again, while the Steelers are ready to find out what gameday is like without Bill Cowher. Where will each team finish this year?

1. Baltimore Ravens - Last year, I stated that Steve McNair was a great addition for the Ravens offense. I had faith that he could lead the Ravens to the playoffs, but I projected them to be left out because I didn't believe McNair would stay healthy for an entire season. McNair proved me wrong, as the veteran was able to manage the team more effectively than Kyle Boller ever did. The downfall of the season came in the postseason though, where McNair failed to generate much of anything against the Indianapolis Colts defense.

This year, the Ravens are returning with an almost identical offense except for one change: Willis McGahee. McGahee replaces a Jamal Lewis that was not in his prime the past two seasons, diminishing the Ravens' reputation as a solid running team. Nothing guarantees the success of McGahee in Baltimore, but you'd have to project him doing well in the AFC North against teams that aren't particular known for stopping the ground game (excluding the Steelers). Besides the addition of Ben Grubbs to the offensive line though, Brian Billick didn't do much to improve an offense that has always lacked a significant threat in the receiving game, which will definitely pose problems against teams like the Chargers and the Patriots.

The Ravens lost Adalius Thomas to the Patriots in the offseason. It's a big loss for the Ravens, but they have enough depth on their team that it won't drop production significantly. In the end, Baltimore is returning this year with one minus (Thomas) and one plus (McGahee) to their roster. The Ravens were a very good team in the regular season last year, and they'll be riding on that success again this year with hopes that things turn out better for them in the playoffs.

2. Cincinnati Bengals - The Cincinnati Bengals have tried to duplicate the Colts philosophy of outscoring opponents for several years now, but it's not working as well. Carson Palmer took a slight step backwards last season, but overall, he was by far the best quarterback in the AFC North. This year, the Bengals will still be the best offense by far in the AFC North. Unfortunately, they'll have the worst defense by far in the AFC North, and perhaps in the entire NFL.

Whether it be the many arrests or the severe injuries that the Bengals' roster has suffered, nothing has improved from a team that seemed like they were giving up 40 points a week last season (excluding their miracle three-game stretch towards the end of the season). Odell Thurman is out of the league again, David Pollack won't be returning, and the rest of the defense is filled with veterans that really aren't going to make a collective difference on game day. Drafting Leon Hall took a step in the right direction for improving the secondary, on a positive note.

Offensively, the Bengals also lost an integral part of their line in Eric Steinbach. Palmer was not protected last year as well as he had been the previous two seasons, and it showed with how often he was on the ground. With all of that said, schemes and another year of experience can always make somewhat of a difference for a team. And, the Bengals were a poorly covered overtime play away from actually making the playoffs last year. Cincinnati will still challenge for a wildcard spot throughout the final weeks of the regular season.

3. Cleveland Browns - After taking a big step backwards in the second year of the Romeo Crennel era, the Browns are looking forward to moving in a positive direction again after a very good offseason. Not only did the Browns make the most improvements in the AFC North, they probably made the second-most additions in the NFL, only behind the San Francisco 49ers. Despite those additions, the Browns aren't quite ready to get all of those players into a groove for 2007.

Since returning to the league, the biggest downfall for the Browns has been their offensive line. Fixing the line became the team's No. 1 priority in the offseason, as they added two new starters with Pro Bowl guard Eric Steinbach and rookie offensive tackle Joe Thomas. There's also a legitimate chance that former Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley will return from injury early on in the season. At the running back position, the team did away with Reuben Droughns and exchanged him with Jamal Lewis. Lewis has not been in his prime over the past two seasons, but if he returns to his old form after surgery, it could be a move that the Ravens will regret. The defense has improved moderately to make some improvements, although they're still steps away from shutting down an opposition.

The big question mark in the Browns lays in the quarterback situation. The Browns drafted Brady Quinn in the offseason, who will ultimately be their quarterback of the future. Charlie Frye will likely be the starting quarterback to begin the season, and if he struggles, it'll only be a matter of time before Quinn takes over the offense. There is a chance that Frye can duplicate the success that a guy like Drew Brees had after the Chargers drafted Philip Rivers, but making a prediction like that given Frye's history would be a little too bold.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers - Bill Cowher was a very good coach in the NFL, and that's the reason why so many teams are hoping that they can get him as their coach in 2008. Mike Tomlin has a firm plan set for the Steelers, which will change the tempo of the team. Putting the plan into effect won't be easy though, especially when the team really hasn't improved talent-wise after a disappointing year last season.

Ben Roethlisberger was in a third-year slump with Pittsburgh last year, something that many people attributed to his injuries before the season. I can understand that for the beginning of the season, but he had his share of problems all season long, most of which resulted from poor decisions. Receivers Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington have a year of experience under their belt now, but for the second season in a row, the team is putting too much faith in a mediocre receiving group. Nothing should deny the Steelers their success on the ground behind fast Willie Parker though.

The Steelers never have an issue stopping the run, but they were 20th in the league against the pass last year. Troy Polamalu should be healthier to begin this season, but nothing was done to improve the secondary in the offseason, something that the team will ultimately regret. The team's first-round pick, Lawrence Timmons, won't even have a chance to fill Joey Porter's shoes if his injuries continue piling up. Pittsburgh finished at 8-8 last year, and hoping to improve upon that with new schemes and a new coaching staff all around is hard to believe.

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