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fordfixer
06-24-2009, 07:53 AM
Eye on the AFC North
What do the Ravens have to do to win the AFC North? by Mike Duffy

http://www.baltimoreravens.com/News/Art ... North.aspx (http://www.baltimoreravens.com/News/Articles/2009/06/Eye_on_AFC_North.aspx)

Jun 20, 2009, 10:53AM
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The Ravens made it obvious that they feel the road to the playoffs goes directly through the AFC North when they held a three-day minicamp focused on the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason.

Last year, Baltimore finished a respectable 4-2 within the division to earn a Wild Card bid and advance all the way to the AFC Championship.

The club the Ravens lost out to?

It was the AFC North champion Steelers, who defeated the purple and black for a third consecutive time in that final game.

With that in mind, many Ravens fans are wondering what it will take to win the division in 2009. It is not simply about getting revenge on the Steelers, however. Many factors must come in to play.

Three reasons the Ravens can win the AFC North:

1) The offensive line has beefed up.
With quarterback Joe Flacco entering a pivotal sophomore year, the Ravens invested in their franchise quarterback by solidifying their O-line through the draft and free agency.

First-round draft pick Michael Oher seems to be the answer at right tackle, the spot he manned through the entire offseason. Oher, 6-foot-4, 312 pounds, will tandem with monster left tackle Jared Gaither (6-foot-9, 330 pounds) to make up a young and talented group of bookends.

A less-heralded move was signing six-time Pro Bowler Matt Birk via free agency. The former Minnesota Viking replaces Jason Brown and might even be an upgrade. Birk is sturdy and smart, and the Ravens need a great center to handle the huge defensive tackles that permeate the division.

2) Potential Pittsburgh hangover
The last time the Steelers won the Super Bowl, in 2006, they were on top of the world. Then, they crashed down to Earth the next season and didn’t even make the postseason.

Could the same thing happen again?

That team featured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Willie Parker and receiver Hines Ward to go along with a stout defense, the same as this year’s squad. That team took a header after taking home the Vince Lombardi trophy. The same core enters the upcoming campaign as defending Super Bowl champs, and if similar results continue, the path to the AFC North title will be up for grabs.

3) Baltimore’s defensive continuity
When former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan left for greener pastures in New York, the Ravens promoted former linebackers coach Greg Mattison to the coordinator position. That could have been catastrophic for a defense that has ranked near the top of the pack for the last few years.

But, Mattison has vowed to maintain the integrity of the attacking and versatile system, and that has shown during minicamps, as players have been flying around the field and getting after the ball in multiple formations.

And, the Ravens retained linebacker Ray Lewis, who has rallied the new troops and provided a stellar example of how to “play like a Raven.”

Three obstacles to AFC North redemption:

1) Tomlin’s steady hand
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has seemingly infused a calming presence in the Pittsburgh locker room, something the Steelers didn’t have back in 2006 when Bill Cowher was going through the motions in his final season as a coach.

With Tomlin guiding the ship and Roethlisberger maturing from the second-year signal caller he was when he first won a Super Bowl, the Steelers could continue their hold on the division and avoid a fall off. :tt1

2) Chad and Carson are back
Don’t rule out the Bengals making a comeback this year. Head coach Marvin Lewis – the former Ravens defensive coordinator – has tried to rally a regularly disappointing defense.

The biggest factor in a Bengals resurgence, however, is the fact that wideout Chad Ochocinco and quarterback Carson Palmer are seemingly back to good terms. Ochocinco admitted he was disgruntled last offseason and didn’t work out as much as he could have, which led to less-than-desirable production. Now, Ochocinco is apparently looking very impressive in minicamps. With a Pro Bowl-caliber Ochocinco and the addition of Chris Henry and Leverneous Coles, Cincinnati’s offense could be explosive.

