2013 NFL Preseason Predictions: AFC North (Beazley)
Here are my predictions for the AFC North with final records:
1. Baltimore Ravens (schedule): 11-5
I get that the Ravens have a target on their back being Super Bowl Champs. I get that the Ravens lost a lot of veteran leadership in Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Anquan Boldin. I get that they lost their third best receiving option (after Torrey Smith and Ray Rice) in Dennis Pitta for the year. I get the NFL is a league full of parity.
What I don't get is how some forecasters can predict the Ravens to finish below .500 and in third place. I guess anything is possible with injuries, but I honestly think this Ravens team is better than last year's squad.
The Ravens were perceived as big-time losers during the beginning of the preseason. They lost Lewis, Reed, Ellerbe, Kruger, and Pollard on defense. They re-signed Joe Flacco to a mega contract that many thought was too much money. They were losing players left and right that this picture surfaced on the net which I found pretty hilarious.
The dust settled with the free-agency frenzy, and the Ravens made some huge moves. They signed Elvis Dumervil away from the Broncos. Dumervil is one of the league's best pass-rushers, averaging 12.5 sacks over the past three seasons. They also signed Chris Canty, who is a very underrated defensive linemen, and signed Michael Huff at safety who looks very good this preseason. These moves were a sign of a great organization. They didn't panic when teams came swooping in to steal their players. They waited, and found some great bargains.
Let's also not forget the return of CB Lardarius Webb, who is one of the best CBs in the game. This Ravens defense might have lost on some leadership, but in my opinion, improved in the talent department.
The AFC is pretty wide open so it wouldn't surprise me to see the Ravens back in the Super Bowl this year.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (schedule): 10-6
I like the direction the Bengals are heading. I like the fact that the Bengals have made it a point to surround quarterback Andy Dalton with talent. I mentioned this before when I talked about Carolina. If you want your young QB to succeed, you need to give him weapons.
The Bengals added the top TE in the draft this year, Tyler Eifert, and they drafted RB Giovani Bernard, who has looked very good thus far. A.J. Green is already one of the league's top-five WRs. There really is no reason why this Bengals' offense cannot put up big points this year.
When you think defenses in the AFC, you really don't think of the Bengals. This may be about to change this year. It's pretty funny that even a diehard football fan would struggle naming three starters on the Bengals defense. One of those is former Steelers LB James Harrison. Harrison is going to bring the nasty to the jungle and I think this defense will be the reason why this team makes the playoffs this year.
3. Cleveland Browns (schedule): 7-9
The Browns are going to surprise some people this year. When the Browns were really bad a few years ago, it was because their offense was so bad. They had no QB, RB, WR or TE worth pretty much anything. The jury may still be out on Brandon Weeden, but they have an absolute stud in Trent Richardson at running back. Both Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron are two very good targets for Weeden.
They have always had a pretty solid defense though, and this year is no exception. Joe Haden is one of the best young CBs in the game. They drafted Barkevious Mingo, who is a beast, and added Paul Kruger from the Ravens.
I think it's just unfortunate that the Browns play in this division, because if they played in any other division in the AFC I think they could challenge for a wildcard spot.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (schedule): 6-10
The last time the Steelers had a losing season was 2003. That's a pretty remarkable stretch in the NFL these days. Like the Browns, the Steelers just find themselves in a very tough division. I think the Steelers lack the playmakers on the offensive side of the ball to really challenge in this division, while their defense has definitely taken a step back as well.
All of our contributors will make their division and Super Bowl picks and we will track those on this centralized predictions page.