The Pittsburgh Steelers return as the defending AFC North champs marking the 4th time the team has secured it this decade. The division is a weak one and will most definitely have one of the two wildcard teams being either the Steelers or Browns.
The men of steel return to the gridiron to defend their title with a full plate on schedule. The Steelers open the season against the cupcake Houston Texans in Pittsburgh which should supply the Steelers with confidence and momentum into their second game with the Cleve Brownies in Cleveland. Aside from the Brownies and Jaguars, the Pre-Bye schedule is fairly easy. The Steelers will have to play smashmouth football the second half of the season to reel in the division and cannot lose focus or an 8-8 record could easily be seen. The Steelers will have a plateful of competition going up against the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers, and the returning Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Mike Tomlin seems optimistic, as well as the rest of the Steel City about the upcoming season in hopes of the first team to win six superbowls. The loss of LG Alan Faneca and LOLB Clark Haggans will definitely pain the team for the beginning of the season while they try to find a fit. Most likely will be Chris Kemoeatu at LG and either Lawrence Timmons or LaMarr Woodley, who have both had game experience, at LOLB. Rashard Mendenhall and Willie Parker should make for an unstoppable ground force along with the air attack offered by Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, and Limas Sweed.
The Cleve Brownies return this year missing the wildcard after a just less-than-stellar season (for Cleveland at least) showing Romeo Cornell that the playoffs are real and not just a fantasy for the previously struggling team. Derek Anderson emerged after Charlie Frye was pulled in the first half of the first game and never looked back. Anderson put up numbers that a Cleveland quarterback hadn't put up since around the turn of the century. Call it a fluke, but with Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and Joe Jurevicious all returning, complemented by the offseason acquisition of the speedy Donte Stallworth, Anderson will have plenty of open targets to dispel the naysayers of his capability. Their season high 51 points against the Cincinnati Bengals last year proved the explosiveness of the Offense, yet also showed the lack of talent on defense giving up 45 points.
The Brownies don't have the division paved in gold despite the fresh future the team posesses. They will have to compete against the same teams as the Steelers, only facing the harder ones in the beginning opening against Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys. They will play the Steelers in week 2, Giants week 4, Jaguars week 6, and don't get a bye until week 9 of the regular season. With an opening physical schedule like this, it may prove to be another long season in Cleveland.
As for Cincinatti and Baltimore, the '05 and '06 AFC North champs turned a complete 180 winning a combined 7 games. The Bengals have not improved at all since the season making no offseason moves to set the wheels rolling. The Ravens have acquired rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, but still look lost without any other weapons other than Willis McGahee and a Prehistoric defense.
Steelers: 11-5 AFC North Champs
Browns: 9-7 Wildcard