September 2, 2013 in Sports

2013 NFL Preview: AFC North

 

Baltimore Ravens

NEW FACES

DE Chris Canty, TE Dallas Clark, LB Elvis Dumervil, S Michael Huff, LB Daryl Smith, DE Marcus Spears, WR Brandon Stokley.

KEY LOSSES

WE Anquan Boldin, LB Ray Lewis, S Ed Reed, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Paul Kruger, C Matt Birk, S Bernard Pollard, NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu, CB Cary Williams.

STRENGTHS

QB, RB, DL.

WEAKNESSES

WR, TE.

EXPECTATIONS

Defending Super Bowl champions went through vast offseason makeover, beginning with retirement of Lewis and including exit of Reed, both fixtures for more than a decade. Although team bears only small resemblance to one that won Super Bowl, key offensive contributors Joe Flacco and Ray Rice return, and retooled defense might actually be better than aging unit that struggled at times last year.

NEW FACES

LB James Harrison, TE Alex Smith, TE Tyler Eifert, RB Giovani Bernard

KEY LOSSES

QB Bruce Gradkowski.

STRENGTHS

DT, DE, OL, TE, RB.

WEAKNESSES

WR, Backup QB.

EXPECTATIONS

For first time in long time, Bengals have high expectations. They’ve never reached playoffs three years in row, but have team capable of doing it. CB Terence Newman points out things change when expectations increase. Nobody’s going to overlook them. How they respond will tell how far they go. Just reaching playoffs no longer considered accomplishment; overriding goal is win at least one playoff game this season. Anything less than going deep into playoffs will be considered underachieving. And a lot of it will be up to QB Andy Dalton, who has played poorly in playoff losses at Houston each of last two years.

Pittsburgh Steelers

NEW FACES

LB Jarvis Jones, RB Le’Veon Bell, TE Matt Spaeth, RB Felix Jones, RB/KR LaRod Stephens-Howling, CB William Gay, WR Markus Wheaton, S Shamarko Thomas

KEY LOSSES

LB James Harrison, WR Mike Wallace, NT Casey Hampton, T Max Starks, CB Keenan Lewis, G Willie Colon.

STRENGTHS

QB, S, LB.

WEAKNESSES

OL, RB.

EXPECTATIONS

Coach Mike Tomlin loves to say “the standard is the standard” but it was certainly not met last fall when Steelers missed playoffs. Pittsburgh hasn’t missed postseason in consecutive years this millennium, but bouncing back will be difficult in one of NFL’s toughest divisions. Departure of longtime stars Harrison and Hampton leave chance for younger faces to shine, though it won’t be easy. Rookie RB Bell out indefinitely with midfoot sprain.

Cleveland Browns

NEW FACES

OLB Paul Kruger, DE Desmond Bryant, WR Davone Bess, OLB Barkevious Mingo, TE Gary Barnidge, CB Leon McFadden, coach Rob Chudzinski, offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

KEY LOSSES

K Phil Dawson, WR/KR Josh Cribbs, TE Benjamin Watson, CB Sheldon Brown, S Usama Young, DT Frostee Rucker, LB Scott Fujita.

STRENGTHS

DL, OL.

WEAKNESSES

CB, S, K.

EXPECTATIONS

After five straight seasons of at least 11 losses and continuous coaching carousel, Browns seem to finally be headed in right direction. Cleveland could take major step forward despite playing in tough division. Second-year QB Brandon Weeden has all physical tools, and as long as RB Trent Richardson stays healthy and WR Josh Gordon stays clean, Browns should put up points in Turner’s system.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email