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- K Dawg Previews the AFC North Division

Kevin Figgers August 9, 2006
Kevin Figgers
NFL Columnist

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It's that time of year again. The NFL is back. And, "In the Dawg Pound" will be making its return to PFCritics, fresh and new for the 2006 season. Stay tuned. For the next four weeks, leading up until opening night between the Dolphins and the Steelers, I will be giving my divisional previews for each division finally culminating with my playoff and Superbowl predictions. We will begin our Divisional Previews with the AFC North:

Cleveland Browns

Key Additions: LB Willie McGinest (Patriots)
C Lecharles Bentley (Saints)
OT Kevin Schaffer (Falcons)
DT Ted Washington (Raiders)
WR Joe Jurevicius (Seahawks)

Key Losses: WR Antonio Bryant (49ers)
LB Ben Taylor (Packers)
L.J. Shelton (Dolphins)
DT Jason Fisk (Rams)

The Cleveland Browns are a team that quietly made some significant moves this off-season. Head Coach Romeo Crennell brought in two of his former New England Patriots (Washington and McGinest) to provide some veteran leadership to a young defense. Charlie Frye did a solid job as the starter in the second half of last year and should be much improved. Bentley and Schaffer solidify that offensive line (however, Bentley suffered a serious injury in the first week of training camp and is already done for the season).

While the Browns won’t make the playoffs, with a full year under Crennell’s belt and much needed veteran leadership, I look for the Browns to be very competitive, and maybe even surprise some people.

Projected Record: 5-11

Baltimore Ravens

Key Additions: RB Mike Anderson (Broncos)
QB Steve McNair (Titans)
DL Trevor Pryce (Broncos)

Key Losses: FS Will Demps (Giants)
HB Chester Taylor (Vikings)
LB Tommy Polley (Saints)
DE Anthony Weaver (Texans)

The Baltimore Ravens are banking on a lot of things going right for them to be successful this season. They acquired Steve McNair from Tennessee in hopes of solving their almost decade-long quarterback problems. They hope that Jamal Lewis can return to his 2003 form where he was an MVP candidate. Should Lewis go down, Mike Anderson is a solid veteran backup who can certainly pickup the slack. They can only hope that Ray Lewis and Trevor Pryce can return to their All-Pro form. If everything goes right, there is no reason why this team can’t win it all.

While the Ravens have the talent to win it all, there are just too many question marks. The Ravens will be in contention all year, however inconsistent play from the quarterback position will cost them a chance at the post-season.

Projected Record: 7-9

Cincinnati Bengals

Key Additions: DT Sam Adams (Bills)
QB Anthony Wright (Ravens)
FS Dexter Jackson (Buccaneers)
WR Antonio Chapman (Packers)

Key Losses: QB John Kitna (Lions)
TE Matt Schobel (Eagles)

When they aren’t in their weekly meeting with their probation officers, the Bengals actually do play football. The season hinges almost entirely on the health of quarterback Carson Palmer. Should Palmer not be healthy enough to start the season, the Bengals will go with the very unpredictable Anthony Wright under center. With Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry the Bengals running game will be solid once again. Sam Adams should improve the defense up the middle, and the defense as a whole should be much improved after another training camp under one of the best defensive minds of the last decade in Marvin Lewis.

The Bengals will overcome all of the off-season problems, Palmer (who as of the time this article is being written has said he is about 85% and wants to play in the pre-season) will return to his Pro Bowl form, and they will overcome what looks like a tough schedule to make it into the post-season for the second consecutive year.

Projected Record: 10-6 (Wild Card Playoff Berth)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Key Additions: DE Rodney Bailey

Key Losses: WR Antwaan Randle El (Redskins)
FS Chris Hope
DE Kimo Van Olhoffen (Jets)

The champs come into 2006 having lost 4 key players from the past year (the three listed above as well as future Hall-off-Famer Jerome Bettis). Willie Parker had a breakout season in 2005 and is no longer an unknown. Teams now have a full season’s worth of tape to scheme for him. It will be interesting to see if he is a legitimate starting NFL tailback or if last year was just an aberration. It will also be interesting to see what Roethlisburger’s role will be this season. In his first two seasons he played what is now universally called the Trent Dilfer role (meaning that his job was to manage the offense, make plays when needed and not turn the ball over). Will Bill Cower turn him loose? Or will he stay with the run first, run second, pass third philosophy that has been a big staple of his (many claim he got away from that at times with Tommy Maddox) for years? Their defense will remain one of the top 3 in the league.

I believe that a two headed monster featuring Parker and a rejuvenated Deuce Staley will continue the great tradition of a dominant Steelers running game. Big Ben will continue his steady “make plays when I need to” type of approach and after a one year hiatus the Steelers will regain the AFC North Championship, narrowly beating out the Bengals.

Projected Record: 11-5 (Division Champions)

Next, we will Preview the AFC East. Stay Tuned...

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