Wednesday, August 22, 2007

2007 Sports As Life NFL Preview - AFC North

And on we trudge...

Baltimore Ravens

If Baltimore had even had a whisper of an offence in last year's playoff game against Indianapolis it might have been the Ravens going to the Super Bowl instead of the Colts. But they didn't and you all know the rest of that story. This year the offence should get a big boost from Willis McGahee coming over from Buffalo. McGahee should be a big upgrade over Jamal Lewis, who is just a shadow of his former self - although he's still pretty good in ESPN 2K5 Football whenever I play, clearly I need to upgrade my video game collection. The Ravens better hope that McGahee can take some pressure off quarterback Steve McNair, who at this point in his career is shakier than Lindsay Lohan's hands after a weekend in Vegas. If the Ravens had any quality receivers, other than tight end Todd Heap, it might help McNair - but they don't. But Baltimore is not about offence (luckily for them) - they're all about defence. If the U.S Government and Al-Qaeda/Iraqi insurgency somehow arranged to play a football game for control of the Middle East (which by the way, would probably be the pay per view event of the millennium. Are you telling me you wouldn't want to watch Chris McAllister cover Chemical Ali running a post?) with the winner seizing full control and the loser going quietly into the night, you better believe it would be the Baltimore defence that Uncle Sam would want on his squad. They are just downright scary - hard hitting and terrifying. The Ravens did lose linebacker Adalius Thomas in the off season but don't expect much of a drop off from last season. For a team that went 13-3 last year the Ravens have a schedule of only moderate difficulty, the second half is much harder than the first though.

2007 Prediction: 12-4. If the Ravens defence can be as productive as they were last season expect Baltimore to be right at the top of the division again. And with the addition of McGahee Baltimore might just have enough to go at least a step further in the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals

I think the best way to describe the Bengals is as "The Bizarro Ravens" - meaning that they're the exact opposite of Baltimore, all offence and no defence. But what an offence. Oh, and the Bengals also have about a dozen convicts on the team too. Cincinnati has one of the most underrated running games in the league, probably because it is so overshadowed by their potent passing game. Rudi Johnson rushed for over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns last year but you almost never hear his name mentioned when people talk about the league's best backs. With quarterback Carson Palmer 100% recovered from his knee injury 2 years ago, the passing game could border on unstoppable at times this season. He has two of the game's best receivers in Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson and T.J Houshmandzadeh (yes I had to look up how to spell that). Third wide receiver Chris Henry is suspended for the first half of the season for drunk driving while wearing his own jersey, seriously who wears their own jersey. The Bengals are going to have problems on defence this year. The one hope they have is to get up on teams so quickly and by so much that it will make their opponents one dimensional. Despite having what looks like a difficult schedule at times, Cincinnati has some games that they can win - quite a few of them in fact.

2007 Prediction: 11-5. Quite honestly I have no faith in this prediction, it could easily end up being 3 games below what I'm saying here. The Bengals best chance for a good record is to outscore opponents by such a wide margin that defence won't matter. And they do have the offensive weapons to do that.

Cleveland Browns

Well since I have every other team in this division getting better, somebody had to get worse I suppose. Even though the Browns have 3 of my least favorite players in the league (actually they may be my 3 least favorite players in the league) in Brady Quinn, Kellen Winslow Jr, and Braylon Edwards, I'm not going to rip them out of spite. All the bad things I have to say about them are totally based in fact. It's going to be a totally warranted ripping. At running back the Browns boast former 2,000 yard rusher and federal prison inmate Jamal Lewis. While he's going to be an upgrade over last year's tackling dummy Reuben Droughns, opposing teams will be stacking the line of scrimmage because they don't fear Cleveland's "passing attack". And leading that "passing attack" will be future CFL-ers Charlie Fyre and Derek Anderson - and Brady Quinn, who does have the potential to be a good quarterback in a couple of years but let's just cool our jets on him a little bit right now ok people. And at receiver the Browns have Braylon Edwards, who by some accounts is one of the biggest jerks in the game. They also have wildly overrated tight end Kellen Winslow Jr, who by my account have never done much of anything in the NFL to warrant the kind of attention he gets. Cleveland may end up being the opposite of both Baltimore and Cincinnati - no offence or defence. I literally can't name on player on the Browns defence. Oh, no wait I can - Willie McGinest but the most complimentary thing you could say about him is that he's a little past his prime. It seems like Cleveland should have an easier schedule than they do. The tough part for them is that they have to play Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh twice each.

2007 Prediction: 3-13. I just don't think there's any way around it.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers cleaned house in the off season and it's a clean slate to start the year. Former Head Coach Bill Cowher retired after last season and former Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt took a head coaching job in Arizona. So the Steelers start the year with new Head Coach Mike Tomlin, the Defensive Coordinator in Minnesota last year, and new Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians - Peyton Manning's first Quarterback's Coach in Indianapolis. This change should be just what Pittsburgh needs to get over last year's Super Bowl hangover. Fast Willie Parker will be Pittsburgh's go to guy on the ground this year and Arians wants to tailor the running game to Parker's strength's, namely speed, instead of the smash-mouth days of old. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn't been hit by a car in over a year and it's almost been a year since he had an appendix removed - so this season has to start better than last season did. Big Ben still has his security blanket in receiver Hines Ward and might just have a big-play threat in Santonio Holmes. Pittsburgh still likes to play defence too. Even though they lost the somewhat overrated Joey Porter in the off season, Pittsburgh is still going to be strong defensively. Like everyone else in this division Pittsburgh has a schedule of about medium difficulty.

2007 Prediction: 11-5. I have less faith in this prediction that I do in the Cincinnati one. 9-7 might be a little more realistic for the Steelers but looking down their schedule I counted 11 winnable games for them. So who knows.

This division might be one of the strongest in football this year - with the glaring exception of Cleveland. Or I could be really, really wrong about this whole thing. If you're gambling I would suggest staying away from this division this year.

AFC North


Tomorrow - the AFC South


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