3) George and Mangini work in Cleveland
The Browns are the division’s wild card. They’ve been bottom-feeders in recent years, but general manager George Kokinis (formerly of the Ravens) and head coach Eric Mangini have overhauled the roster.

Word out of minicamps is inconclusive. Receiver Braylon Edwards has been sitting out of practices, and running back Jamal Lewis is taking it easy on an ankle injury that bothered him all of 2008.

If Brady Quinn, who is in line to be the starter at quarterback, can cash in on the promise he showed coming out of college, Cleveland will be a challenger for the AFC North crown.

Oviedo
06-24-2009, 08:07 AM
Ravens fans need to expect to be disappointed

Steelers 11-5
Bumgals 9-7
Ravens 8-8
Stains 6-10

RuthlessBurgher
06-24-2009, 09:05 AM
Gotta love the tremendous insight right off the bat: "the road to the playoffs goes directly through the AFC North." No kidding. Winning your division results in a playoff berth. Someone in Baltimore finally realized this?

He also failed to mention the fact that our helmetless quarterback headbutted a moving Chrysler a few months after the Super Bowl XL victory (at least a helmetless Gus Frerotte only headbutted a stationary stadium wall). This might have had a teensy weensy bit to do with that playoff-less Super Bowl hangover year.

Acero
06-24-2009, 09:28 AM
Yes, it's kind of stupid that his point #2 for why they might win the division is anulled (and in his own words) by his point #1 of why they WON'T: The lousy "super bowl hangover" of 2006 was more than anything the result of Cowher "going through the motions" in his final season.

LasVegasGuy
06-24-2009, 12:31 PM
Ravens - Minus Rex Ryan, Bart Scott and an over the hill Lewis means Flacco is going to be asked to win games. Ain't going to happen and it wouldn't surprise me if the Ravens end up last in the North. They are going to be a non factor this year I can guarantee that.

Oviedo
06-24-2009, 12:44 PM
Ravens - Minus Rex Ryan, Bart Scott and an over the hill Lewis means Flacco is going to be asked to win games. Ain't going to happen and it wouldn't surprise me if the Ravens end up last in the North. They are going to be a non factor this year I can guarantee that.

It also amazes me how other teams lose players and coaches and it is ignored however if it is the Steelers it is assumed to have a major impact. I also expect a major step back for the Ravens. Think Flacco in Year 2 similar to Derek Anderson last year. The tape is now out on him and the Steelers have provided the template for how to attack him. Unless the Ravens' running game goes insane they wpon't be able to hide him like they did last year. Expect lots of 8 in the box looks and forcing Flacco to win games with his arm. He still has mediocre receivers which is always ignored by the pundits.

RuthlessBurgher
06-24-2009, 01:39 PM
Ravens fans need to expect to be disappointed

Steelers 11-5
Bumgals 9-7
Ravens 8-8
Stains 6-10

In his chat yesterday on NFL.com, Gil Brandt agreed with you that the Bengals will finish ahead of the Ravens.


Dave H, Utah Valley 11:22 AM ET
Do you believe Ochocinco when he says the Bengals will be in the playoffs?

Gil Brandt, NFL.com
Hi Dave. I think the Bengals are going to be a much-improved team. They had more starters lost to injury last year than any other team in the league. With that said, I do think they've got a shot to make it to the playoffs.

We had another question in the chat asking who would finish second to Pittsburgh in the AFC North. Just a hunch, but I do think Cincinnati finishes ahead of Baltimore.

http://chat.nfl.com/front/archived_chat/307

He also mentioned Ike Taylor when listing his top 5 corners in the league, which you never see in the national media.


Phil, Montreal,Canada 11:07 AM ET
Hi Gil! Just wanted to know your top five corners in the Nfl today?Thanks!

Gil Brandt, NFL.com
Hi Phil, Nnamdi Asomugha is definitely number 1. Others I like that come to mind, in no order, are Terence Newman, Ike Taylor, Asante Samuel, Champ Bailey.

