Thursday, August 11, 2011

2011 NFL Preview -- AFC North

Sorry Browns fans. Even when you win, you lose. Good ride Peyton Hillis...time to die.
Apart from a few inconsequential signings and the impending un-retirement of Brett Favre (and Randy Moss), the frenzied NFL off-season is over and done with. With rosters in place and training camps under way, we now have a slightly clearer picture of what the 2011 NFL season will look like. Of course, no one can actually know what will happen during the season, but it sure is fun to speculate!
  Continuing with our 2011 NFL Preview, let's be careful to avoid all pubic bathrooms as we preview the AFC North. In case you missed them, here are the other division's I've previewed.

AFC West
NFC West
AFC South
NFC South

AFC North...

...or, as it's more commonly known, Steelers vs. Ravens. Aside from a random and extremely rare Bengals surge in 2005 and 2009 (how in the world did that happen?), one of these two teams has won the title every year since 2002. Aside from a miraculous reverse Madden jinx that allows Peyton Hillis to run for 2000 yards AND sack the QB 30 times, it's safe to say this year will be more of the same.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 13-3

Biggest Addition/Loss: Who cares? The Steelers, like the Colts and Patriots, have been a rotating door over the past few decades. They draft a player, develop him, get a few good years out of him, and let him walk in free agency. Of course, this only works when you draft as well as these teams do. Think of all the good linebackers the Steelers have drafted/jettisoned in the past. Earl Holmes, Levon Kirkland, Kendrell Bell, Clark Haggans, Larry Foote, Chad Brown...the list is endless! Safe to say that if Pittsburgh is letting them hit free agency, then they probably don't have much left. Knowing that, it's almost irrelevant to talk about a Steelers offseason. They have their core in place, and they keep the right guys off the market. Nothing to see here.

Best Loss: T Flozell Adams - Adams is a fat piece of false start crap! I have never seen a dumber football player in all my life! Seriously, it didn't seem like a Cowboy game unless Adams committed at least one false start!

Biggest Question: Can Ben Roethlisberger keep his...well, you know. OK, fine. I'll do a serious one. Can Troy Polamalu stay healthy? I hate to boil it down to such a simple statement, but Polamalu is the Steelers defense. In 2009, Polamalu missed 11 games and the defense surrendered an average of 20.3 points per game. Last year, with Polamalu back on the field and in top form, the defense surrendered an average of 14.5 points per game. That's almost a touchdown difference!!! Now, Polamalu isn't solely responsible for a TD a game, but he might not actually be that far off. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, Polamalu is now 30 years old, and his reckless style of playing will likely shorten his effective career. Significantly. If they can coax another All-Pro year or two out of him, then there's really no other major question marks. I suppose you can call the offensive line a question mark, but does it really matter who's up front with Big Ben running around in the backfield for 15 seconds per play?

Note: People, stop with the "can they avoid distractions" talk! The idea that teams are distracted by stuff like Harrison's comments or Mendenhaal's tweets is stupid. I'm sure Mendenhaal will miss many holes because he can't get over being dropped by Champion. What a joke. This is a professional football team! It's the Steelers! They weren't bothered by rapist Big Ben so why would that change now?

Summary: 13 wins might seem high, but their schedule sets up nicely for them. Bengals and Browns games are easy wins and you know they'll beat Baltimore at least once. If that weren't enough, they get the pleasure of playing the NFC West! The only thing that will prevent them from winning 12+ games is injury.

2. Baltimore Ravens: 11-5

Fake Biggest Addition: S Bernard Pollard - Maybe he can take out Roethlisberger's knee?

Real Biggest Addition: FB Vonta Leach - For a supposed 'running team,' the Baltimore Ravens weren't very effective at running the ball. Ray Rice racked up over 1200 yards, but his Y/A fell to just 4.0. Even worse, the Ravens, as a team, averaged only 3.8 Y/A. Replacing Le'Ron McClain with Leach should help get those numbers back up. As you may remember, Leach was the lead blocker for the Texans last know, the team that saw Arian Foster come out of nowhere to lead the league in rushing. Like I said in the AFC South preview, that's not all on Leach, but he definitely had something to do with it. Whatever that something was, the Ravens are going to need him to bring it on over to Baltimore to improve an offense that ranked just 22nd in the NFL. If he can help create just a few more holes per game, it could go a long ways towards getting this running game back on track. And when the Ravens can run...

