For years, the AFC North came down to two teams battling for supremacy – Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Since the turn of the century, the two have won four Super Bowls and have been to five.
That run continued last season as the Ravens took home their second Lombardi Trophy.
But 2013 will be different.
Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh have dropped off from last season, and for Pittsburgh, the past two seasons.
Cincinnati and, in a much smaller way, Cleveland, are on the rise in the NFL. The Bengals clearly made the biggest moves this offseason to upgrade its roster, and they have a nice, young nucleus to build around.
It appears to be their division in 2013.
2012 AFC North Standings
- Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
- Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
- Cleveland Browns (5-11)
Cleveland stunk again in 2012, to nobody’s surprise. The Browns’ offense was pathetic, finishing 19th in passing yards per game with 214.7 and 24th in rushing yards per game with 99.6. Both numbers need to be improved upon and I think this team has a great chance of doing just that.
Brandon Weeden got that rookie year under his belt, passing for 3,385 yards and 14 touchdowns. He played well, at times, but struggled making smart decisions with the football. He threw 17 picks and fumbled six times – numbers that must be improved.
Going into his second season will help with the decision making.
Another second-year player, Trent Richardson, will only get better with time. In his first season, Richardson rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns. Once Weeden improves his passing, the running attack will substantially improve, too.
Those go hand-in-hand.
Cleveland lost five one-possession games last season. Youth can be attached to those losses.
This team has the talent, but a new coaching system never helps feed the chemistry and transition of a franchise, and that’s what Cleveland will have to battle again in 2013. Not good.
Pittsburgh lost Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, James Harrison and Max Starks – four key performers from 2012. Also, Heath Miller will be out for an unknown amount of time with an injury.
The Steelers have lost a lot from an average team. They will need to play near-perfect football this year to even make the postseason.
Ben Roethlisberger will need to play some of the best football of his career. Last season, Big Ben passed for 3,265 yards and 26 touchdowns, but the offense couldn’t consistently seal the deal in the red zone.
Because of that, the Steelers struggled to score points. The Steelers only managed to score more than 30 points once last season and it was a loss at Oakland.
The defense, albeit older in some areas and less talented in others, will be the staple once again for the Steelers.
Therefore, it will be up to the offense. Roethlisberger must find ways to score the football, and maybe Le’Veon Bell is the missing offensive piece. He’ll bring a nice, red zone rushing attack to go along with his other strengths.
Right now, he may be the starting running back heading into the season.
The Bengals went out and added sack master James Harrison for the defensive side of the ball. They went out and added Tyler Eifert, the best tight end that was in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Mix those two key pieces together with the rest of their young roster and this team looks like a squad that could run the AFC North for years.
This will be the season that will tell us whether or not Andy Dalton is a franchise quarterback. Last season, Dalton completed 62.3 percent of his passes while passing for 3,669 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Solid numbers for a guy with mediocre expectations. However, now that the Bengals are the clear favorites in the division, with Super Bowl talent, Dalton will be under the microscope more than ever before.
Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens finally went out and won a Super Bowl. It’s about time.
After flirting with the Lombardi since his rookie season, Flacco not only won the trophy, he took home the Super Bowl MVP award, concluding a near-perfect postseason campaign.
But now it’s time for the Super Bowl hangover.
Not since the Patriots in the early 2000s has a team made the Super Bowl in back-to-back years. It’s not going to happen this season.
Flacco has no weapons in the passing game. The defense lost Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Many teams fall to the hangover and Baltimore will be the next victim.