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AFC North 2007 Previews and Projections
AFC North Division:
1) Baltimore: The Ravens won’t have it easy this year after posting a 13-3 regular season mark last year, they will be pushed by the Pittsburgh Steelers who are just 2 years away from winning the Super Bowl and whose KB is now back to full strength after last years near fatal off-season motorcycle accidents and emergency appendectomies. The same goes for the Cincinnati Bengals whose KB is also back to full strength after using last season as a stepping stone of sorts to regain his confidence following a devastating knee injury.
The Ravens have one of the best one-two punches in the NFL at QB with Steve McNair under center and former starter Kyle Boller backing him up, but they’ll need to get their offense together quickly if they want to repeat as division champs in terms of they have a few new faces to learn in the offense, they have a new quarterback (Willis McGahey), a new running back (Justin Green or rookie Le’Ron McClain), a few new offensive linemen (former starters Tony Pashos and Edwin Mulitalo are gone) and a new offensive coordinator (Rick Neuheisel was promoted).
Defensively, the Ravens will once again be one of the best units in the NFL, however, they are also a year older and will need to replace Pro Bowl linebacker Adalius Thomas. Baltimore posted a 6-10 mark just two years ago and went 13-3 last year, which needless to say is a huge improvement of 7 wins year over year. fall somewhere in the middle. Projected record: 10-6
**Look to play ON the Ravens in their first game on September 16th against the visiting Jets, both teams enter this affair fresh off of divisional play, and Baltimore is actually playing on a short week having just played its season opener Monday night in Cincy, however, don’t lose sight of the fact that the Ravens possess one of the best home field advantages in the league, as evidenced by winning 42 of their last 56 home games (75%) in the same fashion. It’s a very safe assumption that the Ravens will be favored in this game, with that in mind, a peek into the history books reveals that Baltimore has now covered 13 of their last 16 home games ATS (81.25%) when installed as the home favorite during the month of September!
2) Pittsburgh: A new era will begin with the start of the season in Steeler State, as 35-year-old HC Mike Tomlin takes over for the first time from HC Mike Cowher who was the leader of the black and gold for 15 years, Pittsburgh also had to replace offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and assistant HC Russ Grimm who also coached the offensive line, Whisenhunt is now the HC for the Arizona Cardinals and has brought Russ Grimm with him as his assistant HC. Pittsburgh replaced Whisenhunt with Bruce Arians who has coached the Steelers VR for the past three years, which means the offensive philosophy will likely remain largely the same, which is a plus when you have a change at the helm.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the defense as new HC Mike Tomlin chose to keep defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau who likes to run a zone blitz hybrid defense while HC Mike Tomlin coached Tony Dungy Tampa-2 defensive guy fresh off the clock as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator. In general, most teams that experience a head coaching change tend to struggle at the start of the new season, I don’t think that will happen with Pittsburgh as they will basically have the same coaching philosophy on both sides of the ball as in years past, add to that the fact that Pittsburgh has a solid veteran core and a healthy QB and it’s not hard to expect an improvement over last year’s 8-8 mark.
In the final analysis, Pittsburgh will show improvement this season, but the improvement may not be seen in the win/loss column due to the fact that they are in a tough division that includes two games each against Baltimore and Cincinnati, and also have a very tough non-division schedule that includes games in Arizona, Denver, New England and St. Louis, and also includes home vs. away games in Seattle and Jacksonville. Projected record: 9-7
**Look to play AGAINST the Steelers in their home opener against Buffalo on September 16th, with the public in mind, we should get exceptional value in this affair as the Steelers will just pick apart Cleveland in the season opener and Denver will likely do the same to Buffalo . The Bills did well as a dog last year covering 7 of 10 ATS in this role, and that includes covering New England and Miami last year to start the season while getting +9.5 and +6.5 respectively, as well It’s nice to know that according to the old history book, Buffalo has covered a whopping 14 of their last 16 games ATS during the second week of the new season.
3) Cincinnati: The Ben Gaels won the 2005 AFC North crown with an 11-5 regular season record only to have their Super Bowl dreams thrown down the proverbial toilet when QB Carson Palmer went down with a knee injury against Pittsburgh in a playoff game. Physically, Palmer was able to return to the field last season, but the emotional scars from that injury lingered and contributed to Cincinnati’s 8-8 mark last season, however, Palmer and his offense shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. as they got little help from a Ben Gall defense that ranked a poor 31st in the league at the end of the season.
Needless to say, HC CInci Marvin Lewis has a lot of work to do on defense, however, Cincinnati’s high-powered offense returns largely intact, although the team needs to find a third receiver to replace the suspended Chris Henry, and also needs to sort out the depth chart at running back. rookie Kenny Irons (Auburn), former Michigan first-round pick Chris Perry and Kenny Watson battle for touches behind starting RB Rudy Johnson.
Cincinnati had a pretty good draft and they have a fairly easy to navigate non-division schedule facing New England, the Jets, Arizona and St.Louis all at home in Bengals country, outside of the AFC North, the toughest road games for Cincinnati will be their trip to Seattle week three, but the good news is that they will have an extra day off after traveling home to Cincinnati from Seattle as they face the Pats at home on MNF next week. Projected record: 8-8
**Look to play In these Ben Gals when they visit Kansas City on Oct. 14, Cincy will be fresh off a week off and refocused after opening the season by taking three of its first four games against competition in the playoffs. The Ben Gals opened last season with a 23-10 win in KC as the 2-point road dogs, but they could be a slight favorite in this affair and if that’s the case, it’s nice to know that Cincy is now covered by 7 or their previous 8 ATS game against the AFC West and according to the old history book Cincy is at their best when set up as a road favorite as evidenced by covering 7 of 8 times ATS over the past three seasons in this situation!
4) Cleveland: HC Romeo Crennel and his coaching staff have a big job this season as they have to improve on a 31st-ranked offense and a 27th-ranked defense last year if they want to keep their jobs next year. True, the Brownies had an excellent draft that was highlighted by taking OT Joe Thomas and CB Brady Quinn in the first round and CB Eric Wright in the second round. In an effort to bolster the offensive line, Cleveland also brought in free agent and former Bengals OG Eric Steinbach to pair with LeCharles Bentley who missed the entire 2006 season after blowing out his knee during the first practice of last year’s training camp. Cleveland also brought in former Raven RB Jamal Lewis, who has a lot to prove this year, to run behind what should be a pretty good line if they stay healthy and want to as a unit.
Cleveland struggled defensively to stop the run last year, as evidenced by a ranking of 27th out of 32 teams in this category, as a means of solving this problem, the Browns brought in Robert Smith from the Titans and Sean Smith from the Bengals to hopefully , raised the overall level of the game. By and large, Cleveland has the tough task of staying in an AFC North that has three playoff teams in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and in-state rival Cincinnati, meaning the Brownies will once again be in the basement waiting for a lift next year. Projected record: 5-11
** Look to play AGAINST these Brownies when they visit Oakland on September 23rd, Cleveland will play their first two games of the season at home against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati who are two of their biggest rivals and have a home game against Baltimore on the 20th deck after this contest, meaning Cleveland is in a “sandwich” game when they visit the Raiders. This contest is revenge for Oakland losing at home to Cleveland last year in the finals 21-24 by 2.5 points at home, the Raiders had a top 10 defense last year and should be able to get revenge on the Cleveland team that is fresh off two tough divisional games.
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