Over the next week and a half, I’ll be taking a look at each of the NFL’s individual divisions and offering my thoughts and predictions for how they will fare in the 2012-13 campaign. Today’s edition will feature a look at the North division of the American Football Conference, featuring the defending champion Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The schedule for the 2012 NFL predictions pieces is as follows:
AFC East (09/01/12)
AFC South (09/03/12)
Without further ado, my predictions for the North…..
1) Baltimore Ravens — (11-5) — Even without superstar linebacker Terrell Suggs, the Baltimore Ravens possess one of the NFL’s most dominant defenses. Lead by legendary veterans Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, explosive lineman Haloti Ngata and shut-down corner Lardarius Webb, Baltimore’s defense is about as suffocating as it gets. The Ravens success in 2012-13 will rely solely upon the right arm of fifth-year quarterback Joe Flacco. The team has assembled a deep arsenal of offensive weaponry with tailback Ray Rice, speedy wide-out Torrey Smith, possession receiver Anquan Boldin and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. The question simply remains: will Flacco finally be able to take that next step into “elite” status amongst AFC quarterbacks?
2) Cincinnati Bengals — (10-6) — The Cincinnati Bengals were the surprise team of the league last season, winning nine games and making it into one of the AFC’s two wild card spots. Lead by super-sophomores Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, I’d expect the Bengals to improve upon their efforts in 2011 through a ten-win campaign in 2012 and another appearance in the postseason. Playing in one of the league’s toughest divisions won’t do Marvin Lewis‘ team any favors, but a couple of marquee wins over the rival Steelers and Ravens could go a long way to attaining the nationwide respect that the Bengals so deserve.
3) Pittsburgh Steelers — (9-7) — Pittsburgh’s defense isn’t getting any younger. That fact was quite evident after the way Tim Tebow and a one-dimensional Denver Broncos’ offense torched them in the first round of the playoffs back in January. Speedster Mike Wallace‘s recent decision to return to the team was a welcome sign for new offensive coordinator Todd Haley who has been given a great deal of offensive weapons to work with. In this case, the Steelers will simply be a victim of the numbers game in an extraordinarily talented division.
4) Cleveland Browns — (4-12) — While their may be a glimmer of playoff hope in Southern Ohio through the Cincinnati Bengals, there certainly isn’t any up on the banks of Lake Erie. The Browns have seen their fair share of offseason storylines through the Pat Shurmur — Joe Haden saga and the quarterback battle between the incumbent Colt McCoy and 28-year-old rookie Brandon Weeden. The 2012 first round draft choice has since defeated McCoy and been named the Browns’ opening day starter for when the team hosts the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday. He and fellow first-round draft pick Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama) should provide fans in the Dawg Pound with an exciting season of offense. However, Cleveland’s ultimate undoing will be their inexpeiernced defense and the unforgiving nature of one of the NFL’s toughest schedules.
Thanks For Reading!