AFC North: 2010 Preview and Predictions

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AFC North: 2010 Preview and Predictions
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After previewing and predicting the AFC East last week, I got both some positive and negative comments.  Obviously I know not everyone will agree with my predictions, but overall I earned 2 medals for the article and consider it a success.  So without further ado, here is my preview of the AFC North division in 2010.

 

1. Baltimore Ravens

Veteran Additions: WR Anquan Boldin, DE Corey Redding, WR Donte Stallworth,

Veteran Departures: DE Dwan Edwards, DT Justin Bannan, OT Adam Terry, CB Samari Rolle

Draft Picks: OLB Sergio Kindle, DT Terrence Cody, TE Ed Dickson, TE Dennis Pitta, WR David Reed, DT Art Jones, OT Ramon Harewood

2010 Ravens Offense: The Ravens had an average passing offense a year ago, passing for 213.7 yards per game (18th in NFL).  Joe Flacco had a breakout season, as he recorded 3,613 passing yards, 21 TDs, and 12 interceptions to go along with an 88.9 QB rating.

The addition of Anquan Boldin provides Flacco with the legitimate No. 1 receiver he lacked last year.  Boldin will play opposite Derrick Mason.  At TE, the Ravens drafted both Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who should share time with Todd Heap. 

Furthermore, Flacco battled injuries late in the season, but if he can stay healthy, the Ravens passing offense should be a top 15 attack in the NFL.

Ray Rice is the Ravens' best offensive player and one of the best running backs in the game.  Rice rushed for 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns on 254 attempts last season (5.3 YPC).  The addition of Anquan Boldin should stretch the field and open up greater running lanes for Rice, so he should have an even better 2010.

Rice also led the Ravens in receptions last season with 78, and gained a little over 700 receiving yards.  Willis McGahee chipped in with 544 yards and 12 TDs on 109 carries (5.0 YPC).  Both these backs run behind a top five offensive line, ranking fourth in the NFL last season. 

At 24, Jared Gaither is one of the best LTs in the NFL.  On the other side is Michael Oher, who had a tremendous rookie season and looks destined to become a franchise RT.  At center is future hall of famer Matt Birk, and guards Chris Chester and Ben Grubbs are both successful blockers.

2010 Ravens Defense: The Ravens defense didn’t miss a beat last year with the loss of Rex Ryan, as the unit ranked third in the NFL.  The Ravens pass defense ranked eighth in the NFL, allowing 207.2 YPG and a 71.9 QB rating.  Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, and Dominique Foxworth headline the secondary.  Occupying the CB spot opposite Foxworth is Lardarius Webb, who showed he’s a solid corner in his rookie season.

However, the Ravens pass rush struggled, recording only had 32 sacks in 2009 (18th in NFL).  Terrell Suggs was a main reason: he only had four-and-a-half sacks last year, the lowest total of his seven year career.  He did miss three games due to injury.  LOLB Jarret Johnson is a below average pass rusher, recording 16 sacks in his 7 year career.

But the Ravens realized this and made one of the better picks in the draft by selecting OLB Sergio Kindle.  He should take Johnson's job easily, so expect the Ravens pass rush to improve in 2010.

Opponents seldom rushed the ball with success against Baltimore, as they allowed just 93.2 YPG.  Opposing rushers averaged 3.4 yards per carry against this defense, which ranked them first in the NFL.  Running backs rarely found the end-zone against Baltimore, as they surrendered only eight rushing TDs.  A big reason for this is Haloti Ngata, who is one of the best run stoppers in the NFL.

The Ravens also drafted NT Terrence Cody, who should rotate with Kelly Gregg.  But the one that makes this all click is the leader and the seven-time pro-bowler, Ray Lewis.  Lewis enters his 14th season in 2010, and he is still one of the best linebackers in the NFL, combining for 133 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles last year.  Tavares Gooden will lineup next to Lewis on the inside.

Overall, the Ravens are in the debate for the best defense in the NFL.

Prediction: 12-4.

