Yesterday I tackled the AFC East in the first of my eight part series (Thank you to Steven for catching a silly mistake on my part). There are a few gems to be had there but I'm afraid the case is not so in today's division, the AFC North.
The two dominant teams in the north, the Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers and the team they defeated in the AFC Championship game, the Baltimore Ravens, are both run first teams with absolutely smothering defenses.
The punching bags of the division, namely Cleveland and Cincinnati do have something to offer the fantasy football community. Too bad the same can't be said for their poor fans.
I begin alphabetically once again with the Baltimore Ravens who were one win away from playing in the Super Bowl.
Rookie QB Joe Flacco finally gave this long suffering franchise (is ten year's long?) the one thing Brian Billick promised throughout his tenure: a solid starting gunslinger.
The one blemish on an other wise fantastic year was a season sweep by the Steelers; Pittsburgh accounted for two of the five regular season losses and the most important one of course in the final step to the big game.
Fantasy Info Nuggets:
DEF Baltimore; Once again the Ravens finished as one of the best defenses in the NFL. They finished second in overall defense to guess who? The Steelers!
The departure of coordinator Rex Ryan and LB Bart Scott will sting some in '09 but I don't expect a big drop off. After all, Ray Lewis hasn't retired yet and he'll be leading Terrell Suggs and ball magnet Ed Reed in yet another campaign to be the toughest defense not from Pittsburgh.
Defenses shouldn't be a priority until the last two rounds in my opinion but someone with an itchy mouse will take a defense too high and Baltimore might be gone by the 14th. It's all about your personal strategy.
RB LeRon McClain; This is another one of those running back by committee offenses that make it so difficult for fantasy owners but also so exciting when it comes to weekly line-ups.
The Ravens have the luxury of having three legitimate starters at RB. The great thing for head coach John Harbaugh is that he gets to keep his backs fresh. For our purposes, I've singled out McClain simply because he's the goal line back.
Actually, that's not fair, he's not just the team's touchdown vulture. He also led the team in rushing in 2008 with 902 yards. He's a very good mid to late round pick.
QB Joe Flacco; Flacco's numbers are unimpressive overall yes but he was a rookie QB starting for a perennially lackluster offense.
There was also a seven week period where Flacco scored 11 TD's and threw only two interceptions. Should you draft him if you have better options (which you will)? No. But if he went on a hot streak once, why not again?
WR Derrick Mason; If Joe Flacco had the weapons Brady or Manning had, he'd be at least a top 10 to 15 rated QB instead of mid 20's. One of those underwhelming weapons is WR Mason.
Now, I certainly don't mean that as an insult. Mason has been incredibly durable and reliable throughout his career but he would never be accused of being Andre Johnson's twin.
My other concern with him this season was his retirement and then un-retirement. He was badly shaken up by Steve McNair's murder, as any close friend would be, and I'm not sure where his mind set is.
He might play his butt off in McNair's honor or he may regret not walking away like he originally intended to.
TE Todd Heap; I have a love/hate relationship with Todd Heap that he has no idea exists. I've drafted him several years in a row because he is a talented TE with a ton of upside but something always happens.
He's been injury plagued as of late so I'm very wary of drafting Heap at all. It doesn't matter how good you are, if you can't stay on the field then you're not a worthy fantasy football candidate.
RB Willis McGahee, Ray Rice; For the most part, read above in the LeRon McClain section. Nonetheless, it's hard to ignore a former Pro Bowler in McGahee and a young explosive back in Rice.
Judging by last years stats, McGahee would qualify as McClain's handcuff but that still doesn't mean to grab him right away.
The woeful Cincinnati Bengals finished 2008 4-11-1 (yes McNabb, there are ties in the NFL). It wasn't merely because of ineptness like say the Detroit Lions.
Carson Palmer injured his shoulder and was gone three quarters of the season, Chad Ocho Cinco (the name is finally growing on me, like fungus) had a bum shoulder all year, the offensive line was nearly non existent and 2005 first round bust Cedric Benson was running the ball (although he didn't do too bad; more on that later).
But that was the offense which finished ranked 32nd...yes even the Lions scored more (30th). The defense on the other hand ended the season at a respectable 12th.
So whose worth a gander on this squad?
Fantasy Info Nuggets:
WR Chad Ocho Cinco; You know it has to start here. If you've been watching the latest HBO Hard Knocks series focusing on the Bengals, you've seen first hand how Twitter obsessed Chad is, his baffling penchant for McDonalds and his gross overuse of the term "Child please!"
You may have also noticed a healthy Chad Ocho Cinco who seems hungry to prove that he's still an elite WR in the NFL. This bodes extremely well for any fantasy owner willing to give him another shot. So far he's falling anywhere between the fifth and tenth rounds which is fairly low for a guy once billed as a must have only three years ago.
The only issue I have with his value is the guy throwing to him.
QB Carson Palmer; Please, please, please Carson, stay healthy! I plead so desperately not only because I drafted him in one of my leagues but also because with a healthy Carson Palmer, it gives fantasy owners many more options to choose from on this squad.
Unfortunately, he's already tweaked his ankle. Oy vey.
WR Laveranues Coles; I find it odd that his arrival in Cincinnati has been rather quiet. He was always a productive guy in New York and now he gets a chance to play alongside a fantastic number one WR and catch balls from one of the top five QB's in the league.
He was the leading receiver with the Jets last year and although I don't see the same numbers this year, he should be a late round steal (13th - 16th round). Again, this is contigent on Carson staying upright and in the huddle.
