The AFC North has often been thought of as a run-first division, but things have changed in recent years. Two of the four teams will operate out of a committee this year while the other two boast legitimate feature backs.
Coming in at No. 4 in the division is the Cincinnati Bengals, who haven’t put much focus on running the ball recently.
Though Cedric Benson has been replaced by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is far more reliable and thus should help boost their production, the Bengals are far more concerned with building one of the league’s more elite passing offenses instead.
The Pittsburgh Steelers also have a committee this year, but it’s far bigger than that of the Bengals, with five backs currently on the roster.
Quantity doesn’t mean quality, however, and I don’t see them being very dominant on the ground without a true No. 1 back.
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley should work well with the five backs, but again, too many cooks in the kitchen sometimes spoils the meal.
The second-best offensive backfield in the AFC North belongs to a team that barely could run the ball last year.
In 2011, the Cleveland Browns averaged just 95.7 rush yards per game—good for just 30th in the league—but things are far different this year.
Now, they have Trent Richardson as their top running back. Richardson had nearly 1,700 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground last year with Alabama. Though he may not match that production in his rookie season, there’s no denying what a real threat he, and by extension the Browns’ offense, poses this season.
Topping the AFC North is the Baltimore Ravens, who have one of the top running backs in the league in Ray Rice. Rice was a monster on the field last year and that production doesn’t look like it will decline this season.
Further boosting the Ravens ground game is the fact that they now have a viable backup for Rice, Bernard Pierce. With the two carrying the ball, the Ravens will again have one of the best run games in the entire league.
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