2005 AFC North Preview ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
|The 2005 AFC North Report |
By Tony George www.sportsaudioshows.com
In my continuing series of division breakdowns in the NFL, my2nd report deals with the AFC North Division. This one is parityfilled, with the exception of the Browns, and any of the top 3teams here could be the champion in the AFC North, here are mytakes:
1. Baltimore Ravens 10-6
The key, as with many NFL teams, is the QB position,and this has to be Kyle Bollers year, and free agency was verykind to him, as the Ravens added to their WR corp., with DerrickMason from the Titans, a big threat for them, which they weremissing last year. Brian Billick has banked his job on QB Bollerin my opinion, and both are on the chopping block if it fails.This team lost some discipline last year, but head man Billickwill get them in check, Ray Lewis will continue to dominate andthe Ravens are poised to take this division and have a big year.
OFFENSE – You cannot succeed at QB unlessyou have some protection, and the Ravens signed a SOLID linemanin Keydrick Vincent from the Steelers. The Ravens line was allabout running, with Jamal Lewis, who is back and out of housearrest in time for the season, but they picked up some neededhelp on the line and should be better against a pass rush. Giventhe time, I think QB Boller has some chops and with WR Mason,Taylor, and rookie and future superstar Mark Clayton, they shouldbe able to balance their attack and move the chains. Another hugeBonus is all world tight end, Todd Heap, who can play underneath,go deep, run block, and is a serious weapon for Boller. Now thatthey have a deep threat and a solid running game in place, Billickis out of excuses if they fail to produce, I think they will.It should be noted that Anthony Wright is a solid back-up QB,and I think Jamal Lewis will have a huge year.
DEFENSE – Two words here, Ray Lewis! NeedI say more. New head coordinator Rex Ryan (Buddy Ryan’s son) knowsthese guys and they will play hard for him. Coach Ryan is goingto mix things up and go away from the 3-4 defense to multiple4 man fronts, and the old Buddy Ryan “46” defense, the Bears ranback in the mid-80’s with great success. Off season workouts forthe defensive players were very good according to my sources,and of course they are the hardest hitting defense in the NFL,and really can turn the tide in almost any game, since they haveplaymakers all over the place. The front line is the weak point,but with the speed at Linebacker and the secondary, zone blitz’swill be the order of the day, and with the talent to cover inman-to-man coverage, they will again wreak havoc. The secondaryis lead by Chris McCallister, incoming Samari Rolle from the Titans,Ed Reed and Will Demps, an all star cast. With a new scheme andsolid talent, with Ray Lewis doing his thing, this defense whichranked 4th in the AFC last year and 6th overall will once againbe stiff.
SUMMARY – Some new components in place,Jim Fassel running the offense this year, Rex Reed the defense,and solid cast of special teamers including Mr. consistent, MattStover, the Ravens could very well make some serious noise thisseason. Opening at the Colts is tough, but after that the firsthalf of the schedule is a breeze. All in all, I look for a breakoutyear from this team, and they are a serious dark horse to playin the AFC championship.
2. Cincinnati Bengals 9-7
Marvin Lewis has dome an impressive job withthe bottom feeding Bengals the past 2 years to play .500 ball.I see Carson Palmer at QB having a huge year, and he is surroundedby weapons. The schedule is cake. They open with the Browns onthe road, but have all their tough games the first half of theseason games at home including the Vikes, Packers, Steelers andTexans. The rodie at Jacksonville and Baltimore could go 1-1,but these guys could open up at 6-2 easy. With a high octane offenseand an improved defense, these guys could shock everyone in 2005,it would not surprise me, and they could be a great cover teamearly, take note of that.
OFFENSE – Carson Palmer will be a solidQB this year and is backed up by more than capable Jon Kitna.They have re-signed Rudi Johnson at running back, and he is topshelf and the RB position has some depth with 2004 rookie bustChris Perry, who is a solid back, off from injury and if he getswith the program, with his spedd, will contribute. The WR’s areall world and Chad Johnson is a big time stud, plus TJ Houshmandzadehcan finds openings and has a great set of hands. If Peter Warrickcan get his head out of his rear, this maybe a lethal 3 man tandem,and Palmer can deliver big strikes. With big play capability,the offense can score in bunches. The OL is solid with all 5 guysback, and they also have 3 tight ends that each play a role. Allin all, the best offense in this division if Palmer is clicking.
DEFENSE – The defense was improved inthe off season, and they needed some help.They need to stop therun this year, they were ranked 26th in 2004. With a line upgrade,and Justin Smith rushing the passer and Bryan Robinson from theDolphins now in the mix, the pass rush will be there, and theyhave upgraded at linebacker to better stop the run, adding a solidrookie in David Pollack out of Georgia and also drafting his teammatefor the Bulldogs, Odell Thurman, both I feel will impact. Pollackis a huge playmaker, he is small but fast and tough. The secondaryis good with Tory James off a Pro Bowl year, Deltha O’Neil andrising star Keiwan Ratliff. I think this is a young group thatwill gel this season, given they get some rest, as the offensedoes strike quick, but they will be better than last year’s addition.I see some “Overs” in the Bengals games this year, take note ofthat.
