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fordfixer
08-27-2008, 02:02 AM
AFC North preview:
http://www.nfl.com/kickoff/story?id=090 ... nfirm=true (http://www.nfl.com/kickoff/story?id=09000d5d80a43f06&template=with-video&confirm=true)

Bengals: Circus in Cincy | Browns: Bulked up D | Ravens: Transition year | Steelers: Facing challenger

Although there are four teams in the starting blocks, this figures to be a two-horse race between the Steelers and the Browns. Baltimore has enough defense and Cincinnati has enough offense to cause the front runners some angst during the course of the season but neither has enough of what's missing on the other side of the ball to consistently challenge them throughout a long year.

The trendy pick to win the division is the Browns, who came on strong at the end of the season by winning eight of their last 11 games only to miss the postseason on a tie-breaker. Mathematics won't be enough to trip them up this time. It will take a stronger effort from the Steelers, as well, but until someone in the AFC North actually unseats Pittsburgh atop the division they remain the wise man's choice.
Under the radar
NFL.com's Gil Brandt has identified four underrated players in the AFC North, one from each team, who will bear watching this season:

Jared Gaither
OT, Baltimore
An excellent high school basketball player, who had limited college football experience. He continues to get better and has long arms and great strength.

Stacy Andrews
OL, Cincinnati
Played only one year of college football, so he continues to improve. Entering his fifth NFL season, he has shown versatility and a great deal of upside.

Josh Cribbs
KR, Cleveland
Established himself as a big-time return threat last season. With more national TV games in '08, he'll become more of a known quantity.

LaMarr Woodley
LB, Pittsburgh
Second-year player can rush the passer and play well in space. Had four sacks in the regular season last year and two more in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh can run it, throw it and defend against it. They have the best quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) in a division with three very good ones (Carson Palmer in Cincinnati, Derek Anderson in Cleveland and Roethlisberger) and are more evenly balanced than the Browns, who still haven't appeared to solve all their defensive problems yet.

Cincinnati is a dark horse possibility because of its explosive capabilities on offense but the recent re-signing of troublesome wide receiver Chris Henry blew all the offseason talk of Marvin Lewis becoming more of a disciplinarian. Worse than that, their defense has never ranked better than 19th since Lewis arrived in Cincinnati in 2003. So what happened? They drafted USC linebacker Keith Rivers No. 1, but couldn't avoid a holdout. That's not good enough to cut it in a division with the Steelers and Browns in it.
Team on the rise

Cleveland. The Browns have been struggling for so long it feels like the last time they won anything Otto Graham was at quarterback, but the patient Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel approach paid off last season once a quarterback was finally located. Now they have a nose tackle in Shaun Rogers to shore up a similar defensive weakness on an improving 10-6 team.
Team in transition

Baltimore. The Ravens' defense has begun to age but is trying to hold on, while new coach John Harbaugh and new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron are working to fix an offense that ranked 22nd in the league a year ago. An unsettled quarterback situation and the loss of perennial All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden continue to be a source of the struggles.
Coach in the spotlight

Marvin Lewis promised to be tougher this year after the Bengals spent the last few seasons embarrassing themselves worse off the field than on it. He refused to back down from productive, but always complaining, wide receiver Chad Johnson and cut Chris Henry and Odell Thurman. But he was forced to re-sign Henry by owner Mike Brown at the first sign of trouble. Problem is, Henry's off-field issues have overshadowed his playing ability. Lewis has to get the Bengals back into contention and off the front page of the newspaper or he'll be running someone else's defense this time next year.
Star on the rise

Stacy Andrews. The Bengals franchised Andrews after having played in only 17 games the past four years. They believe he's ready to replace Willie Anderson at right tackle. That needs to happen quickly, because after 13 seasons Anderson is no longer the player he used to be.

Impact rookie

Rashard Mendenhall doesn't figure to see the ball much with Willie Parker toting it for the Steelers. Still, he's a powerful inside presence who the Steelers hope can become the new version of Jerome Bettis, especially around the goal line.
Count on it

Ben Roethlisberger will have his most productive season as the Steelers begin to throw the ball more than in the past from spread formations.
Don't be surprised if...

