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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

AFC North Preview


Last Season: 12-4

Can Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl this season? With the departures of Willis McGahee, Todd Heap, and Derrick Mason the Ravens offense will need a big pick-me-up from new acquisitions Ricky Williams and Lee Evans. Evans, I thought, was a huge pickup for Flacco as he is a big time deep threat as evidence from his time spent in Buffalo. Williams is a quality #2 back, and with Ray Rice getting 20+ touches a game, Williams won't be called on to do a hole lot. Torrey Smith, WR from Univ. of Maryland, was the Ravens big offensive draft pick and he will have big expectations right off the bat.

Defensively the Ravens are always stout against the run. With Haloti Ngata as the franchised DT, Ray Lewis as superman in the middle, and Mr. Ed Reed coming up for support, the Ravens will be great once again versus the run. However, last season the Ravens were shaky against the pass, ranking 21st in the NFL. Trying to tighten things up, they selected Colorado's Jimmy Smith in the first round to bolster their secondary. While Smith had off the field issues coming into the league, this could be a great fit for him given the leadership in the Ravens defensive huddle.

Overall this team is a playoff team for certain. With road games against Seattle and San Diego, the Ravens do not have that tough of a schedule. But I think losing Heap and McGahee will cost them a game.

Fantasy Sleeper: Ed Dickson TE

Prediction: 11-5


Last season: 12-4

The Steelers come into this season as Super Bowl runner ups. The mentality is no different this season: Super Bowl or bust.

#1 against the run last season, this defense is flat out stacked. Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel on the ends (and new 1st round pick Cameron Heyward DE), Ike Taylor and Polamalu in the secondary, and then a monstrous line backing group of Farrior, Timmons, Harrison among others. How do you not like this team to go far into January?

Offensively, Big Ben just wins. The addition of Jericho Cotchery will be a nice fit, a healthy Hines Ward can always help, Mike "Usain Bolt" Wallace running 9's, and Mendenhall carrying the load for this rough and tough offense. A nice battle between Emmanuel Sanders and Arnaz Battle for #4 receiver will be nice to watch come week 3 in the preseason. The Steelers are stacked and if they stay healthy they will play a few extra games in January.

Looking at the schedule, the Steelers travel to Indy, Houston, Kansas City, and two games against Baltimore make for a tough year. But with a stout defense, expect big things.

Fantasy Sleeper: Jericho Cotchery WR

Prediction: 12-4


Last season: 5-11

Where were the Browns during this free agent explosion in August? They lost Shaun Rodgers to New Orleans, Massaquoi is hurt, and Cribbs won't get many opportunities to return kicks. So again, where were the Browns during this free agent free fall?

Had the Browns made some moves I would have liked them a bit more, but without a true #1 receiver, the Browns are going to struggle. Don't get me wrong, Peyton Hillis is a beast, but he didn't score a TD in the last 5 games last season! He was worn down. Ben Watson will likely lead the team in receptions again, but who will step up for McCoy? Cribbs? Robiskie? Greg Little out of UNC? Time will tell.

Defensively the Browns are good and with Hayden and Brown on the corners they do have the option to stack the box to stop the run and allow the defense to play man coverage. Phil Taylor, the Browns 1st round draft pick, will get time at DE as he should be a beast with a high motor. But with games at Indy, Oakland, San Francisco, and Houston the Browns will have a tough time doing better than last year.

Fantasy Sleeper: Brandon Jackson (injury pick for Hillis)

Prediction: 5-11


Last Season: 4-12

Mike Brown won't allow Carson Palmer to be traded, so Palmer is retired (for this season it seams) unless he decides to honor his contract. What a bonehead mistake by Brown. Why would you want to start a rookie quarterback in the AFC North, when you could potentially trade Palmer and get some players in exchange and then sign a veteran QB (McNabb, Hasselbeck, Vince Young etc). Nope, let's start Andy Daulton and hope it all works out. Oh, and by the way, your top two receivers aren't there anymore.

Not only does this spell bad for Daulton, but now the "Playing for my next contract" Cedric Benson will be facing 8 and 9 in the box. This is going to be a tough year in Cincy. Games at Denver and Seattle, and then home versus Indy, I do not see this team winning many games.

Fantasy Sleeper: AJ Green WR

Prediction: 2-14
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