Biggest Loss: Too many veterans cut! I can't pick! - Almost as soon as the new CBA was done, the Ravens gave us a sobering reminder of what the salary cap can be like. After being part of this super productive core for years, guys like Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, and Kelly Gregg were unceremoniously kicked to the curb in the name of cap space. Mason and Heap stand out as potentially tough losses for a team obsessed with ball control. I made a lot of jokes about their 'check down offense'  last season, but those two were vital safety valves for One Read Joe Flacco. Maybe Flacco will be better, maybe Ed Dickson or Dennis Pitta will step up at TE...I just don't think they adequately replaced two solid veteran pass catchers like Mason and Heap. Could come back to haunt them.

Biggest Question: Does Joe Flacco have another level? He's got to be better at going through his progressions. I know Ray Rice is a great receiver out of the backfield, but it's hard to get the offense going when Flacco panics and throws a 3 yard pass. Yes, his numbers were fantastic by the end of the year, but he's definitely got some work to do. If he can push the ball downfield a bit more, especially to Anquan Boldin, the entire offense could look totally different.

Summary: As always, there's plenty of issues with the Ravens. They have a severe lack of depth at receiver, and they have a lot of age on both sides of the ball. Somehow, this team always makes it work. I won't bet against them until they give me a reason to. Ray Lewis would kill me if I did...literally.

3. Cleveland Browns: 6-10

Biggest Addition: Draft picks from the Julio Jones trade - In fairness, landing John Greco was a great move for the Browns. They needed help on the right side of their line, and Greco is more than capable of holding his own. Still, it's extremely troubling that they did nothing about the complete lack of talent at the WR position. Sure, they drafted Greg Little in the 2nd round, but he's likely a ways off from contributing at the NFL level. Overall, the team still has major problems and they likely aren't going to improve on their modest win total from last year. With the additional picks, maybe they can go ahead and draft someone who can actually catch the ball?

Biggest Loss: RB Peyton Hillis - Madden Curse. He's as good as dead. I thought about making this my Biggest Question, but it's not much of a question, is it? He's definitely going to get hurt. I've got money on Week 7...anyone else in?

Biggest Question: Can they take advantage of their early schedule. They had a nice early schedule last year too. After a full offseason with Colt McCoy, maybe they are better equipped to get it going sooner rather than later. In their first 8 games, Cleveland will face Cincy at home, Miami at home, Tennesse at home, Oakland on the road, Seattle at home, and San Francisco on the road. That's 6 VERY winnable games. After that, the schedule is still pretty reasonable. Houston on the road, St. Louis at home, Jacksonville at home, and Cincinnati on the road are also winnable. The Browns aren't going to win all 10 of these games, but if they can pull 6 or 7 out, they might actually have a chance at a .500 record! For the Browns, that's almost like winning the Super Bowl!

Summary: In reality, the entire season rests on Colt McCoy. In saying that, I'm not even talking about winning or losing. For years, the Browns have searched and searched for an answer at QB. Other than an aberrant Derek Anderson season, they've been extremely unsuccessful in that search. McCoy is their most recent attempt. He showed a lot of promise last year, and he has the intangible qualities that seperate him from guys like Anderson. I, personally, love him to death, but the jury is definitely out. Unfortunately, he might not actually be getting a fair shot given the receiving options he has...which is to say, none. Don't get me wrong, the win-loss record is important, but it's even more important that Colt takes the next step and puts a stranglehold on this job.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: 4-12

Biggest Addition: Another year of age that puts Mike Brown closer to death - I'm not trying to sound like a terrible person, but this franchise is going nowhere until idiot Mike Brown is gone. Since he's too stupid and stubborn to cede control to someone who knows what the heck they're doing, that will have to wait until he's dead. Bengals fans are counting down. Can you blame them?

Biggest Loss: QB Carson Palmer - He's not been the same Carson Palmer since the injuries, but he still gives them a fighting chance. He looked much better in the last 3 games of the season, which gave some hope that perhaps he wasn't washed up. Personally, I think having TO and Ochocinco out there running whatever route they felt like was a big reason Palmer struggled.  Regardless, we'll probably never know. As I've said before, there's plenty of blame to go around, but the real loser is the team. Palmer was capable of giving them some measure of respectability, but that's all gone. With rookie WR A.J. Green on board with young up and comers like Jordan Shipley and Jerome Simpson, this could have been an explosive offense. Now, they're stuck with Bruce Gradkowski or Andy Dalton. That's a tough blow for a team that really shouldn't be this bad.

