I will now discuss my thoughts on what I think is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, if not thee toughest. Put records aside, the North teams play your old-fashion grind it out football, they’ll pound the pigskin until your defense is worn out. What puts the North division above the rest is the defense each team puts on the field, from the Ravens Ray Lewis to the Steelers great LB corps, Bengals front four and D’Qwell Jackson and the Browns. In 2012 it will be tough for either division winner, will Flacco lead the Ravens to another division title? Can Big Ben put up career numbers under Todd Haley’s offense? Is Trent Richardson next? and lastly I’m looking forward to the continued chemistry between Dalton and rising superstar WR AJ Green.
RAVENS : This was tough but I could only see them winning 10 games, but they win the division because of a better W/L record in the North. Ravens have a tough schedule right from kick-off in week 1 with games against the Patriots, Eagles, Cowboys & Texans. Flacco will take another step forward in 2012 as he’ll have more weapons in Jacoby, Streeter and 2nd year phenom Torrey Smith. Even with Suggs out there is no need to worry about the menacing defense the Ravens bring, McPhee and incoming rookie Upshaw continue to improve and develop and of course the man in the middle, Haloti Ngata. Ed Reed, Webb and Jimmy Smith will be the ball-hawks in the secondary, causing fits for opposing WR’s.
STEELERS : The blueprint for success, that’s what I like to call the Steelers organization. They bring in Todd Haley to run the offense, Big Ben healthy this year and although Mendenhall is out, back up Issac Redman can step right in. A revamped offensive line will only help Big Ben put up staggering numbers in Haley’s offense along with the WR’s in Brown, Wallace, Sanders, Cotchery, Cleamons and TE Heath Miller. It’ll be an up and down season for the Steelers though, their middle of the season schedule is brutal with games against NYG, BAL, CIN, PHI, SDC and CLE. You’ll never have to question the Steelers LB’s as they have tremendous depth there, a secondary that’s suspect and an aging D-Line, one can hope they’ll be just as dominant.
BENGALS : Rising superstar in AJ Green has a cast of offensive weapons by his side with incoming rookies Sanu and Jones, a much improved Binns and then you got their QB, Andy Dalton, who exceeded expectations as a rookie. Bengals should have no problem putting points on the board, as BJGE pounds the ball up the middle but he’s nothing exciting. Question will be on defense and if Maualuga can take the next step forward along with Leon Hall. Their front 4 is as good as you can get, Dunlap, Peko, Atkins and Michael Johnson provides bulk and speed on the outside. Bengals got a tough road ahead as they face the NFC East, but overall they take a small step backwards this season as it’s just too tough. The Bengals will continue to improve and in no time they’ll surpass the Steelers and Ravens, maybe.
BROWNS : some could say the 6 wins I’m giving the Browns might be too low, but their schedule is tough, especially their first 9 games. They face teams like PHI, BUF, NYG, SDC, BAL(2x) and CIN(2x) so Weeden and company has their work cut out for them. Big lost to the defense during off-season in Phil Taylor, but they still have Sheard and Rubin manning the front line. Solid LB corps led by All-Pro D’Qwell Jackson, their secondary with Joe Haden and TJ Ward will be a force. All eyes on Trent Richardson in 2012 though, he has all the talent in the world and arguably best RB Prospect since Adrian Peterson? This should be an exciting season for Browns fans as they’ll see progress as the team continues to improve, and the wins will come soon after.