AFC North will play the AFC South and the NFC East (double trouble for the AFC North as the AFC South and NFC East are the two toughest divisions in the league)
Ravens were 5-11 in 07. They will also play Oakland and at Miami.
Ravens have always been about D. LB Ray Lewis is back for his 13th season, but they have some young LB's also (Bart Scott, Terrell Suggs, and rookie Tavaris Gooden, a third round pick out of Miami). The D line has some gray also, with Trevor Pryce starting his 12th year, and NT Kelly Gregg starting his 9th, but DE Haloti Ngata was a first round pick out of Oregon in 06. The secondary has two 30 year old corners (Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, and safety Ed Reed, one of the best when healthy, and Dawan Landry are good. But Reed has a chronic shoulder problem, and will probably need surgery sometime - can he make it through this year?
The D should be OK, but the O presents many questions. QB, for example. Steve McNair retired last April, after an injury riddled season where he missed ten games, including the last seven. McNair was 133 - 205 for 1,113 yards when he played, while his replacement, Kyle Boller, was 168 - 275 - 1,743, so you can't really blame Boller for the 5-11 record (after 13-3 in 06). But the Ravens aren't happy with Boller (which is why they signed McNair in 06). Boller was a first round pick out of Cal in 03, but the Ravens drafted Troy Smith out of Ohio State last year and Joe Flacco out of Delaware this year (first round). Flacco played the entire game last night at St. Louis (Smith sat out with the flu) and was a respectable 18-37-152 with one TD and no INT's. Ravens brought in Cam Cameron as the O coordinator. This after the firing of head Coach Brian Billick, replaced by rookie HC John Harbaugh. So, lots of changes, the O line is young, the wides are OK but not great, and I figure the Ravens are looking at 5-11 again, at best.
Bengals were 7-9 last year. They will play the AFC South and the NFC East, and also Kansas City and at the Jets.
Ah, the Cincinnati Bengals. What a hassle for Coach Marvin Lewis to try to herd these guys around (you know the old expression - 'like trying to herd cats'?). They've had more players arrested, suspended, etc., than any other team the last few years. Lewis has tried to instill some discipline but recently got dissed by the owner, Mike Brown. Here's what happened: wide out Chris Henry, who is a very good receiver but not a very good person, got dropped from the team after the league announced a four game suspension. Lewis went on record July 22 that Henry would not be allowed back on the team. Then Brown re-signed him a month later. What's that going to do to Lewis' efforts to herd cats in the locker room?
Bengals have a lot of great wides, including the self styled Ocho Cinco, Chad Johnson, who tried a holdout this summer to get a new contract, despite having signed a multi-year contract in 06. Frankly, despite the talent of these two guys, I wouldn't want either of them on my team. Bengals do have T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who led the league in catches last year with 112 (for 1,143 yards), and had 12 TD's. T.J. will be a free agent after this year, and I'd gladly take him on my team. Because of the problems, the Bengals drafted three wides this year, one in the 2nd and one in the 3rd. All of these guys will have Carson Palmer throwing to them, and he's one of the best QB's in the league. But the O line may have problems, with both tackles (Jones and Anderson) having injury problems last year. And it might be noted that Carson Palmer got sacked three times last night by the Saints - the last one left him with a bloody nose, a cut lip, and an early exit from the game. The RB position has its issues, with Rudi Johnson coming off an injury plagued year; but with Chris Perry, Kenny Irons, and Kenny Watson available, the RB situation looks OK.
Bengals have been about O, not D lately. O was 10th in 07, D was 27th. Bengals let three D starters leave in free agency, signaling a rebuild kind of thing for the D. They drafted LB Keith Rivers out of USC in the first round and DT Pat Sims from Auburn in the 3rd.
If Henry and Johnson settle down, Palmer can get the ball to them, but with a young D I gotta figure the Bengals and Ravens will battle for the AFC North cellar.
Browns were 10-6 last year, and just missed the playoffs. They will play the AFC South and the NFC East and also Denver and at Buffalo.
A year ago, the Browns had no proven QB, and a new O coordinator (Rod Chudzinski). QB's included Charlie Frye, Ken Dorsey (in his 5th year out of Miami) and Derek Anderson (3rd year out of Oregon State). Dorsey was a 7th round pick by the Niners in 03, and the Browns traded Trent Dilfer to get Dorsey. Derek Anderson was drafted by the Ravens in the 6th round in 06, then cut after the pre season, then picked up by the Browns. Frye had shown some promise after being drafted in the 3rd round by the Browns in 05, and he started the first game against the Steelers, but went 4-10-40 yards and one INT. He was promptly traded to the Seahawks for a 6th round pick, and Derek Anderson became the sensation of the league last year. Coming out of nowhere, he passed for 3,787 yards and 29 TD's. Prior to the season, the Browns moved up in the first round of the draft to take Brady Quinn out of Notre Dame, but Anderson has kept Quinn on the bench. Maybe a good thing - in yesterday's game against the Lions, Quinn was not mighty.
Anyway, one Browns observer has opined that the offense looks a whole lot better this year as opposed to last, since the O has settled in with Chudzinski's system. Browns have Braylon Edwards at wide (1,289 yards last year) and Kellen Winslow at tight end (1,106 yards). RB Jamal Lewis ran for 1,304 yards (4.4 per carry) last year, and added 248 yards on 30 receptions. Browns used their first first round pick last year on LT Joe Thomas, who quickly became the LT every one wants for their team. The rest of the O line is pretty good.
Browns O was 8th in the league last year, but the D was 30th. They brought in two defensive tackles in trades, Corey Williams who had been franchised by Green Bay, and huge Shaun Rogers from Detroit. Rogers is one of the very best DT's in the league, but the rap has been that he often doesn't show up. But they say that he has been a new person in Cleveland. LB's and DB's are mostly young, but they ought to be better than last year.
If the O is better than last year (and it should be, barring a wierd slump), and the D can be even a little better, the Browns could live up to the expectations of the Cleveland faithful.
Steelers were 10-6 last year and won the division over the Browns because they beat the Browns twice. Steelers will also play the AFC South and the NFC East and also San Diego and at New England.
Steelers have owned this division for a few years now, with competition from the Ravens and the Bengals. This year the competition will mostly come from the Browns. Steelers let their disgruntled OG Alan Faneca, a 7 time pro bowler, go to the Jets. This is not good news for QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked 47 times last year (and 46 in 06). Ben's a big boy and can take a hit, but how many sacks will he have in 08, with Faneca gone? Steelers are hoping that huge (6'3', 344) Chris Kemoeatu, a fifth round draft pick in 05 from Utah, can fill the bill. Charlie Batch, a very good back up QB, may be out for the season with an injury, so the Steelers brought in Byron Leftwich, who has looked good despite the late start.
RB Willie Parker might have become the first Steeler to lead the league in rushing (since Bullet Bill Dudley did it in 1946) last year if not for a busted fibula on the first play of the 15th game. LaDainian Tomlinson ended up with the league lead at 1,474 yards to Parker's 1,316. Parker seems to be totally healthy (the fibula is the small bone in the lower leg that doesn't really do anything). Packers drafted Rashard Mendenhall in the first round (Illinois) to complement Parker. Steelers still have Hines Ward, but Santonio Holmes may become the go to guy. Steelers drafted 6'4' Limas Sweed (Texas) in the second round to provide depth and a future, and TE Heath Miller is good.
The D was one of the best in the league last year, and with not many age or injury problems, you can expect them to be good this year also. So, if the O line can hold up, the Steelers will be good again this year.
Browns or Steelers to win the division this year? It'll be snowing before we have an answer.