Aug 26, 2010

Upon Further Review: AFC North

Day 299

Revis Island: Population Zero.

Last year the NFL made the decision to schedule the Pro Bowl between SuperBowl Sunday and Conference Weekend. And the NFL will do the same this year but I hope that it doesn't become a trend.

I can see the reasoning in scheduling this game in perhaps the most hyped weekend in all of football but aside from that fact, I think the NFL is making a mistake. The only thing I agree with is that the weekend between the playoffs and SuperBowl is boring and a let down for fans and the NFL should make it special. Putting the Pro Bowl on that weekend is a step in the right direction but I don't think it should be the Pro Bowl.

I felt bad last year for the players that worked so hard during the season and earned a Pro Bowl award and couldn't make it to the festivities because of the SuperBowl. Sure, in my shoes I would rather prepare to play in the SuperBowl but in years past players that were fortunate to make it to both could play in both. And what about all those players that made it and were not SuperBowl bound? They played in Florida, which while nice and warm in January/February is not Hawaii. And as a fan, I would rather play in Hawaii and the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl game itself is a shred of what the NFL is. You cannot blitz in the Pro Bowl, you cannot really play football like normal. So the game itself is not that special. So if it is not a real game than it should not be treated like a real game and placed during the season. Do it after and have some other special events or have some crazy rules in the game to make it interesting. But more importantly, do it in Hawaii and do it after the SuperBowl.


1) Baltimore Ravens

What I Like:
Who would have thought that the Ravens might have a better offense than they do a defense? During the offseason the Ravens addressed one of their major weaknesses by getting QB Joe Flacco some great targets to throw to. WR Anquan Boldin brings his toughness to Baltimore in a marriage made in heaven. He may not have blazing speed but the man can catch and will provide Flacco with another pair of great hands in addition to veteran Derrick Mason. The Ravens also brought in speedy WR Donte Stallworth whom may be one of the best sleeper wide outs. Add this formidable receiving corp to one of the best running corps in the league led by RB Ray Rice and you have a scary offense. The defense does have some holes in it but will still be a difficult defense for opposing offenses to deal with.

What I Don't Like:
There is not much to dislike about the Ravens but I do worry about their secondary. It has been a rough preseason so far for the Ravens at this position with injuries and inconsistencies. They may not have enough talent to keep up with the rest of the defensive unit. Opposing offenses that have a strong passing game will be able to pass on this secondary.

2) Cincinnati Bengals

What I Like:
History is against the Bengals. In the last decade they have not put together back-to-back winning seasons but that all changes this year. I don't see them repeating as champs but I do see them competing for the division title. The Bengals defense showed what they were made of last year and all I see is them improving. The Bengals running game should improve as well with the additions of wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Terrell Owens. Now QB Carson Palmer has more targets to pass too and that will take some pressure off the Bengals great running game. RC Cedric Benson will have more fresher legs by the end of the year.

What I Don't Like:
They have the toughest schedule of the AFC North and every rival will look to enact revenge on them for being swept. They also laid a tremendous offensive egg last year by being beaten by the Jets two weeks in a row. They didn't end the season on a positive note. I am a little leery about the pairing of Ochocinco and T.O. together, that could cause some problems but as long as the Bengals are winning that won't be a problem. If they face a little adversity during the season it will be interesting to see how they react.

3) Pittsburgh Steelers

What I Like:
No matter what, the Steelers will be competitive. Head Coach Mike Tomlin will not allow his players to slack off. Defensively the Steelers have more than enough talent to keep them in games. Even though WR Hines Ward is getting older, he is still a threat posting some huge numbers just last season.

What I Don't Like:
Roethlisberger. Seriously, the guy has some major issues. I really shouldn't let my personal feelings about him affect what I think of the Steelers but he is the leader of this team and he needs to grow up. And I know I am not the only one that thinks that. He has to win a lot of his teammates over this season. I am concerned with the Steeler offense. I am not sure RB Rashard Mendenhall can handle a full load over the season and the Steelers will definitely miss WR Santonio Holmes production and ability to stretch the field. But I am concerned more at the QB position. The Steelers will be fine without Roethlisberger but what if the backup QB wins games convincingly? Can Ben handle coming in after 4-6 games out? Can he handle staying on the sidelines?

4) Cleveland Browns

What I Like:
Cleveland ended the season last year on the right track by winning their last four games. Unfortunately that is about all that is to be liked about the Browns. They do not have an offensive star, RB Jerome Harrison looks like he could be a star but may not be a feature back. The only playmaker the Browns have is Joshua Cribbs and the Browns will have to find unique ways of getting him the ball. If new QB Jake Delhomme stops all the turnovers, the Browns will at least have a decent QB. But that may be an uphill battle.

What I Don't Like:
This year will prove to be interesting for the Browns organization. New General Manager Mike Holmgren surprisingly kept HC Eric Mangini for another year but it will be a huge surprise if he keeps him around. We all know Cleveland is rebuilding (still) and you have to wonder how long it will be before Holmgren brings one of his boys to coach the team. If the Browns lose (and more than likely they will) the players will either became extremely loyal to Mangini or phone the rest of the season in as they wait for a new coach. The Browns should play hard but they just don't have enough talent to keep up with the rest of the AFC North.

NEXT WEEK: I conclude my trip around the league with a look at the old Norris Division, the NFC North. And of course, I have to talk about Brett Favre.

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