The Bengals come into 2010 as the defending division champions. The biggest names on the team would lead one to think this is a passing oriented, high scoring squad. Nope. The Bengals won in 2009 through a solid running game with minimal turnovers and a very good defense. They brought in an aging Terrell Owens to compliment Chad Ochocinco. TO’s production fell dramatically with the Bills. However, you must keep in mind that Carson Palmer is a significant upgrade over Trent Edwards, and Owens fits in very well with this offense. The Bengals drafted TE Jermaine Gresham to aid the passing attack, and what big expectations there are for Gresham who has had a stellar pre-season. Cedric Benson reinvigorated his career but racked up an awful lot of carries. Benson was the workhorse, and he faded towards the end of the season, so look for Bernard Scott to play a bigger role in the running game to help keep Benson fresh. Look for an improved Cincy Offense. However, that isn’t saying much, last season, the offense did not rank in the top 10 of any offensive category. They will need it to keep up with the likes of New England, Indy, Baltimore and New Orleans on the schedule. Defensively this team preformed well in 2009. The addition of Adam Pac-Man Jones was met with little media attention. Perhaps everyone expects so little of Jones, or maybe everyone expected the Bengals to make this move. Jones knows he’s playing his last card. If he messes this up, he’ll never get another shot. He played fairly well for Dallas and led the team in passes defensed during his short tenure. He’s not a top flight CB but the Bengals will ask him to be a Nickle CB. Jones has the ability to cover and make plays in the return game. Leon Hall and Jonathon Joseph became one of the best CB duos in the league last year. Roy Williams went down last season and it was probably the best for Cincy. Williams is terrible in coverage. With their schedule, the Bengals will need their Safety to assume coverage duties often. Rey Maualuga is an emerging star and didn’t let the Cincy faithful down when he was arrested in the offseason. Mike Zimmer’s defense is paramount to another division title.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: (9-7 2009)
The Ravens enter 2010 with higher offensive expectations than the young franchise (the Baltimore version) has ever had. Joe Flacco set single season franchise records for completion percentage (63.1) and QB rating (88.9) last season. The Ravens’ brass gave him a big new toy to play with. The team traded a pair of draft picks for Anquan Boldin to start alongside the everlasting Derrick Mason and Dante Stallworth. Stallworth missed the 2009 season after killing a man with his car. Stallworth gives the Ravens a viable deep threat to compliment possession receivers Mason and Boldin. The Ravens also have a trio of running backs, all capable of putting up big numbers. The tandem of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee will keep defenses honest and fullback Le’Ron McClain provides added depth in the backfield. This offense will keep itself in the conversation. No longer will Ray Lewis and company hog the spotlight. However, Baltimore’s stout front seven deserves the fanfare. Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Suggs will do their part. The big question for the Ravens entering the season is whether they can overcome the loss of Ed Reed. Reed is on the physically unable to perform list. He will not be able to play the first 6 weeks of the season. If the Ravens secondary answers the bell, this team has a chance at the championship.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: (9-7 2009)
The Steelers hope to bounce back from a, by their lofty standards, disappointing 2009 campaign. Offensively, the team has a number of questions. They will likely start the season with Byron Leftwich in place of Ben Roethlisberger, who spent the offseason harassing coeds in Georgia. The team let Willie Parker and Santonio Holmes go and did not do much to replace them. The team hopes Mike Wallace can continue his development and become the weapon Holmes was and that Hines Ward somehow got younger during the offseason. The Steelers also signed WR Antwaan Randle-El for his second tour of duty with the team and you can’t forget about TE Heath Miller. Miller has become one of the most reliable TEs in the game. Believe it or not, the Steelers are a passing oriented team. Rashard Mendenhall has his moments but has yet to emerge as an every down threat. Losing OT Willie Colon was a big setback for this team. They signed former Cowboy Flozell Adams as a replacement but Adams is a penalty machine and his ability has slipped with his age. Mike Tomlin is a defensive coach and a very good one. The Steelers will once again have a top tier defense. James Harrison and Lamar Woodley anchor the front seven. Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor make up for the inconsistencies of CB Willie Gay. If Troy Polamalu stays healthy, the Steelers will press for a playoff birth. If he goes down again, so does Pittsburgh.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: (5-11 2009)
No one expects much from the Browns in 2010. Sunrise, Sunset. Mike Homlgren cleaned house in the offseason. Eric Mangini out together a string of solid games to close out 2009 and thereby earned himself a reprieve. If the team looks hapless in the early part of 2010, Mangini could find himself among the unemployed. It does not help the Browns that they play in the second most competitive division in football. Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy replace Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn at QB. McCoy will not likely see much, if any, action this season and the Browns want it that way. Browns fans do not deserve the 2009 incarnation of Delhomme. They have to hope he can recapture some of his old magic to keep the team respectable. Running back Jerome Harrison had his moments last season and the word is out that he can run. Lets see how a new season as "the man" will provide a boost or setback for this Browns team. Wide receivers Mohammad Massaquoi and Chansi Stuckey will put up better numbers if Delhomme performs. Wildcard Josh Cribbs is the most exciting player on this team. The Browns would be wise to find more and more ways to get him the ball other than on returns. Defensively the team looks to 1st round pick CB Joe Haden to provide some stability. The Browns rid themselves of leading sack man and Kamerion Wimbley in the offseason and return a group that preformed miserably last season. Holmgren has his work cut out for him. The defense will match up against a number of high-powered offenses and though improved, the Browns offense will struggle to keep pace. Sorry Cleveland.