The AFC North was a surprising division last year, from the fantastic rookie year of quarterback Joe Flacco in Baltimore to yet another Palmerless year for Cincinnati, from the Browns choosing people in the stands to play quarterback to a historical sixth Super Bowl title for the Steelers.
So what surprises will happen this year, starting with the Cleveland Browns?
The Browns were expected to do great things last season. Coming off a 10-6 season in which the Browns just missed the playoffs, the team was given five prime-time games which were the only times the Browns played halfway decently last year, including a shocking demolishing of the New York Giants.
The Browns just could not live up to the hype and finished a disappointing 4-12.
The Cleveland Browns bring in General Manager George Kokinis from Baltimore, who built the contender and was part of the group that drafted Flacco. The Browns also hired Head Coach Eric Mangini because Romeo couldn’t cut it.
Mangini will bring discipline to the team and is a very capable couch. Unfortunately for Mangini, Jets management couldn’t tell everyone it was Brett Favre’s fault the Jets went 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
The Browns brought in many players in the offseason, especially on the defensive side. The biggest acquisitions are linebacker Eric Barton and safety Abram Elam, both of whom were part of the draft day trade that allowed the Jets to draft Mark Sanchez. Barton will fill in for a departed Andra Davis and Elam will fill in for Sean Jones.
To add to these acquisitions, the Browns had a great draft with the selection of center Alex Mack, who should start right away, and the selections of wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. Robiskie is a 6’3" receiver with good hands and will be the No. 2 receiver, while Massaquoi will fight for the No. 3 spot and is more a possession receiver.
The Browns still have Josh Cribbs and Joe Thomas who anchor the highest rated special teams and a deep offensive line respectively.
Yet another new coach with another new system, which means no familiarity.
The Browns still don’t have a top 20 defense which could really hinder them, again, this year.
The Browns do not have a starting quarterback, but whoever does win the job should have a good year.
The Browns are still in the AFC North which they haven’t won since re-entering the league in 1997.
The Browns have no definite tight end after trading away Kellen Winslow.
Braylon Edwards still cannot catch the ball which cost the Browns a few games last season. If he doesn’t show at least decent hands he might have a new home in 2010.
If Derek Anderson does not win the job, the Browns will have a backup making $30 million over four years.
Kicker Phil Dawson is your best bet as a highly consistent Browns fantasy player. The guy kicked a 40-yard field goal through a blizzard in Buffalo. Come on.
Braylon has to show this season that he can be a No. 1 fantasy wide receiver, but I would wait until the third or fourth round to select him.
Jamal Lewis is a solid No. 3 running back, even though he is old, because there is no solid backup and the Browns’ offensive line has improved.
I would not draft either quarterback and would wait until one proves himself later in the season.
The sleeper pick is Brian Robiskie. He is the No. 2 wideout, has good size, and will get a lot of one-on-ones because of Braylon’s size.
7-9 (with Brady Quinn as quarterback)