Troy Smith starts most of the year at quarterback for the Ravens and makes some plays. They have secretly liked him all offseason and he has done enough this summer to win the job. With No. 1 choice Joe Flacco not ready for prime time yet, Smith will keep it as long as he stays healthy.

Oviedo
08-27-2008, 07:58 AM
When the regular season ends the AFC North will look like this:

Pittsburgh: 10-6
Cleveland: 8-8
Cincinnatti: 7-9
Baltimore: 6-10

Both the Bumgals and Ravens have the potential to do worse than I have predicted.

papillon
08-27-2008, 08:16 AM
If it ended up like that I'd be a happy camper; the Steelers would be a playoff tested team because of their schedule. They would be a favorite in my book to go very deep into the playoffs if they can win 10 games against the opponents that are the schedule.

Pappy

Jom112
08-27-2008, 09:08 AM
I'm fine with the guys "predictions" but his analysis is a little off IMHO.

1. Keith River's holdout doesn't mean swat at this point. He has played in two preseason games already and has looked good in both. I think he'll do similar to what Jon Beason did last season, who also held out for an extended period of time.

2. Mendenhall = Bettis? I'm gonna go with no. Mendenhall is a good back but not every "power back" that comes around needs to be compared to Bettis.

3. Are sports writers handing out a flyer that says "Pick Stacey Andrews as your breakout player" this season? He looked great in Training Camp but did horrible in the preseason games. Plus he isn't the long term solution to replace Willie Anderson, that will go to Andrew Whithworth. Andrews is just a stop gap that will be gone after this season.

frankthetank1
08-27-2008, 09:12 AM
I'm fine with the guys "predictions" but his analysis is a little off IMHO.

1. Keith River's holdout doesn't mean swat at this point. He has played in two preseason games already and has looked good in both. I think he'll do similar to what Jon Beason did last season, who also held out for an extended period of time.

2. Mendenhall = Bettis? I'm gonna go with no. Mendenhall is a good back but not every "power back" that comes around needs to be compared to Bettis.
3. Are sports writers handing out a flyer that says "Pick Stacey Andrews as your breakout player" this season? He looked great in Training Camp but did horrible in the preseason games. Plus he isn't the long term solution to replace Willie Anderson, that will go to Andrew Whithworth. Andrews is just a stop gap that will be gone after this season.

your right he is much faster than bettis :lol:

i agree the comparisons are stupid. why do writers feel the need to compare up and coming players to past great ones? especially brady, they were comparing him to montana by brady's 4th season in the nfl

Oviedo
08-27-2008, 09:19 AM
I'm fine with the guys "predictions" but his analysis is a little off IMHO.

1. Keith River's holdout doesn't mean swat at this point. He has played in two preseason games already and has looked good in both. I think he'll do similar to what Jon Beason did last season, who also held out for an extended period of time.

2. Mendenhall = Bettis? I'm gonna go with no. Mendenhall is a good back but not every "power back" that comes around needs to be compared to Bettis.

3. Are sports writers handing out a flyer that says "Pick Stacey Andrews as your breakout player" this season? He looked great in Training Camp but did horrible in the preseason games. Plus he isn't the long term solution to replace Willie Anderson, that will go to Andrew Whithworth. Andrews is just a stop gap that will be gone after this season.

I agree with you on #2. Mendenhall is no Bettis. Bettis was a once a decade, if not generation, RB where a back that size is that quick and powerful. We will likely never have another back like Bettis.

In my mind I see Mendenhall potentially as a slightly larger Marshall Faulk. Maybe not as quick, but offers both run and catch abilities.

IMO Faulk was not in Bettis' league.

ikestops85
08-27-2008, 10:04 AM
I'm fine with the guys "predictions" but his analysis is a little off IMHO.

1. Keith River's holdout doesn't mean swat at this point. He has played in two preseason games already and has looked good in both. I think he'll do similar to what Jon Beason did last season, who also held out for an extended period of time.

2. Mendenhall = Bettis? I'm gonna go with no. Mendenhall is a good back but not every "power back" that comes around needs to be compared to Bettis.

