Saturday, September 1, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: AFC North

1st Place, Baltimore Ravens: 12-4

Offense: QB Joe Flacco, RB Ray Rice, WR Torrey Smith, WR Anquan Boldin, T Bryant McKinnie, T Michael Oher

Defense: DT Haloti Ngata, LB Ray Lewis, LB Jameel McClain, LB Courtney Upshaw (R), CB Lardarious Webb, S Ed Reed,

The Ravens took a huge hit over the spring, losing their top defensive talent for most, if not all of 2012 to a torn Achilles tendon. Still, the veteran led Ravens have a strong enough defense to overcome the loss, especially if they get a big rookie year out of Courtney Upshaw and the slimmed down Ray Lewis. Offensively, coach John Harbough is ready to open up the playbook for Joe Flacco, and he's got the perfect wideout to take shots deep with in Torrey Smith. This offenses success again will rely on Ray Rice though, and the effectiveness of their offensive line. If the Ravens offense improves like many believe it will, it'll will take a lot of slack off their D.

2nd Place, Pittsburgh Steelers: 10-6*

Offense: QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Issac Redman, RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Mike Wallace, WR Antonio Brown, C Maurkice Pouncey

Defense: DE Brett Keisel, LB LaMarr Woodley, LB James Harrison, LB Lawrence Timmons, CB Ike Taylor, S Troy Polamalu, S Ryan Clark

Although the Steelers D was tops in the NFL a year ago, they face a much tougher task in 2012. They're a year older and didn't add much to their roster in the offseason. Plus they're undergoing an identity change on offense, in which they'll be relying on the backfield much more often, something that they got away from with Roethlisberger under center. Still, they have two extremely talented wideouts in Wallace and Brown, and will have a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield after Mendenhall returns in October sometime. They will need some young players to step up on defense, and their offensive line and they should be alright. Not the powerhouse of 4-5 years ago, but a solid all around squad nonetheless.

3rd Place, Cincinatti Bengals: 9-7

Offense: QB Andy Dalton, RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis, WR A.J. Green, TE Jermaine Gresham, T Andrew Whitworth

Defense: DT Geno Atkins, DE Michael Johnson, LB Ray Maualuga, LB Thomas Howard, CB Leon Hall, S Reggie Nelson

The Bengals are one of the up and coming teams in the AFC, but they play in one the NFL's best divisions. They don't have a lot of room for error, and I just don't think their offense is deep enough to keep up with Pittsburgh quite yet. They're headed in the right direction though with Dalton and Green, but they need a couple other pass catchers to emerge. Defensively, they should be even better than last years bunch that ranked 7th in the league. Cinci has a strong front-7 and a sturdy secondary that should help keep them in most games they play. If they get a big year out of the "Law Firm" and get a few receivers not named Green to produce, they could very well overthrow the Steelers.

4th Place, Cleveland Browns: 5-11

Offense: QB Brandon Weeden (R), RB Trent Richardson (R), WR Greg Little, T Joe Thomas

Defense: DE Jabaal Sheard, DT Ahtyba Rubin, LB D'Qwell Jackson, CB Joe Haden, CB Sheldon Brown

The Browns are in the middle of the rebuilding process, but they hope they found their offensive backfield to lead them through it. They took halfback Trent Richardson and QB Brandon Weeden early in April's draft, and both are expected to play heavy roles for the Browns right off the bat. Unfortunately for Weeden though, other than Greg Little, there aren't many options to throw to. Cleveland will likely rely on the defense and running game to set the tone for them, but neither is good enough yet to carry them.

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