2009 Pre-Draft Division Preview: AFC North

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2009 Pre-Draft Division Preview: AFC North
(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

2009 Preview

A very physical division, the AFC North produced the representatives for the conference championship game as well as the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh will seek to become the NFL's first repeat champion, since the 2003-04 New England Patriots, as they possess the league's most physical defense.

The Baltimore Ravens have a bright future head of them as they seem to be switching from more defensive-oriented to offensive-oriented, led by second-year QB Joe Flacco.

The state of Ohio went through difficult times as both the Bengals and Browns finished with a combined eight wins between them and last place finishes.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4; Division Winner, won Super Bowl XLIII)

The NFL put the most brutal schedule in 25 years in front of them and they walked out with the Lombardi Trophy.

Dick LeBeau continues to be a Hall of Fame wizard, with his complex defense and though he gets criticism, Bruce Arians produced a balanced attack led by QB Ben Roethlisberger.

They need help on the offensive line and more production from running backs, Willie Parker and second-year back Rashard Mendenhall, but they have the pieces to repeat.

 

Baltimore Ravens (10-6; Wild Card winner)

Losing in their first AFC Championship game since 2000, the Ravens are now confident they have a leader that can deliver when counted upon in second-year QB Joe Flacco.

The loss of long-time defensive coordinator to the New York Jets (as well as a good portion of the defense) should be addressed by GM Ozzie Newsome along with getting more pieces to make the offense more effective.

 

Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1; Missed Postseason)

Watching this team last season was pretty painful as they lack discipline and focus, especially on defense.

QB Carson Palmer returns to try his hardest to get back to 2005 form (3,836 yards, 32 TD, 101.1 rating) when he led the Bengals to the playoffs, but he loses his most reliable receiver in T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Cedric Benson found a bit of resurrection in mid-season, rushing for almost 800 yards and two scores but this offense needs a massive jolt to get back to back to playoff contention.

 

Cleveland Browns (4-12; Missed Postseason)

New head coach Eric Mangini enters a pressure-packed situation in Cleveland and has a huge workload on his plate as he must fix a putrid offense and near-helpless defense.

Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn enter camp fighting for a job to begin 2009. Given their combined 51 percent completion percentage and 11 total touchdown passes, they need some help.

 

X-Factors

1. Repeat?: There has not been a repeat Super Bowl champion since 2003 and Pittsburgh will look to change that trend.  Ben Roethlisberger is emerging as an elite player with a merciless defense behind him yet his offensive line has questions.

2. One-year wonder?: How will Joe Flacco perform in year two?

3. Birds of Prey: With Rex Ryan in New York, how will the Baltimore defense perform with a good chunk of the defense either gone or following him to the Jets?

4. QB Battle: The Browns need to make a decision regarding the quarterback battle between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn since losing out on Jay Cutler.

5. Carson Palmer's elbow: It didn't get better but it can't get worse with Palmer back under center for Cincinnati.  He needs help in the worse way.

 

On the Hot Seat

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis: How he still has a job there is beyond logic and is driving fans up the wall.  His vision of the defense, that made the Ravens a Super Bowl champion in 2000, has come far short of coming true and this could be his last chance to prove himself.

Browns quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson: Anderson was the undisputed starter in 2008 coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2007, where he threw 29 touchdowns.

A year later, Quinn and Anderson combined to throw an NFL low, 11 touchdowns, and also combine to have the league's worst completion percentage and passer rating.

 

Player to Watch

Bengals QB Carson Palmer

 

Fantasy Breakout Star

Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall

 

Order of Finish

1. Steelers-- Too much balance on offense and a very physical defense put them in prime position for a repeat

2. Ravens-- Flacco should thrive more in year two; defense has holes but good veteran leadership to carry a wild-card berth

3. Browns-- Stallworth situation could distract them; Mangini needs time to implement 3-4 scheme; Edwards needs to rebound from double-digit drops season

4. Bengals-- Offense has little firepower; defense is in shambles; they have one winning season since 1990 Divisional Playoffs (2005 Wild Card appearance)

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