3. Are sports writers handing out a flyer that says "Pick Stacey Andrews as your breakout player" this season? He looked great in Training Camp but did horrible in the preseason games. Plus he isn't the long term solution to replace Willie Anderson, that will go to Andrew Whithworth. Andrews is just a stop gap that will be gone after this season.

I have seen the 2 games Rivers has played in and he has looked very good. This past week he was playing against the 1st stringers so it's not like he was cleaning up against the scrubs. The holdout hasn't been detrimental to his play. The bengals might have actually hit on a first rounder. Aside from Palmer I don't think their track record has been very successful in that round. I'm sure Jom will correct me if I'm wrong :)

About the only similarity I've seen between Mendy and Bettis is the quick feet. Mendy is much faster than JB and quicker into his cuts but he is not even in the same zip code as Bettis when it comes to power. From what I've seen to date I wouldn't describe Mendy as a power back. If there is no hole at the line of scrimmage Mendy sort of stops and searches ... that is not what a power back does. Bettis would explode into the line. This is not to say that Mendy isn't strong, he does break tackles, but his style is not that of a power back IMHO.

Jom112
08-27-2008, 10:10 AM
I'm fine with the guys "predictions" but his analysis is a little off IMHO.

1. Keith River's holdout doesn't mean swat at this point. He has played in two preseason games already and has looked good in both. I think he'll do similar to what Jon Beason did last season, who also held out for an extended period of time.

2. Mendenhall = Bettis? I'm gonna go with no. Mendenhall is a good back but not every "power back" that comes around needs to be compared to Bettis.

3. Are sports writers handing out a flyer that says "Pick Stacey Andrews as your breakout player" this season? He looked great in Training Camp but did horrible in the preseason games. Plus he isn't the long term solution to replace Willie Anderson, that will go to Andrew Whithworth. Andrews is just a stop gap that will be gone after this season.

I have seen the 2 games Rivers has played in and he has looked very good. This past week he was playing against the 1st stringers so it's not like he was cleaning up against the scrubs. The holdout hasn't been detrimental to his play. The bengals might have actually hit on a first rounder. Aside from Palmer I don't think their track record has been very successful in that round. I'm sure Jom will correct me if I'm wrong :)

About the only similarity I've seen between Mendy and Bettis is the quick feet. Mendy is much faster than JB and quicker into his cuts but he is not even in the same zip code as Bettis when it comes to power. From what I've seen to date I wouldn't describe Mendy as a power back. If there is no hole at the line of scrimmage Mendy sort of stops and searches ... that is not what a power back does. Bettis would explode into the line. This is not to say that Mendy isn't strong, he does break tackles, but his style is not that of a power back IMHO.

Levi Jones and Johnathan Joseph would be the only other 1st round draft picks in recent memory that I would argue have been successful...

proudpittsburgher
08-27-2008, 10:17 AM
I'm fine with the guys "predictions" but his analysis is a little off IMHO.

1. Keith River's holdout doesn't mean swat at this point. He has played in two preseason games already and has looked good in both. I think he'll do similar to what Jon Beason did last season, who also held out for an extended period of time.

2. Mendenhall = Bettis? I'm gonna go with no. Mendenhall is a good back but not every "power back" that comes around needs to be compared to Bettis.

3. Are sports writers handing out a flyer that says "Pick Stacey Andrews as your breakout player" this season? He looked great in Training Camp but did horrible in the preseason games. Plus he isn't the long term solution to replace Willie Anderson, that will go to Andrew Whithworth. Andrews is just a stop gap that will be gone after this season.

I agree with you on #2. Mendenhall is no Bettis. Bettis was a once a decade, if not generation, RB where a back that size is that quick and powerful. We will likely never have another back like Bettis.

In my mind I see Mendenhall potentially as a slightly larger Marshall Faulk. Maybe not as quick, but offers both run and catch abilities.

IMO Faulk was not in Bettis' league.

It's tough to compare Bettis and Faulk, because they were two different kinds of backs. Faulk wasn't nearly as powerful as Bussie was, and you could argue that he didn't have his footwork, but Faulk was a monster out of the backfield. I'd take either on my team.

buckeyehoppy
08-27-2008, 04:34 PM
Bettis is a once in a generation player, for sure. If Mendy gets there at all, it will be after he's been in for 5 to 7 years.

