AFC North: Baltimore Ravens set for big season with Super Bowl aspirations

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Over the past decade or so, the AFC North division has been dominated by the Pittsburgh Steelers as Ben Roethlisberger and company usually win the division and have a legitimate shot of contending for a Super Bowl title.

Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers could be back to form next season, last year’s title defense was arguably one of the most forgettable seasons in recent memory as the defending champs failed to make the playoffs.

Not only was last season an absolute disappointment for the Steelers, but controversy followed as Pro Bowl quarterback Big Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in the offseason. As a result, the two-time Super Bowl champ was suspended for the first six games of the season after being cleared of all charges.

Needless to say, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be fighting an uphill battle this season while fending off the Baltimore Ravens who are favorites to win the AFC North division.

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Here is a rundown of the AFC North heading into next season:

Pittsburgh Steelers (last season: 9-7)
Last season was an absolute disaster for the Steelers and the punishment won’t stop there as the first six games of the upcoming NFL season they will have to play without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger due to suspension.

One of the main reasons for the Steelers poor season last year was safety Troy Polamalu’s injured knee. Not many people give credit to safeties in this league, but the value of Polamalu was obvious last season as the Pittsburgh defense was just not the same without him.

This season Polamalu will be ready to go for the Steelers, but this time it will be the offense that suffers without Big Ben and recently traded wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

I expect to see another long and painful season for the Steelers as I really can’t see them competing with the likes of the Baltimore Ravens or the Cincinnati Bengals in this division.

Cleveland Browns (last season: 5-11)
Over the past couple of seasons, the Cleveland Browns have been an absolute mess as they just haven’t been able to get back to their 2007 form where they were able to win 10 games with quarterback Derek Anderson behind center.

Unfortunately, the Browns were unable to get into the playoffs that year, but they definitely had high hopes for the future with a promising young quarterback on the bench in Brady Quinn and two Pro Bowlers in the passing game with tight end Kellen Winsolw Jr. and wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

Since 2007, the Browns have failed to get back to their winning ways as the team has just fallen apart and all the players mentioned were traded away.
Now the Browns will be starting over once again as they attempt to compete in this extremely competitive AFC North division, but I believe it will be the same result as last season with no more than five wins on the season.

Cincinnati Bengals (last season: 10-6, division title)
Before last season, the Cincinnati Bengals were considered a joke as all they seemed to have on their team was a bunch of trouble makers that frequent the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Despite not many people believing the Bengals would do much last season, Carson Palmer and company played much better than anticipated and were able to reach the playoffs once again while clinching the AFC North title for the first time since 2005.

Not only were the Cincinnati Bengals able to get their high powered offense back to form with a healthy Carson Palmer, a motivated Ochocinco and one of the best running game in the league led by Cedric Benson, but their defense was playing just as well and was one of the main reasons for their surprising success last season.

This year the team will come in with relatively the same team that won the AFC North title last season and even though I believe they will be a force to be reckoned with in the AFC Conference, I don’t think they will be able to contend with the Baltimore Ravens in their division.

Baltimore Ravens (last season: 9-7)
Last season was a breath of fresh air for the Baltimore Ravens as they finally saw an offense that could compliment their defense. Not only were the Ravens able to consistently put points on the board, but they also witnessed second year man Joe Flacco turn into a franchise quarterback for Baltimore.

This year the Ravens will come into the season even better than last year as they acquired one key piece to the puzzle in Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin. With Boldin as the focal point of the Ravens offense, Baltimore will almost certainly be getting some much needed recognition as a legitimate title contender.

Our AFC North title prediction: It’ll be the BALTIMORE RAVENS

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