The Ravens could have/should have been this good last season, but five of their seven losses came by three, two, two, three and six points—and the teams they lost those games to had a combined 55-25 record.  They also continuously shot themselves in the foot, as they led the NFL in penalties. 

But now that the front office has provided Flacco with a legit No. 1 wideout to go along with a top tier running attack and defense, they could go the distance in 2010.

 

2. Cincinnati Bengals

Veteran Additions: WR Antonio Bryant, WR Matt Jones, WR Chris Davis

Veteran Departures: WR Laverneous Coles

Draft Picks: TE Jermaine Gresham, DE Carlos Dunlap, WR Jordan Shipley, CB Brandon Ghee, DT Geno Atkins, LB Roddrick Muckelroy, OG Otis Hudson, WR Dezmon Briscoe, OL Reggie Stephens

2010 Bengals Offense: Even though the Bengals clinched the AFC North title a year ago, their offense was far from prolific.  Their 309.1 yards per game ranked 24th in the NFL, and their 19.1 points per game ranked 22nd.  Carson Palmer had an average year, throwing for 3,094 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions on 466 attempts. 

But compared to the rest of the NFL, the Bengals passing offense was one of the worst, recording 180.6 passing yards per game (26th in NFL).  Carson Palmer is no longer one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and neither is Chad Ochocinco at WR.  However, the additions of Antonio Bryant, Jordan Shipley, Dezmon Briscoe, and Jermaine Gresham should help improve this passing offense in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Bengals ground attack was much better last season than in 2008.  The main reason for this was Cedric Benson’s breakout season.  Benson posted 1,251 yards and six TDs in 13 games last season.  The other reason was the improvement of the offensive line.

The Bengals had the best power success of any team in the NFL last year at 79 percent.  Andrew Whitworth is one of the best LTs in the NFL, and RT Anthony Collins shined in limited snaps last season.  Additionally, Cincinnati has 2009 first round pick Andre Smith at their disposal.

At guard, Evan Mathis was a force in both run blocking and pass blocking last season, and Bobbie Williams is an above average blocker.  Cedric Benson finally looks like he’s going to be a successful RB in the NFL, and with a good young backup in Bernard Scott, there’s no reason the Bengals shouldn’t have a top 10 rushing attack in 2010.        

2010 Bengals Defense: The key to Cincinnati’s success in 2009 was their strong defense.  They allowed 301.4 yards per game, good for fourth in the NFL and 18.2 points per game, good for sixth.  The Bengals are very strong against the run, with defensive tackles Domata Peko and Tank Johnson clogging the interior.

They surrendered 98.3 rush yards per game last year, good for seventh in the NFL.  Cincinnati also has one of the best linebacking corps in the league with Keith Rivers, Dhani Jones, and Rey Maulaluga.  These three linebackers combined for 248 tackles in 2009.

The Bengals are just as good against the pass, as they ranked sixth in the NFL last season.  Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph are arguably the best defensive back tandem in the NFL, combining for 12 interceptions last year.  At SS is Chinedum Ndukwe, a solid player who recorded 89 tackles last season.  The other safety spot is occupied by Chris Crocker.  Crocker is an average FS, making 51 tackles last year.

As for the Bengals pass rush, they were right in the middle of NFL with 34 sacks.  Before a season ending injury in Week Six, DE Antwan Odom led the NFL with eight sacks and was the frontrunner for defensive player of the year.  His return should help this pass rush tremendously.  Robert Geathers, a below average DE who had three-and-a-half sacks in 2009, will line up opposite Odom. 

Once again, the Bengals defense will be asked to carry this team to a playoff berth.  And this unit is very capable of doing just that.

Prediction: 8-8.  Last year the Bengals started out hot, but they slumped later in the year.  Beginning with a loss at Oakland on Nov. 22, Cincinnati was outscored in its final eight games, 168-121—despite the fact that four of the final eight contests were against the Raiders, Browns, Lions, and Chiefs.

Even though the Bengals have a top 10 defense, they don’t have the offensive fire power to make the playoffs again this season.

