The AFC North is one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL; the 08/09 season should be no different. These are my projected outcomes: Please feel free to commenton anything you disagree with. . .isn't that what predictions are for? I know I get stirred up when I read other people's projections!
Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-7
The Steelers play an incredibly tough schedule, especially late in the season, featuring Indianapolis, San Diego, Cincinnati, New England, Dallas, Baltimore, and Tennessee in consecutive weeks. The Steelers could lose 4 out of 5 from week 10 through 14, which may seriously jeopardize their playoff hopes. In addition, the Steelers face last years playoff nemesis Jacksonville away in week 5. 1st round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall could be an early rookie of the year candidate, and will certainly spell Fast Willie Parker on third downs. Mike Tomlin proved that he can win in the AFC North; look for the Steelers to finish 4-2 in the division, losing to Baltimore and Cleveland once each.
Predictions: Big Ben will have a QB rating over 100, relying on his #1 ranked rushing attack, and countless playaction fakes. Rashard Mendenhall will play a similar role as Marion Barber III for the Cowboys in the last couple years--and he will succeed greatly.
Cleveland Browns: 8-8
Last year the Browns finished 10-6, however, I am picking them to lose their first three contests of 08, against the Steelers, Cowboys, and Ravens. Derek Anderson has been a huge surprise for the Browns, and his connection with Braylon Edwards will continue into 08. Jamal Lewis seemed to be slowing down before his resurgent year in Cleveland; Lewis will be successful again this season, but do not look for the same big numbers he put up last year. Joe Thomas will be one year better, but the Browns did not even have a draft pick this year until the 4thround. The Anderson/Edwards connection coupled with Josh Cribbs in the return game should keep the Browns in a lot of close games, but I do not think the defense is good enough to put up another winning season. Look for the Browns to finish 3-3 in the division, taking two from Cinci, and one from Baltimore.
Predictions: Brady Quinn will not start a game for the second year straight--Derek Anderson will be too consistent, and keep them in ball games late--sorry Brady. Jamal Lewis will not hit the 1000 yard mark. Braylon Edwards will finish 3rd in the league in TD receptions with 15.
Cincinnati Bengals: 6-10
The Bengals intrigue me this year. They have a potent passing game, withthe possibly the loudest player ever in Chad Johnson; however, they have zero defense. First round pick Keith Rivers will certainly help the struggling defense, but I do not see them having enough fire power on that side of the ball to succeed in the AFC North. Both Pittsburgh and Baltimore's defenses are as good or better than the Bengal's offense, and Clevelands offense will be able to handle Cinci's defense. I see the Bengals finishing 2-4 in the division, sneaking one by the Ravens, and Browns--both in Cincinatti.
Predictions: Chad Johnson will be suspended by the team for reasons to be named later. Shaun Alexander will be brought into camp to try and revitalize the running game, but it will not succeed like they plan. Marvin Lewis' chances of getting fired after the season: 75%. TJ Houshmandzadeh will out catch, gain, and score Chad Johnson, leading to the Bengals getting rid of Johnson for draft picks.
Baltimore Ravens: 8-8
The Ravens will start the season withKyle Boller at the helm, but I do not see that lasting. They may try Troy Smith considering he played very well in limited action last year. In the end it will be first round selection Joe Flacco finishing the season. The defense will certainly be able to make the plays necessary to keep the team in games, but the offense may be a year away from being able to carry the team. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will improve the Ravens numbers in nearly every category. Free agent Brendan Ayenbadejo could be the sleeper pick up of the off-season, considering his great playmaking ability on special teams; he will also play at OLB. In addition, FA pickups Frank Walker and Fabian Washington will add the much needed depth at cornerback. Look for the Ravens to finish 3-3 in the division, beating each opponent once.
Predictions: Kyle Boller will start the season and throw more picks than touchdowns through week 7. Joe Flacco will see time against the Dolphins in week 7, and start against the Raiders at home in week 8. He will be named the starter for the rest of the season. Ed Reed will return three interceptions for touchdowns, and add another from a punt return. He will be greatly considered for defensive MVP. Jonathon Ogden will not finish the season healthy; he may never even start the season.
The Steelers will win the division at 9-7 (4-2), but the outcome will not be decided until they beat the Browns 8-8 (3-3) in week 17 at Pittsburgh. The Ravens 8-8 (3-3) will also be in the playoff hunt until they lose their last three games, against Pittsburgh at home, at Dallas, and Jacksonville at home. Expect the wild card teams to come from other divisions.
Bold Predictions: Rashard Mendenhall will out-rush Fast Willie Parker in 8 out of 16 games.
KeithRivers will lead the struggling Bengals defense with 120 tackles and earn a trip to the Pro Bowl. He will then get arrested for a dui in the off-season (probably not, but wouldn't that be something?).
Marvin Lewis will be fired after the season.
Terrell Suggs will accumulate 13 sacks.
Josh Cribbs will outscore Devin Hester in the return game.
Big Ben will have a top 3 QB rating.
98.0 QB rating
13 games played
7 games started
Feel free to comment on anything you disagree with