SUMMARY – A high powered offense with3 stars, a great coach, a solid system that the players believein, and great special teamers, with Chuck Bresnahan calling theshots on defense, and this could be a dangerous team. If overlooked,they will post 14 points on the board before you know what happened.The defense is young, but coachable, and I think the Bengals couldbe a wild card team. Keep an eye on these guys, if they can playsome defense, they will be in the running.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-8
Not sold on the Steelers, YET! I want to seeif rookie sensation QB Ben Rothlisberger is the real deal. Hefolded under pressure last year, but he did a great job leadingthis team to a 15-1 regular season record, I doubt they come closeto that this year. The key with the Steelers is defense, theywere ranked #1 in 2004, but still could not win it. Free agencykilled the Steelers and it may show up early. They lost PlaxicoBurress, Keydrick Vincent, Oliver Rose and all world LB KendrellBell. Some huge hits for veteran coach Bill Cowher overcome. Letsbreak it down.
OFFENSE – Quarterback Rothlisberger hada great year, if he does 80% of what he pulled off last year,the Steelers could win 9, maybe 10 games, but I have seen thisscenario before. The offensive line is good, but losing Vincentwas big, he will be missed. At running back, the 1-2 punch ofDuce Stayley and Jerome Bettis is back, but they have no breakway speed, but are bangers and eat up the clock. Look for speedsterAntwaan Randle El to step up and take Burress’s place, but HinesWard will see double coverage now, so time will tell how effectivehe is. Cedrick Wilson can make some plays and they picked up rookieTE Heath Miller, thought to be the best tight end in the draft.They should have some balance, but will lack big play capabilityagainst some good secondary’s in this division and they are notgeared to score quickly, and that must change in order to competeat the level that got them to 15-1. A solid offense that was ranked16th in the NFL last year, is a step slower in my opinion.
DEFENSE – The best defense in the NFL in2004, stays in tact, but LB Bell is gone, and that is huge. JamesFarrior comes back after a huge Pro Bowl year and Joey Porteris solid. They will miss the run stopping ability of Bell, itwill hurt them against the run, and with Rudi Johnson and JamalLewis in this division, that is trouble. The Steelers also strugglesin man coverage and their secondary. They have some talent inDeshea Townsend and youngster Polamalu, who impressed everyonein 2004. They are weak on the 2nd corner and they safety positionis weak. This secondary is young, but talented. I do not thinkthis is a top 10 unit this year, and they are vulnerable againstthe run and the deep threat.
SUMMARY – Many have the Steelers as atop pick, I think there are too many question marks early, andyou may catch some decent numbers with them early by going againstpublic perception. All in all, they are a good team, but not agreat team, as they were in 2005. Be careful laying big numberswith them, they are middle of the pack this season.
4. Cleveland 4-12
Someone has got to be last, and without question,the Browns will have a rough year. They lost a ton in free agency,and picked up some players that have seen better days or werethrown away by other teams. They also lost head man Butch Davis,so in steps Romeo Crennel from New England, with a solid defensivemind. Too many changes for the Browns, new schemes and key personnelleaving will rear it’s ugly head in 2005.
OFFENSE – The QB position is free agentTrent Dilfer’s to mess up, as he was traded from Seattle to start,and rookie Charlie Frye out of Akron is the great white hope ofthe future. Average at best, and not surrounded by a ton of talenteither, to make matters worse. Lee Suggs at RB, if healthy isdecent, but he was racked with injuries in 2004, so time willtell. Denver Bronco free agent Reuben Droughns is average at best,and bust William Green out of Boston College has had a troubledNFL experience and is yet to break out. A decent group behinda less than stellar line spells doom. They were 28th in the NFLlast year on offense, and will end up in about the same spot.The have some wideouts that can make some plays with rookie BraylonEdwards out of Michigan, but when your draft pick is slated tobe your #1 slot guy with Trent Dilfer at QB, and an iffy runninggame, you are in trouble, bottom line. Kellen Winslow losing aseason to a motorcycle accident also will not help.
DEFENSE – Four starters are gone froma defense that was ranked dead last against the run, and in thisconference and division, that spells doom and despair. LinebackerMatt Stewart from the Falcons will help, but stopping the runis priority one. The secondary ranked 5th in passing defense lastyear, but that number is skewed since everyone ran all over themand rarely passed. The secondary however is decent, but young.Kenard Lang is a good pass rusher, but help from the other sideis needed, and Orpheus Roye is quick and capable and needs tostep up big in 2005. This defense is below average and did notdo allot to pick up the pace in free agency and the draft. RookieDE Davis McMilliam may impact out of Kansas, I saw him play incollege, and he may earn a spot. This defense is not deep andvery young, that is trouble folks.
SUMMARY – New faces, new places, freeagency losses, young and raw talent that will need time to gel,so look for another rebuilding year with an NFL team. If thisteam wins over 5 or 6 games, it would be a great coaching jobby the new staff. I just do not see it happening for the Brownsin 2005.
Tony George enters his 13th years a professionalhandicapper, and is a well known NFL guru. You can find Tony atwww.sportsaudioshows.com or at 800-562-1017