Thursday, September 8, 2011

NFL 2011 Preview : AFC North

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-Digger's Daily-

Does Pittsburgh have enough gas left in their aging tanks to make another Super Bowl run. They've played in two of three past Super Bowl games. Baltimore remains hot on the trail. Tennessee and Cleveland ready to make a run at winning seasons.

1 - Pittsburgh Steelers
Offense: Steelers big 3 are ready to rumble. QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Rashard Mendenhall and WR Mike Wallace return to anchor the offense. Big Ben roaming out of pocket protection to deliver strikes is essential in offsetting a vulnerable front line. Pittsburgh's offense rises to the occasion in late game situations.
Defense: Heart and sole of Pittsburgh Steelers football is defense. Rising star LB Lawrence Timmons' name will be called often. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley put fear into quarterbacks. Troy Polamalu was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. Tough, rugged bunch takes a back seat to no one.
Prediction: Don't turn your back on these guys. 12 - 14 wins.

2 - Baltimore Ravens
Offense: Running game wasn't sharp in 2010. Offensive line didn't open many lanes - when they did, Ray Rice didn't capitalize. Flacco is a big steady QB searching for speed and down-field play calls for WR's. Lee Evans & Andquan Boldin will get their shots. Offensive line is biggest question mark. They fail to dominate in short yard plays and give up drive ending sacks. Yet, this team won 12 games. Defense affords great field position for offense. If line takes hold - Baltimore can beat out Pittsburgh.
Defense: Superb. Ravens, Jets, Steelers represent top 3 AFC defenses. Front seven is as good as they get. Ravens set up offense with great field position time and time again. Expect no different in 2011. Question is, can they stop Pittsburgh from late game winning drives?
Prediction: Tied Steelers with 12 wins last year (lost tie-breakers). They'll fight Pittsburgh to the finish. 12-14 wins.

3 - Cleveland Browns
Offense: All eyes on Madden '12 cover boy & Cleveland fan favorite Peyton Hollis wondering if he can reproduce golden moments from one season ago? QB Colt McCoy will receive great protection in a west coast attack. Weakness is lack of top notch WR's. However, west coast short routes gives these guys plenty of opportunities to make plays. Cleveland's future looks bright. How quickly their future arrives is anyone's guess?
Defense: Finally, a team switching out of 3-4 to 4-3. Cleveland's new formation will do wonders for a defense terrible against the run in '10. Browns sporting two front line rookies - Phil Taylor (DT) and Jabaal Sheard (RE). Rooks usually make plenty of mistakes but Browns coaching staff is confident. Line needs to clog running lanes because linebackers aren't quick enough to chase anyone down.
Prediction: McCoy's performance determines all. Win some, lose some. 6-8 wins.

4 - Cincinnati Bengals
Offense: Playing in Cincinnati is enough to drive any player nuts. After 7 tumultuous seasons, QB Carson Palmer quit. Not long ago, the Bengals were considered a rising franchise. It all came crashing down largely due to conflicting personalities disrupting team chemistry and field performance. Head cases from owners to coaches to players. RB Cedric Benson and talented offensive line only highlights on a team destined to struggle scoring points. It won't be pretty for a team coming off a 4 win season.
Defense: Get used to being on the field because your offense won't give you a chance to catch your breath! Loss of key position players doesn't bode well. Coaching staff needs creative game planning. Bengals lack bite. Teams will score 30+.
Prediction: Four wins is a good over/under total. I'm thinking 2.

Next up - AFC South

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