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KrazyCatFan
08-22-2005, 03:38 PM
AFC North: Steelers will be tough to bend
By Ed Bouchette
Special to NFL.com

(With the NFL regular season set to kick off on Thursday, Sept. 8, NFL.com has put together an eight-part series previewing each team division by division. Next up is the AFC North).

OVERVIEW
Few teams ever had such a rewarding season as the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004. Behind rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (13-0 as a starter), they became the first AFC team to go 15-1. Alas, it ended in an all-too-familiar place when they lost to New England in the AFC Championship Game at home.

The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals made their own runs at the playoffs. But the Ravens finished short at 9-7 when, beset by injuries, they lost four of their final six. The Bengals overcame a 1-4 start with a 7-4 sprint to finish 8-8, the first time in 15 years they've gone two straight seasons without a losing record.

Division previews

NFC West (Aug. 26)
The Cleveland Browns slipped to 4-12 and, after only nine victories the past two seasons following a 9-7 wildcard playoff team in '02, fired coach Butch Davis and decided to rebuild.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS
Cleveland has the most ground to make up in the division and the Browns wasted no time doing so with a new general manager, coach and a multitude of new veterans through trades and free agency. The Steelers, Ravens and Bengals had much quieter offseasons.

Browns GM Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel added veterans such as guards Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman, quarterback Trent Dilfer, cornerback Gary Baxter, safety Brian Russell and tackle L.J. Shelton. Rookie receiver Braylon Edwards gives Dilfer a deep threat.

Dilfer knows a little about both the division and winning Super Bowls, having helped Baltimore ring up No. XXXV. He's the old hand in a division of good young quarterbacks with Rookie of the Year Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Carson Palmer in Cincinnati and Kyle Boller with the Ravens, all former first-round draft choices not yet in their third NFL season. The Steelers hope their lone free-agent signing, Cedrick Wilson, can replace departed Plaxico Burress. Pittsburgh also drafted Heath Miller to become the tight end target it hasn't had in a decade.

The Ravens went for receiving help too, in a big way, landing Derrick Mason in free agency and Mark Clayton with their first draft choice. Guard Keydrick Vincent and cornerback Samari Rolle also joined Baltimore as veteran starters. As if the Baltimore defense hasn't been aggressive enough in this century, the Ravens will go with the 46 defense behind new coordinator Rex Ryan, whose dad, Buddy, first started it. Former Giants coach Jim Fassel takes over as Baltimore's offensive coordinator.

The Bengals added veteran defensive tackle Bryan Robinson to fortify their woeful run defense, which will be headed by new coordinator Chuck Bresnahan.

WHAT TO EXPECT
Three of the four division teams should be playoff contenders as Pittsburgh tries to hold off Baltimore and Cincinnati to defend its AFC North title, while the Steelers attempt to take that next step themselves.


All eyes will be on young Ben Roethlisberger who is coming off a stellar rookie campaign.
And the Browns? Crennel worked wonders with New England's defense; he'd have to work miracles to get Cleveland into the playoffs in his first season as its coach.

The Steelers have nowhere to go but down in the regular season after 15-1, and up in the postseason, and they're willing to make that tradeoff.

"It's not about the regular season," Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis said. "It doesn't matter what the record is. You can go 10-6 and make the playoffs. That's the bottom line -- 10-6 in the playoffs and a chance to win the Super Bowl, that's all that matters."

Baltimore's a popular pick to upend the Steelers. The two teams have split the past four division titles (including the old Central Division), and the Ravens were the only ones to beat Pittsburgh in the 2004 regular season.

Coach Jeff Fisher, whose Titans played in the old Central and who play each of the four North teams this season, picks Baltimore to win it -- all.

"They're back up to where they should be," Fisher said. "They're the team to beat this year. I would think they would make their run."

That's OK with Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, where the back-to-back 8-8 Bengals seem poised to make a move of their own. Every year, it seems, some NFL team bounces from mediocrity to Super Bowl contention. Could this be Cincy's turn?

"Getting back to mediocrity has not gone to our heads," Lewis said. "We're ready to push to get over that hump."

The Browns are merely trying to return to the hump after injuries helped unravel the past two seasons for them.

"In this situation, a lot of the talent has been hurt," Crennel said, "so you don't know exactly what you have and what they can do. But they do have talent, no question about that."

JMarkJohns
08-22-2005, 04:08 PM
Pittsburgh (12-4)
Baltimore (11-5)
Cincinnati (9-7)
Cleveland (6-10)

KrazyCatFan
08-22-2005, 04:15 PM
I like all your predictions Jmark except for the Baltimore predictions. I just dont see them losing 5 games. Im thinking 2 losses. @pittsburgh and at home against minnesota.

Zero
08-22-2005, 06:03 PM
Ravens Babyyyyyyyyyy

T-Bone
08-22-2005, 07:08 PM
Baltimore will have more than two losses.

I don't want to sound too much like a Cincinnati homer but Marvin Lewis has beaten the Ravens once both years he's been in Cincinnati and the Bengals almost always take a game from the Steelers no matter how bad they are.

BTW, why is it that when I go to ravens.com, the official site for the Yale Bulldog athletics comes up? I don't want that in my history.

JMarkJohns
08-22-2005, 07:36 PM
Bollier or how ever you spell his name (GLOBAL :fur: ) is worth at least 3 losses, maybe four. I love their defense, their back and their receiving weapons so long as Heap is healthy, but I'm not sold on Bollier at all.

It wouldn't surprise me if they win 13 games.

bleedzgreen
08-22-2005, 07:52 PM
I cant buy into Bmore yet as long as Boller is QB. He holds the ball and gets shakey quick. I would rather see Wright QB that team. They'll run the ball alot but thats all they have.

Pitt will be on top
then Cincy, Bmore and the Browns.

I think Cincy is the sleeper in the AFC this year.