2009 AFC North Predictions
2009 AFC North preview from MadduxSports.com. After studying the NFL teams get signed up for our NFL Football Picks for the top handicappers on the internet.
2009 AFC North Division Preview
By Adam Barone
The Steelers haven’t skipped a beat in the transition from Bill Cowher to Mike Tomlin, and are the hands-down favorite in their division, maybe even the conference, in the coming season. Usually a contender for the division, the Ravens are having trouble stabilizing their talent base, and could be overtaken in the coming season by the upstart Bengals. This is one of the few divisions that are relatively easy to call.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): The Super Bowl champion Steelers will field almost exactly the same team this season as last, with a few exceptions. Receiver Nate Washington, cornerback Bryant McFadden, and linebacker Larry Foote all left as free agents. Second year receiver Limas Sweed will get his first chance at significant playing time with Washington’s departure, while second year back Rashard Mendenhall will get his second after being injured by the brick wall known as Ray Lewis. Mendenhall will split carries with Willie Parker, who’s seen his yards per carry drop exactly .3 yards every season since 2005. He was at 4.7 then, and stands to finish this season at 3.5. Mendenhall is the future of this offense, and it could use the help after it ranked 22nd overall last season. The line will need to improve as well, as Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 139 times in the last three seasons.
The defense finished as the league’s best last season, and could do so again in 2009. It allowed a stingy 237.2 total yards per game, thanks mostly to the linebackers. James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, and James Farrior combined for 359 tackles and 36 sacks last season. Regardless of the success of the offense, the Steelers will contend because of their defense.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7): The Bengals have virtually no chance of overtaking Pittsburgh, but with quarterback Carson Palmer back, they certainly have a chance of making the playoffs. Palmer’s favorite target, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, is now in Seattle, but he’s been replaced by Laveranues Coles as the possession receiver. Defensive tackle Tank Johnson, fullback Brian Leonard, safety Roy Williams, and backup quarterback J. T. O’Sullivan were all brought in to make this team competitive, at least on paper. Former Bears’ running back Cedric Benson was signed last season when Chris Perry proved himself to be terrible, and has solidified himself an uncontested role as the featured back. Benson’s upside isn’t great (3.5 ypc last season), but he’s never played with a quarterback who could stretch the field, so he could have a breakout year.
You should be sitting down for this: before Johnson and Williams came to town, and without last season’s first round pick Keith Rivers (37 tackles in seven games) the Bengals had the league’s 12th best defense. Seriously. They also drafted USC standout linebacker Rey Maualuga, who’ll probably play on the inside. With three mediocre offenses in the division, don’t be surprised to see the Bengals’ defense among the top ten.
Baltimore Ravens (7-9): Year two for Joe Flacco will be a crucial one, as the running game appears weak, and aging the defense and lost two of its key players. He’ll need to improve on his 80.3 rating and show that he can carry the team. The running game will be by committee, as Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and La’Ron McClain will compete for carries. McClain has moved back to fullback, but will still see goal line and short yardage carries. Rice averaged 4.2 yards per carry as a rookie and showed that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, but never found the end zone. McGahee scored seven times on the ground, but age and injuries brought his carry total to just 170. Flacco has receiver Derek Mason back after his short retirement, and former Eagles’ tight end L.J. Smith was signed to push Todd Heap and maybe replace him.
Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan left to become the Jets’ head coach, but the 3-4 scheme should remain basically the same. Linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonard each followed Ryan to the Jets, and will be difficult to replace. Young linebacker Tavares Gooden and veteran safety Dawan Landry will get first crack at the open jobs. Unless something special happens this season and a playmaker magically emerges, things aren’t promising for 2009 in Baltimore.
Cleveland Browns (4-12): Former Jets’ head coach Eric Mangini replaced fired Romeo Crennel as the Browns’ head coach following last season, and is likely to go to a spread offense. The starting quarterback job is open to both Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Each is talented, but Quinn is more of a game manager with an accurate arm, while Anderson is more dynamic and throws a better deep ball. The outcome of the battle will influence the team’s entire offensive philosophy. If a winner isn’t decided early on, things could get ugly quickly in Cleveland. Star receiver Braylon Edwards caught just 55 passes and scored only three touchdowns last season while leading the league in drops with 16. He’ll need to step up for the Browns to be competitive. Tight end Kellen Winslow was traded to Tampa Bay in the offseason, and Donte Stallworth will likely be suspended due to his legal troubles. Rookie receiver Brian Robiskie is expected to replace Stallworth and have a key role in the offense.
The defense includes nose tackle Shaun Rodgers and linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Kamerion Wimbley, but ranked 26th in 2008 under Crennel. Similar to the Bengals defense, the Browns’ defense does have talent, and could be competitive in a division lacking an explosive offense. The Browns aren’t likely, however, to finish outside of the basement here.