Oviedo
06-24-2009, 02:43 PM
[quote=Oviedo]Ravens fans need to expect to be disappointed

Steelers 11-5
Bumgals 9-7
Ravens 8-8
Stains 6-10

In his chat yesterday on NFL.com, Gil Brandt agreed with you that the Bengals will finish ahead of the Ravens.


Dave H, Utah Valley 11:22 AM ET
Do you believe Ochocinco when he says the Bengals will be in the playoffs?

Gil Brandt, NFL.com
Hi Dave. I think the Bengals are going to be a much-improved team. They had more starters lost to injury last year than any other team in the league. With that said, I do think they've got a shot to make it to the playoffs.

We had another question in the chat asking who would finish second to Pittsburgh in the AFC North. Just a hunch, but I do think Cincinnati finishes ahead of Baltimore.

http://chat.nfl.com/front/archived_chat/307

He also mentioned Ike Taylor when listing his top 5 corners in the league, which you never see in the national media.


Phil, Montreal,Canada 11:07 AM ET
Hi Gil! Just wanted to know your top five corners in the Nfl today?Thanks!

Gil Brandt, NFL.com
Hi Phil, Nnamdi Asomugha is definitely number 1. Others I like that come to mind, in no order, are Terence Newman, Ike Taylor, Asante Samuel, Champ Bailey.[/quote:346vb022]

I guess that means Brandt is almost as smart as me :wink:

I do think the Bumgals will be much better this year...as long as Palmer stays healthy.

RuthlessBurgher
06-24-2009, 03:43 PM
[quote=Oviedo]Ravens fans need to expect to be disappointed

Steelers 11-5
Bumgals 9-7
Ravens 8-8
Stains 6-10

In his chat yesterday on NFL.com, Gil Brandt agreed with you that the Bengals will finish ahead of the Ravens.


Dave H, Utah Valley 11:22 AM ET
Do you believe Ochocinco when he says the Bengals will be in the playoffs?

Gil Brandt, NFL.com
Hi Dave. I think the Bengals are going to be a much-improved team. They had more starters lost to injury last year than any other team in the league. With that said, I do think they've got a shot to make it to the playoffs.

We had another question in the chat asking who would finish second to Pittsburgh in the AFC North. Just a hunch, but I do think Cincinnati finishes ahead of Baltimore.

http://chat.nfl.com/front/archived_chat/307

He also mentioned Ike Taylor when listing his top 5 corners in the league, which you never see in the national media.


Phil, Montreal,Canada 11:07 AM ET
Hi Gil! Just wanted to know your top five corners in the Nfl today?Thanks!

Gil Brandt, NFL.com
Hi Phil, Nnamdi Asomugha is definitely number 1. Others I like that come to mind, in no order, are Terence Newman, Ike Taylor, Asante Samuel, Champ Bailey.

I guess that means Brandt is almost as smart as me :wink:

I do think the Bumgals will be much better this year...as long as Palmer stays healthy.[/quote:2usaro20]

Well, Palmer may not be the "elite" QB that many media members were making him out to be, but the improvement from Fitzpatrick to him should be enormous. Even without T.J., they still have a formidable WR corp with C.J., Coles, Henry, and the two 2nd year guys, Caldwell and Simpson. Benson is not the special back the Bears thought he would be when they drafted him so high, but he can be solid when he is running hard.

Their secondary is strong with young talent like Hall, Joseph, and Ndukwe. Their LB corps should be improved with the USC guys in there, Rivers and Maualuga. Their main weaknesses are probably in the trenches on both sides of the line.

Uncle Rico
06-24-2009, 05:18 PM
Ravens fans need to expect to be disappointed

Steelers 11-5
Bumgals 9-7
Ravens 8-8
Stains 6-10
Where's your optimism at?

Steelers 14-2
Ratbirds 9-7
Bungles 4-12
Brownstains 1-15