Lawrence: AFC North preview and plays
By MARC LAWRENCE | June 26, 2008 | 2 comments
Marc Lawrence is a Covers Experts handicapper. Check out his articles and picks here.
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Life up north certainly has its chilly moments during the winter months. However, life in the AFC North has been pleasant to the most devout football fans from this region where two of the last seven Super Bowl winners have resided this decade. Check out conditions in the AFC North before dipping your toes in the water this season. You might be surprised at what you find.



Here is my take of teams in the AFC NORTH DIVISION for 2008. Coming up next: the AFC SOUTH DIVISION.



BALTIMORE

Team Theme – RAVENOUS

After winning Super Bowl XXXV in 2000 the Ravens have been nothing more than a middle rung team. That’s attested to by their 60-55 record, including two losing seasons the last three years, with just three pointspread wins in 2007. Fans and management hungered for more but Brian Billick’s effort couldn’t match his ego and he’s gone. He’s been replaced by John Harbaugh, the defensive backs coach with the Philadelphia Eagles last season. Harbaugh promptly hired Cam Cameron, his former boss at Indiana in 1997, as the new offensive coordinator. Harbaugh desperately wanted Boston College QB Matt Ryan in the draft but had to settle on Joe Flacco, a 6-foot-7 cannon arm from Delaware. He’ll break in behind Kyle Boller until he’s ready to start. Going up against the league’s fourth toughest schedule in 2008, don’t expect the hunger pangs to subside anytime soon.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Cleveland (9/21)


CINCINNATI

Team Theme – ARRESTING DEVELOPMENT

For the second straight season the Bengals had more off-field arrests than wins last year. At least they are a consistent bunch. It brings to light the question we ask every year when profiling this team – In what other profession do 17 percent of company employees have an arrest record? One of these days management and players alike will realize the game is played on the field, not off it. The Bengals were the only team in the league to improve its numbers on both sides of the ball last year, yet regress both SU and ATS last season. That tells us the talent is there, the character is missing. With a few breaks on the field and fewer bookings off, Cincinnati could be a sleeper team in 2008. Yeah, and Britney Spears will start wearing underwear.

PLAY ON: vs. Philadelphia (11/16) - *KEY of off win



CLEVELAND

Team Theme – THE OTHER BIG BROWN

Certainly the hardest working team in the NFL during the offseason, the Browns made numerous moves to upgrade a roster that won 10 games, yet missed a playoff spot last year. First priority was re-signing Pro Bowl QB Derek Anderson, leaving Brady’s Quinn’s status in doubt for the moment. Then they promptly inked WR Donte Stallworth to add to an already potent offense. In addition, Cleveland signed impact tackles Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams to bolster a questionable defense. Head coach Romeo Crennel’s contract was extended, making everyone in Brownstown a happy camper. Now all they need to do is prove last year’s turnaround was not a fluke. Playing a primetime schedule (two Sunday and three Monday Nighters) will find the Browns featured on ESPN’s Sports Center more often than not this season. Here’s hoping it’s on highlight reels.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Washington (10/19)



PITTSBURGH

Team Theme –MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL

When Mike Tomlin took over the reins from Bill Cowher last season, little did he know the similarities between the two were many. Both were 35 years old when they took over the helm and both inherited losing teams. Both took their teams to the playoffs in their first year. Both lost at home as favorites in their first postseason game. omlin should only hope his career continues on the same path as The Jaw’s. That’s because Cowher retired with a lofty 161-98-1 mark in his 15-year career with the Steelers, including another playoff appearance in his second year with the team. A strong draft yielded RB Rahard Mendenhall and WR Limas Sweed, potential stars who are expected to pay dividends sooner than later. If Tomlin wonders how Cowher fared when taking on the league’s toughest schedule (Pittsburgh’s opponents’ combined win percentage last year was .59, all he needs to do is look in the mirror.
PLAY ON: as dogs vs. Jacksonville (10/5) - *KEY