2011 NFL Team Previews by Division: AFC North
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The picture above is for fans of every other team in the AFC North. I know you will enjoy the reminder that the Pittsburgh Steelers did not win the title, because I understand the resentment.
It is just how the fans of other teams in the NFC North feel about the Green Bay Packers, because Cheeseheads rule the division and are hated for it.
A team might take Green Bay once in the regular season, but they cannot achieve collectively what the Packers can. Green Bay has either won the division or the Super Bowl in eight of the last 16 seasons (exactly as many times) and is the only one to win a Super Bowl in that time.
Lovie Smith made a point about beating the Packers in his initial press conference. The Packers coaches made a point about winning Super Bowls. It is both the cause and effect of dominating the division, and one of many issues displaying the gap in winning mentality between Green Bay and the rest of the division.
But they cannot help it, because they are sick of Cheeseheads. You must similarly be sick of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They have been the dominant team in the entire AFC over the past seven years. They own two of the conference's three Super Bowls and represented the conference three times.
As dominant as an AFC East Preview has shown that division to be, none of its teams can boast that. And unlike with that division that has no king—one team has clear regular-season supremacy with recent past postseason success and the other with more recent playoff wins—the Steelers truly rule all three in the AFC North.
They have won 11 of the last 20 division titles and two of its three Super Bowls. They have beat the Baltimore Ravens—the only other NFL champion in that span—in all three playoff matchups. Neither of the other two teams even has playoff success in that time.
But there is always next year, and now that is here. Thus, the following are my preseason previews in the order of the teams' predicted finishes.
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Last season, James Harrison considered quitting football because the league wanted to place the safety of players over his right to hurt them through his recklessness.
He should quit football before he gives someone serious brain damage, but it might not be through his helmet-led spears. It might be coming from the choices he makes in his life.
Saying ridiculous and disrespectful things that show no regard for certain individuals is bad form, but might be excused if his targets were as bad as he thinks they are. But when you take shots at your own teammates, that is bad for the team.
And that is not the worst. Glorifying guns that are primary tools in the devastation of communities that emulate him is downright wrong.
Everything about the man is violence irrespective of the damage it causes. You can tell me that athletes are not role models all you want; we both know it is a lie.
You can tell me it is not their obligation and they are free to choose their own path, but their money comes from their public interaction and they have an ethical duty to not use that position to make the world. I am not even saying "Do not love your guns," all I am asking is that a person refrain from encouraging everyone to live a gun-centered lifestyle.
But lest Steelers fans think I use one person to represent the entire team, I do not. The Pittsburgh Steelers are with a few exceptions one of the classiest NFL teams and franchises. Although, there certainly are more of those off-field exceptions happening in the past three offseasons.
As for the abilities of the team, I covered most of them in the introductory slide. Add to that the return of all 22 starters for Pittsburgh and you have the obvious choice to win the division again.
The Packers showed that the Steelers could be exploited by a good quarterback and receiving corps combination, but not many teams have those. That list may or may not include the division rival Baltimore Ravens and has only three other teams on their schedule: New England, Indianapolis and Houston.
The Steelers should lose no more than four games this season.
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The Baltimore Ravens are no Washington Generals to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Harlem Globetrotters. They are only a hair away from being the dominant team themselves.
One play each could have changed the outcome of one of the games. They were leading in the fourth quarter of another. Points and wins are almost dead-even head-to-head in recent years.
They are one player away, and every year Ozzie Newsome tries to add that one player. There is no reason to believe they were any more successful at doing it, but there is hope.
The Ravens still have an incredible front-seven that forces teams to pass and pressures them well once they do. They have a balanced attack with a deep receiving corps, developing quarterback and play-making running back.
Joe Flacco has already shown an ability to get road wins over the division king in the regular season and three other AFC teams in the playoffs. He is young enough to think he will continue to develop on the field and in terms of mettle; he is old enough to think this might be his year.
But it had better be. Ray Lewis is getting older and without the best safety in the game, their secondary is not good enough to beat the best teams. Ed Reed is nowhere near retirement, but may begin to break down more frequently in the near future.
And unfortunately, the Ravens face six games against elite passing attacks from Houston, Indianapolis, New England and San Diego, plus the two against the Steelers. They have games against the Jets, Cardinals and Rams, whose attacks are capable of exploiting that defense.
They will lose at least half of the former group and one against the latter. Chances are, they will also lose at least one more than that somewhere along the way, good enough to earn a wild-card spot.
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The broad view is this team has some talent. They have a capable defense and great special teams.
Colt McCoy was impressive in the pocket and Packers backup corners were being exploited. Peyton Hillis provides the offense balance with a strong running game.
The problem is the power running game is often unreliable when blockers are removed to spread the field. With no other unit but special teams good enough to give the team an edge, asking McCoy to be good enough to carry such a team to the playoffs right now is unrealistic.
He is only in his second season, and his first full season as a starter. He does not have top-line weapons to rely on or a dominant defense that has his back, allowing him to simply manage the game. And New York and Baltimore are likely to have at least 10 wins, while Cleveland will do well to avoid 10 losses.
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I do not blame Carson Palmer for being unwilling to play for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Mike Brown has bungled the Bengals through moves made, lack of character in the players and being unwilling to spend money to build new practice and training facilities. This shows players they care more about saving money than winning and attracts players who are focused on selfish goals.
That puts him in a difficult spot. If he lets his star quarterback do it, other players will also want out of the organization for the same reasons. So letting him go for nothing is better than any compensation he will get.
The Bengals do have a new franchise quarterback, but with the diminished talent around him compared to what the more experienced, if unimpressive, Palmer had to work with last year, it will lead to a drop, not a gain, in the team's competitiveness this season. The defense and running game are solid, but nowhere near good enough to overcome the weakness of the passing game
Meanwhile the only team not clearly in front of them got better. Cincinnati will lose three games for every one they win, guaranteed.