Terrell Suggs Injury: How Loss of Baltimore Ravens' Star Changes AFC North

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 15:  Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates during the third quarter of the AFC Divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium on January 15, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Terrell Suggs' potentially season-ending injury doesn't eliminate the Baltimore Ravens as a playoff-caliber team. It does, however, make the already super-competitive AFC North even more wide open.

Suggs suffered a torn Achilles tendon in April and had surgery to repair the tear on May 8. While the injury could very well put him out for the year, he seems pretty confident that we will see him on the field in 2012.

Whether or not he does come back, the injury is bad news for the Ravens—but it isn't devastating.

There's no doubt that Suggs is a cog in the Ravens defense and they will be different without him. Much like their fellow AFC North brethren the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens will plug a solid defender in his place and keep winning games.

Not all of Suggs' production can be replaced. Suggs had a career year in 2011 and officially took over the title of best player on Baltimore's defense.

Suggs was an absolute wrecking machine; he had a career-high 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions on his way to earning AP Defensive Player of the Year honors and being named an All-Pro. That kind of production can't be replaced by just one player.

With Suggs, the Ravens would have been the odds-on favorite to win the AFC North. After claiming the AFC North championship in 2011, the Ravens re-signed most of their best players while drafting some rookies who can make an impact right away.

Without Suggs, the Bengals and Steelers have a huge opportunity to close the gap and claim the AFC North title. For all of the hype around Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, the Ravens are still a defensive team first and great defenses win the AFC North. Losing a guy like Suggs can make your defense go from great to good.

The Ravens' aggressive scheme relies on sacks. The team compiled 48 sacks in 2011 and while Suggs personally accounted for 14 of those sacks, his presence on the field accounted for many more. A special pass-rusher with his abilities is able to free up other defenders by commanding double-teams and attention from running backs in pass protection. 

With Suggs gone, the Ravens will need to rely more heavily on aging veterans like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to make plays. They will also need second-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw to contribute right away—even for a defense that was third in the league in total yardage.

All four teams in the AFC North had top-10 defenses based on total yardage, so Baltimore will need to continue to play at a high level if it intends to stave off Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Overall, the AFC North is one of the toughest divisions in the entire NFL. With three teams making the playoffs a year ago, it should be an interesting season this year.

The Steelers are always a threat and also feature a veteran-laden defense and a developing young offense, while the Bengals emerged last season as a team with a bright future. Even the Browns are slowly developing and should have an improved offense in 2012.

The Ravens aren't built around one man. Playoff-caliber teams can lose a star and still win consistently and that's what the Ravens should be able to do. However, the loss of Suggs was a big win for both the Bengals and the Steelers as the division is now up for grabs.