2012 AFC North Preview: Can the Cincinnati Bengals Top the Baltimore Ravens?
The AFC North looks to be very competitive again in 2012, but this time, it isn’t a two-horse race between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Andy Dalton and AJ Green have the upstart Cincinnati Bengals on the rise, too. It’s anybody’s guess as to who will win this wide-open division.
Cleveland Browns (Fourth in 2011, Prediction for 2012: 2-14)
Actually, I do know that the Browns are finishing last. No matter how good Trent Richardson is, I don’t think he can carry this team to contention. They are awful. They have possibly the worst receiving corps in the league, spotty offensive line play and a lack of a pass rush will render them unable to keep up with the rest of the AFC North.
They better hope they’re right on Brandon Weeden. Although, I don’t remember the last time a 28-year-old rookie succeeded in the NFL, especially with a supporting cast this awful around him.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Second in 2011, Prediction for 2012: 9-7)
What? The Steelers will finish this low? Yes. The Steelers have question marks at corner and they are much less experienced with the loss of James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Hines Ward. They think they have the in-house replacements, but it’s a dicey proposition.
I also have concerns about whether Ben Roethlisberger will mesh with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s schemes. Can Mike Adams and David Decastro come in and live up to expectations as rookies? If they don’t, the Steelers are going to look really dumb for letting Chris Kemoatu go. And with Rashard Mendenhall on the PUP list, can Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey pick up the rushing load?
There are so many questions for a historically consistent team.
Baltimore Ravens (First in 2011, Prediction for 2012: 11-5)
The Ravens looked great as a pick to repeat, until Terrell Suggs, uhm, injured himself…"working out." Playing basketball. Whatever. All I know is that second-round pick Courtney Upshaw has a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders now. He’ll be expected to grow up real fast, or the Ravens won’t have much of a pass rush for as long as Suggs is gone.
Will Ed Reed report? I don’t need to talk about how big of an impact he has on the back end of perhaps the best secondary in football. If he retires, I’m worried. The Ravens really hope former first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith can rebound from his injury and live up to his potential. They’re getting older and Ray Lewis is clearly losing a step.
At least they locked up Ray Rice for five years. He was 40 percent of their offense last season, and he'll be counted on to carry the load again. He'll be the workhorse back and be a big factor in the receiving game.
Cincinnati Bengals (Third in 2011, Prediction for 2012: 12-4)
I believe in the red! Not the Cincinnati Reds. Andy Dalton, baby! The Bengals have a middle-of-the-road schedule in 2012, a franchise quarterback, a franchise receiver and Mike Zimmer has this defense looking very sharp.
The Bengals drafted three huge defensive linemen with first- or second-round talent grades in the later rounds to join a deep defensive line. If Leon Hall can be the man he used to be before he got hurt, he, rookie Dre Kirkpatrick and former Cowboy Terence Newman could form a pretty solid secondary.
Now, outside of Ray Maualuga, there’s not crazy depth at linebacker. However, the Bengals picked up a huge wild card by signing the undrafted Vontaze Burfict. Some scouts had him going in the first round, until he showed his terrible attitude, bombed his Pro Day and behaved like a moron at the NFL combine. If they can clean up his attitude, they have themselves a steal right there.
Can Mohamed Sanu be a good No. 2 wideout? Can Jermaine Gresham ascend into that category of great young tight ends that create match problems for defenses? If so, Cincinnati could be a legitimate contender for the AFC title.
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