A year ago at this time, talk about the AFC North was skeptical.
The Steelers had lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Mike Tomlins only playoff game. The Baltimore Ravens were starting out with a new head coach and quarterback. The Cincinnati Bengals were in conflict about trading Ochocinco.
And the Cleveland Browns were the "trendy" team that was going to take the next step and become Super Bowl Champions.
What a difference a year makes!
Last year's "trendy" pick has become this years laughing stock. The shock of the downfall of the team caused owner Randy Lerner to fire GM Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel.
Lerner then hired former Jets coach Eric Mangini, who brought with him many of his former players from New York.
Will Mangini be able to right the wrongs done over the years to Browns fans, or will the Dawg Pound be forced to endure another year of the same? Loss after loss?
Marvin Lewis enters the last year of his contract with the Cincinnati Bengals. Will he be able to turn this franchise around and be rewarded with a contract fitting one of the best coaches in the league?
Most people don't realize that Cincinnati had the 12th best defense last year.
If Ochocinco can be the receiver he was two years ago, that would be a good start. And if Carson Palmer returns from injury, the Bengals could be a force to be reckoned with.
The Bengals need to make sure they don't forget why they resigned Cedric Benson. If the Bengals are willing to commit to the run game, their defense will be even better.
Can they make that commitment?
The Baltimore Ravens have had a tough time this off season.
Gone is defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who left for the New York Jets. Like Mangini did in Cleveland, Ryan took some of the key members of last year's defense with him.
Bart Scott, the young stud playing next to Ray Lewis, is the biggest loss. Lewis is getting older, but has not shown his age. Still able to play sideline to sideline, Lewis is going to have to prove to his skeptics that he is still the best in the game.
Jim Harbaugh enters his second year as head coach, and along with Joe Flacco, the offense needs to progress if the Ravens are going to compete this year.
Last year, Baltimore was unsuspecting and caught a lot of teams by surprise. That wont happen this year.
Finishing second in the AFC North, the Ravens SHOULD be playing a second place schedule. Because Indianapolis came in second to the Titans, and the Patriots came in second to the Dolphins, this year, the Ravens will have to play both the Colts and the Patriots.
Can the Ravens overcome the schedule and pass Pittsburgh for the divisional crown?
The defending Super Bowl champs go from the hunter to the hunted. Every game the Steelers play this year, the teams will be gunning to dethrone the champs.
As I noted with the Ravens, the Steelers have the benefit of playing the Titans and Dolphins instead of the Colts and Pats.
If Pittsburgh is going to take advantage of this, they are going to have to start out fast, with the NFL opening game in Pittsburgh against those same Titans.
Will the Steelers be able to repeat as not only divisional champs, but as Super Bowl champs as well?
Only time will answer these questions.
If you would have said last year at this time that Pittsburgh was going to beat the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl—on a play that will go down as one of the greatest in Super Bowl history—people would have thought you were nuts.