WR Chris Henry; His story is the same as the other wideouts on this team in regard to Palmer's health. Where he delineates in consideration is his ability to stay on the field (legal trouble) and his blazing speed (big plays).
He's not a must draft player by any means but still, don't forget about Henry. He could still be there in the 16th round or go undrafted all together.
TE Any of them; It was disheartening to watch TE Reggie Kelly go down on Hard Knocks but it can't be as disappointing to me as it was to the Bengals brass once they found out he was lost for the season.
They took another hit when Ben Utecht went down too with a concussion. That leaves rookie Chase Coffman as the priority. Bottom line, I feel more comfortable finding a TE elsewhere (hell, Fasano went in the last round in a recent draft!)
RB Cedric Benson; Yes he showed some spark at the end of last year, yes, he's the lone, uncontested starting RB for this offense and he'll get stupid amounts of carries but still.
He's Cedric Benson! In a world of three strikes and your out, in drafting Benson I'd feel like a guy buying used cars from the same shady dealership over and over again and acting surprised every time the car turns out to be a lemon. I can't endorse Benson. I just can't. Oh I miss Rudy.
If punting gave fantasy owners points, Cleveland Browns P Dave Zastudil would be a first round pick.
The Browns entered 2008 with playoff hopes. They exited with more questions than answers, a 4-12 record and a certain pink slip for head coach Romeo Crennel. They finished 31st in offense and 26th defensively.
2009 is a rebuilding year...again. Eric Mangini takes over and that's all we know for certain. What does that mean fantasy football wise? Not much.
Fantasy Info Nuggets:
K Phil Dawson; Phil Dawson was the leading scorer last season by a long shot. He scored 108 points. The next closest guy was Jamal Lewis, the player listed just below. Don't fret, you can have Phil in the 16th round.
RB Jamal Lewis; With Kellen Winslow moving on to Tampa Bay, Jamal Lewis is one of the only solid fantasy producers left on the roster. And when I say solid, I mean as in your fourth string back.
His situation is similar to Cedric Benson. They're both THE guy running the ball. The main difference is that Jamal Lewis has talent.
QB Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson; Hey there's a QB battle in Cleveland! What a shocker! Hey and you know what else? Who cares!
Look, neither of these guys should even garner consideration on your team. Their team is an utter mess and management didn't retain the only two guys could actually catch, TE Winslow and WR Joe Jurevicious. Side note: Brady Quinn's QB rating last year was 66.6. I'm just saying...
WR Braylon Edwards; Oh dear. Where to begin? Braylon Edwards falls into the same category as Lee Evans except way more frustrating. He led the league in dropped passes last season which could be forgivable if he overcame those with quality numbers like Terrell Owens does.
At least T.O. has the decency to score more than three touchdowns in a season.
All the Steelers do is win.
They became the first franchise in NFL history to win a record sixth Super Bowl championship this past season.
That's all great for the city of Pittsburgh who, oh yeah, watched their Penguins win the Stanley Cup this past season also, but what about fantasy owners?
Well the defense was tops once again. They finished first in total defense which adds only more credence to that tired sports cliche that defense wins championships. They never put their offense in bad spots.
Their offense wasn't as considerate. Pittsburgh finished 2008 ranked 22nd in total offense, gave up 49 sacks and didn't have a rusher over 1,000 yards. Is there anyone draft worthy on the Steelers?
Absolutely. Hey, if the Browns can squeeze at least one dude onto a roster, the champs can certainly do better.
Fantasy Info Nuggets:
DEF Steelers; It drives me nuts when I see someone in a draft reach for a defense anytime before the 11th round. Then I realize I'm playing against these numbskulls and I'm all smiles.
What baffles me even more is when someone takes any defense other than Pittsburgh with one of those reaches. In 2008, they allowed less than two TD's average per game, recorded 51 sacks and picked off the ball 20 times.
This is a rock solid, start them every week squad.
WR Hines Ward; Ol' reliable. Let's say you're considering a young wideout fresh off a hot year but Hines Ward is also sitting there. Call me conservative, but I'll almost always take Ward.
He's been the top receiver seven out of the last eight years. The only reason it wasn't a perfect 1.000 is because he missed a few games in 2007, which by the way almost never happens.
He's incredibly durable. He seems to get popped and nearly always bounce right back up smiling like someone just paid him a compliment.
QB Ben Roethlisberger; Look, don't send me hate mail. I love Big Ben. He's a hell of a quarterback/leader/winner.
But, based on the stats, he's an average to below average fantasy QB. I have no issues with holding him as your second or third QB but if he's your starter then that might be a problem.
Aside from one flukey season, where he tossed 32 TD's, Roethlisberger hasn't thrown for more than 17 TD's in any other of his five seasons. Also, I'll be keeping an eye out on that ankle he injured a few days ago.
That would be a damn catastrophe for the Steel City if he went down. I don't think Charlie Batch can take the pummeling Big Ben endures due to his porous O-Line.
RB Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall; Going into 2008 I thought this would be a truly dynamic duo. I was wrong but not because either were duds but because they couldn't stay healthy.
Parker has a short history accruing already of missing a handful of games per season and Mendenhall doesn't want to follow the same path. I would draft Fast Willie mainly on his resume and Mendenhall on potential but I'd keep my expectations low.
TE Heath Miller; Heath Miller and Todd Heap are rowing the same boat. Both are highly talented TE's that should put up better numbers than they do.
Miller's hinderance is that when Pittsburgh gets inside the ten, they prefer to run the ball. Considering that he's caught at least 47 balls and recorded over 500 yards the last two years, I still think he's a fantasy gold mine waiting to produce but I still caution owners to expect too much.