Biggest Question: Does Carson break? I won't spend much time on this since I just talked about it, but nothing can be more important than the Carson Palmer issue. The team is hoping he'll break and come back. If he does, the whole season will be different...but it doesn't seem like he iwll.

Summary: I've always liked the Bengals, and it sucks that this is happening to them. If Palmer does indeed stay away, then they need to commit to Andy Dalton as soon as possible. Fact is, they're going to lose a lot of games. They need to know if Dalton is their guy or if they should direct their gaze towards Andrew Luck. Since I think Dalton sucks, I'd probably start evaluating Luck...if they had a scouting department that is. I guess it's time to turn on ABC, Mike Brown!


  1. hey..........

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  2. Well, that was awkward.....

    Okay, moving right along! You mention the Ravens' and Steelers' dominance since 2002... you could even paint a bleaker picture by saying that, from 2002, you'd have to go back to 1990 to see a Browns/Bengals division win! Ouch.

  3. It wasn't the AFC North before 2002.

  4. I didn't say it was the AFC North... I said you'd have to go back that far to see "a division win". But the point is the same - they all still played together when it was the AFC Central (aside from the fact that the Browns seized to exist for a couple years there!).

  5. 1. That wouldn't go towards the Ravens-Steelers thing though because Tennessee and Jacksonville won 3 straight from 98-00. Also, I'm previewing the AFC North! Not the AFC Central! You California people make me sick!

    2. I'm hoping you used the word 'seized' on purpose to describe the short period of time the Browns did not exist. How appropriate would that be?!

  6. Okay, I guess I see your point - you were making it about the Steelers and Ravens. I see that. I guess in my mind, it's always been more about how unbelievably awful the Bengals and Browns are (you better believe that's what's on my mind this year - my 9ers could really use 2 wins!).

    Perhaps that's not fair, at least to the Bengals, who have actually been decent a couple times in that span... but I just LOVE how Ohio sports fans ALWAYS think their teams are going to be amazing, and they are almost always disappointed... and then they make excuses... and then they talk about how great they'll be next year... and then they're disappointed... and then they complain about the Yankees in the 90's and how unfair it was for the Indians... hahaha!

  7. As a Browns fan, and Prince can attest to this, I picked them to go 6-10 this year and Hillis to get hurt possibly as soon as week 2...Browns fans have, for as long as I can remember, called the other team the Cincinnati "next year's our year" Bengals. Last year I think I predicted the Browns to go 7-9 behind Seneca...then that didn't happen. I don't live in, around, or really all that near Cleveland, but by and large, I don't see my fellow Browns fans as deluded into thinking we'll compete with the team we have.

  8. They're out there...a lot of them. I hear them calling into Columbus radio shows all the time, talking about how they're ready to take the next step and compete for a wild card spot. I applaud their passion. It has to be rough cheering for a team that ALWAYS fails, but it's extremely an extremely unrealistic view. I like this team, I like Colt McCoy, I hope they go crazy and win the division. As you and I both agree though, it's not happening this year.

  9. WAAAAAAAAYYYYY too many holes...and a (most likely) wasted 1st pick this year...Let's hope Robiskie becomes Andre Johnson in weird invasion of the body snatchers scenario.

  10. Oh...and also...I had the good pleasure of watching Andy Dalton show the Bengals exactly what they paid for tonight against the Lions...and now I'm convinced that you need to change your Cincy prediction to 1-15 (They'll beat the Browns once just because I said this)

  11. Andy Dalton that bad? Hard to overrate a team at 4-12, but then again, this is the Bengals.

  12. his first snap, he threw a playaction pass to Houston (sp? DB for DET) as if he was the intended receiver. At half, and he played most of the first half, the Lions had committed enough penalties to earn the Bengals 69 yards, which was more than Cincy's total offense. The only 3 pts they scored were on a bad punt that went OB around midfield, then 2 personal fouls to get them to a 27 yd FG. The Lions are much improved, but Cincy is just that bad, from what I saw...and the TV broadcast kept showing Carson standing around looking mildly amused at the SUCK that was taking place in front of him.

  13. Well...uh...that sound promising...