The Steelers should win the North with a two to three win cushion. The Clowns are already having injury difficulties and while the Bungholes and Ratfarts are somewhat competitive, they are still in rebuild mode to a certain degree.

I see the final numbers in the AFC North as follows:

Pittsburgh 10-6
Cleveland 7-9
Baltimore 7-9
Cincinnati 6-10

The division has a good degree of competitive fire to it and since every team has a loaded schedule, the final numbers may be slightly lower.

But, the Steelers had better settle into the fact that there are no light touches to this season's schedule. Their key factors this season are overall health, good use of every player on the roster (read: quick and timely substitutions to keep players fresh) and ball control. If the Steelers can master all three of those areas, it could be a special season on the Three Rivers.

AkronSteel
08-27-2008, 04:45 PM
I see the division like this

Pittsburgh 11-5
Stains 7-9
Bengals 7-9
Ravens 5-11

I think the Steelers will dominate in the division again, probably 5-1 or 6-0. I actually think the team that has the best chance of challenging in the division is the Bengals, at least on paper. I think the Stains are in for a big shock this year. Teams are just going to spread them out and destroy that secondary, plus the offense will be facing defenses that are alot better than what they faced last year. The Ravens are in big trouble. That team is just not good and they will struggle all year to post victories, heck 5 might be too many.

As far as Mendenhall being compared to Bettis, just stop it. The two players are not alike at all. Mendenhall will be just fine but he will not be Jerome. I think of Thurman Thomas when I watch him run not Jerome Bettis.

:2c

NKySteeler
08-27-2008, 05:05 PM
Maybe because it's a rainy day, and I'm grumpy, ..... But with what I've seen from our O-line, combined with our schedule, I see us at 9-7....

buckeyehoppy
08-27-2008, 05:30 PM
Maybe because it's a rainy day, and I'm grumpy, ..... But with what I've seen from our O-line, combined with our schedule, I see us at 9-7....

Altogether possible...every team in the AFC North has a back breaking schedule and the Steelers will need to pretty much own the division like they have the last few years to make a winning record a reality because it is hard to imagine a record better than .500 outside the AFC North. It's not impossible, but the Steelers are lining up against 8 of the 12 playoff teams from last year, so a cautious optimism is probably warranted.

AkronSteel
08-27-2008, 05:43 PM
I won't be disappointed with this team if they are hosting a playoff game in January at Heinz. I would take 9-7 if that is what won the division. I look at the schedule this way. With 5 wins in the division thats sets the team up for a good year. They play alot of their tougher games at home (Giants, Colts, Chargers, Cowboys), theres possibly three wins right there! That gets the team to 8! Houston will be tougher than usual but I see a win there in the opener, thats 9. The Philly game sets up good for the Steelers b/c the Eagles will be coming off a tough Monday night game in Dallas. It's never easy for a team on a short week, thats 10. That leaves Jacksonville, Washington, New England, and Tennessee I believe. I think the team gets at least one victory out of those four. Thats 11.

Even if the team goes 4-2 in the division that still gets them to 10-6, that would be a lock in the division this year.

fordfixer
08-27-2008, 09:10 PM
Maybe because it's a rainy day, and I'm grumpy, ..... But with what I've seen from our O-line, combined with our schedule, I see us at 9-7....

Then stop being grumpy :lol:

NKySteeler
08-27-2008, 09:16 PM
Maybe because it's a rainy day, and I'm grumpy, ..... But with what I've seen from our O-line, combined with our schedule, I see us at 9-7....

Then stop being grumpy :lol:

LoL..... I'm tryin' bro...... :wink:

...At least college football starts for real tomorrow night!.... :Beer

fordfixer
08-27-2008, 09:25 PM
Maybe because it's a rainy day, and I'm grumpy, ..... But with what I've seen from our O-line, combined with our schedule, I see us at 9-7....

Then stop being grumpy :lol:

LoL..... I'm tryin' bro...... :wink:

...At least college football starts for real tomorrow night!.... :Beer
There you go things are looking brighter already hang in there brother :D