 

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

Veteran Additions: ILB Larry Foote, WR Antwaan Randel El, FS Will Allen, OT Jonathan Scott, WR Arnaz Battle

Veteran Departures: RB Willie Parker

Draft Picks: OG Maurkice Pouncey, OLB Jason Worilds, WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Thaddeus Gibson, OT Chris Scott, CB Crezdon Butler, LB Stevenson Sylvester, RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Antonio Brown, DT Doug Worthington

2010 Steelers Offense: The Steelers really let Big Ben air it out last season, and statistically, he had the best season of his career.  Roethlisberger went over 4,000 yards for the first time in his career, throwing for 4,328 yards, 26 TDs, and 12 interceptions while recording a QB rating of 100.5 in 15 games.

The Steelers ranked 9th in the NFL in passing a year ago, throwing for just over 259 yards per game.  However, Santonio Holmes is gone, leaving the Steelers with some major problems at WR: Hines Ward and Mike Wallace will be their starters.

As for Roethlisberger, he has his own problems and will serve a minimum four-game suspension in 2010.  These issues leave the Steelers passing offense with some question marks going into 2010.

Pittsburgh had less success on the ground last season.  Much of the blame should be placed on their offensive line, who failed to supply the Steelers RBs with room to run.  They ranked 19th in the NFL with 112.2 rushing yards per game, and 15th with a 4.2 yards per carry average.

However, Rashard Mendenhall looked like a promising back in the second half of the season.  In total, Mendenhall rushed for 1,108 yards and seven TDs on 242 carries.  His numbers should increase even more as he heads into 2010 as the primary RB for the first time in his career.

It appears that Pittsburgh is trying to get back to running the football by selecting OG Maurkice Pouncey in the first round and RB Jonathan Dwyer in the sixth.  This means the rush offense should continue to improve in 2010.

2010 Steelers Defense: This Steelers defense will be much better than last year because of Troy Polamalu.  The defense drastically changes with Polamalu on the field.  Over the last two years, the Steelers have allowed 311.6 yards per game (216 passing and 95.4 rushing) without Polamalu.  With him, they have allowed 247 yards per game (168.1 passing and 78.8 rushing).  That’s a difference of 64.6 yards, 47.9 pass yards, and 16.6 rush yards per game.

Not to mention the Steelers are 5-7 without Troy and 16-4 with him.  Last year, the Steelers allowed 215.4 passing yards per game (16th in NFL) without him.  The return of Troy should make this a top 10 pass defense, while the rest of the secondary consists of Ike Taylor and William Gay as the corners and Ryan Clark at FS.

The Steelers get pressure on opposing quarterbacks like no other team in the NFL.  They have two of the best pass rushers in the NFL in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, combined for 24 sacks a year ago.  Meanwhile, inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior combined for 10 sacks.

And there’s no one better at drawing up blitz packages than defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.  Elsewhere, the Pittsburgh run defense ranked third in the NFL last season, allowing 89.9 rushing yards per game.  Casey Hampton is one of the better nose tackles in the game, and Farrior and Timmons are both successful run stoppers on the inside.

With the return of Troy Polamalu to help out a secondary that struggled last season, there’s no reason that this Pittsburgh defense shouldn’t be a top five unit in 2010.

Prediction: 8-8. The Steelers are a mess right now.  Santonio Holmes is gone, and Ben Roethlisberger’s legal troubles resulted in a minimum four-game suspension.  Their passing offense will struggle in Big Ben's absence with a weak wide receiving corp.

With that said, they still have one of the best defenses in the NFL and a great coaching staff, so they should finish with a respectable record and contend for a playoff spot.

