2013 NFL Preseason Predictions: AFC North (Yanotchko)
Here are my AFC North preseason predictions:
1. Baltimore Ravens (schedule): 10-6
Many of the pundits out there have lost their love of the defending-champion Ravens, but I think even though this team lost a few high-profile pieces, they will still be in the mix this year. The Ravens have lost lifers Ed Reed and Ray Lewis and also rush specialist Paul Kruger as well.
The Ravens still have All Pro Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs should be healthy, they picked up Elvis Dumervil, and will also welcome back Ladarius Webb from injury. The Ravens rewarded Joe Flacco for one of the best postseason runs by a QB, and he still has quite the weapons in Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Ray Rice.
Yes, it will be weird to watch Baltimore without Lewis and Reed, but they will back up their championship run with at least another division title.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (schedule): 10-6 (Wildcard)
The Bengals are getting all the attention this year, and why not as Hard Knocks is such an excellent look into the life of an NFL training camp. Cincinnati has made major upgrades to their offense in adding new rookie playmakers TE Tyler Eiffert and RB Giovani Bernard, and of course they still have one of the best receivers in the game with A.J. Green.
The Bengals, however, are driven by defense and I still don't understand why their coordinator Mike Zimmer does not have a head coaching gig by now. Cincinnati is led by Geno Atkins, who is now finally getting the exposure he deserves, and they have a solid linebacker trio led by tackling machine Vontaze Burfict.
Although this division still belongs to their Ravens, I see the Bengals making the playoffs for a third straight year.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (schedule): 9-7
The Steelers will find themselves in yet another uneasy position, as they will be third overall again in one of the league's most competitive divisions.
The Steelers have taken a big hit on offense so far this year, as they lost Mike Wallace in free agency, and now both Heath Miller and Le'Von Bell are hobbled by injuries. The Steelers are starting to get younger on the defensive side of the ball, but they will still need time to pick up Dick Lebeau's system.
For Pittsburgh to contend, they will have to avoid the injury bug that has plagued them over the last few years, and of course QB Ben Roethlisberger has to stay upright and lead this offense. The Steelers are quietly rebuilding their roster on the fly, but they are still led by one of the great coaches in the league in Mike Tomlin.
The Steelers will see another dip this year, and will miss the playoffs for a second year in a row.
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4. Cleveland Browns (schedule): 5-11
The Browns have had all of the possible shakeups you can have in one year, as they have a new owner, new general manager, and a new head coach. Much like the Bills, I believe the arrow is pointing upwards for the Browns, as they had one of their better offseasons in recent memory.
Cleveland has added pass rusher Paul Kruger to the mix, and he will join one of the better younger corners in Joe Haden, and rookie Barkevious Mingo to form up the core of a solid defensive unit. The Browns have interesting options on offense with Trent Richardson proving he can be a workhorse, and also having playmakers in Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron. I actually like Brandon Weeden, and I think he will develop into a solid middle-tier QB that can bring the Browns back to prominence one day.
The Browns are still a year or two away, but they have finally made some solid personnel decisions, and of course that is the foundation of any great team.
All of our contributors will make their division and Super Bowl picks and we will track those on this centralized predictions page.