 

4. Cleveland Browns

Veteran Additions: ILB Scott Fujita, QB Jake Delhomme, QB Seneca Wallace, CB Sheldon Brown, OLB Chris Gocong, TE Ben Watson, OT Tony Pashos, FB Peyton Hillis

Veteran Departures: QB Brady Quinn, FS Brodney Pool, QB Derek Anderson, G Rex Hadnot, TE Steve Heiden, RB Jamal Lewis, DT Corey Williams, OLB Kamerion Wimbley

Draft Picks: CB Joe Haden, FS TJ Ward, RB Montario Hardesty, QB Colt McCoy, OT Shaun Luavao, SS Larry Assante, WR Carlton Mitchell, DE Clifton Geathers

2010 Browns Offense: The Browns passing offense was dreadful a year ago, ranking last in the NFL with 129.8 passing yards per game, 19 yards per game worse than the 31st place team.  They averaged 5.1 Y/A, threw 11 TDs and 18 INTs, and recorded a QB rating of 55.8.  Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson are gone, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, and Colt McCoy are in.

But Delhomme is by no means an upgrade.  Last season, he completed 55.5 percent of his passes, threw for eight TDs and 18 interceptions, and had a QB rating of 59.4.  Unfortunately, Delhomme will not have much help.  There isn’t a proven target on the Browns roster, only a bunch of No. 3 and No. 4 wideouts led by Mohammed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie.

More passing woes are in the Browns future, as they should have the worst passing attack by far in 2010.

The Browns best player is LT Joe Thomas.  Thomas is arguably the best left tackle in the game, posting a 2.44 pass blocking productivity rating last season (second among LTs in NFL).  One of the benefactors of Thomas is the running game, which was surprisingly good for the Browns last season.

They averaged 130.4 rushing yards per game (eighth in NFL), and a 4.2 YPC (15th in NFL).  Jerome Harrison was the primary running back, rushing for 862 yards and five TDs on 194 carries.  The return of James Davis should also help out the running game, and the Browns should have a solid rushing attack again in 2010.

2010 Browns Defense: The Browns had the 29th ranked passing defense a year ago, allowing 244.7 passing yards per game and an average of 7.9 yards per pass attempt.  The Browns were very active this offseason though, as they revamped their pass defense.  They spent their first round pick on CB Joe Haden, who should have an immediate impact for the Browns.

Cleveland also acquired another corner in Sheldon Brown, who should start opposite Haden.  The Browns also spent their second round pick on S TJ Ward.  A position battle to watch will be the safety spots for the Browns.  Abram Elam figures to be the starting FS, while Mike Adams and TJ Ward will battle for the starting SS spot.

Cleveland had just as much trouble in rush defense, ranking 28th in the NFL allowing 144.6 rush yards per game and an average of 4.6 YPC.  Shaun Rogers is a great NT, but he has both injury and legal concerns.  The Browns added ILB Scott Fujita to start at the RILB spot.  Fujita had 58 tackles in 11 games last year, and is a very solid ILB.

Starting at LILB will be one of the best in the game, D'Qwell Jackson.  Jackson's season ended early in 2009 due to injury, but he is one of the elite linebackers in the NFL.  Although Fujita should help this rush defense, it should still be one of the worst in the league.

The one thing the Browns defense excelled at was their pass rush.  They had a total of 40 sacks in 2009.  Robaire Smith and Kenyon Coleman are the 3-4 ends for the Browns, with Corey Williams rotating in.  The Browns got rid of arguably their top pass rusher in Kamerion Wimbley, but they replaced him with OLB Chris Gocong.  David Bowens will start opposite Gocong at LOLB.

But when you talk about this defense overall, its bottom five in the NFL.

Prediction: 2-14.  The Browns have the worst offense in the NFL, in my opinion.  Jake Delhomme figures to be the starting QB, and I doubt he keeps his job for all 16 games.  The wide receiving corp is the worst in the NFL, since there isn't a legitimate starting WR on their roster.  The defense is also bottom five in the NFL in both pass and rush defense.

The Browns will not have much success this year, and I see them drafting first come next April.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave any comments or feedback you might have about the article or your own predictions, whether negative or positive.  I have already begun writing my AFC South preview, which will be up next week.

By the way if you want to read my AFC East preview and haven't yet, just tell me and I can get you the link to it.  Thanks for reading, comments are appreciated.

 

     

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