July 29, 2012

3-Way NFL Preview: AFC North

Baltimore Ravens
W17L:  11-5  (5th seed, loses to Pittsburgh in Divisional Round)
Forecaster:  11-5  (3rd seed, loses to Oakland in Divisional Round)
Random:  10-6  (6th seed, loses to Cincinnati in Wild Card Round)

W17L's Take:  I like this team but I don't love it.  The defense is getting older but is still really good.  Ray Rice is a great running back.  But can Joe Flacco and whatever receivers they have in Baltimore provide enough offense to make the Ravens elite?  I don't think so.

Forecaster's Take:  The Ravens will succeed this year thanks to its fantastic run defense and an offense that forces opponents to commit lots of penalties.

Cincinnati Bengals
W17L:  6-10
Forecaster:  10-6
Random:  11-5  (3rd seed, loses to Oakland in AFC Championship)

W17L's Take:  As a general rule, I don't trust surprise playoff teams to continue their success the following year.  But is Cincinnati really a surprise playoff team?  They've been there twice in the last three seasons.  Still, I think the Bengals will drop off this year.  Andy Dalton will most likely suffer from a sophomore slump, and the whole offense will suffer.

Forecaster's Take:  The only projected 10-win team not expected to make the playoffs, the Bengals will be better than people think thanks to a low rushing average and great numbers all around.

Pittsburgh Steelers
W17L:  13-3  (1st seed, loses to Green Bay in Super Bowl)
Forecaster:  6-10
Random:  7-9

W17L's Take:  The two knocks against this team are its aging defense and its early playoff exit last year.  The defense was still the best in the league in 2011, so it isn't going to be an issue.  And the Steelers were 12-4 last year, in case you forgot.  That would have given them the division title were they not in the same division as the Ravens.  Instead, Pittsburgh was put into the classic "no respect" game, against the 8-8 Broncos at Denver.  The last six playoff teams with 8 wins or fewer all won their first game, so I'm not too worried that Denver did also.  What I like about the Steelers is their all-around game.  Elite defense, great quarterback, very good receivers, and a pretty good running back.  I came very close to picking them to beat Green Bay but I just didn't see them winning that game.

Forecaster's Take:  The Steelers don't make their opponents run enough plays, but more importantly, they only cracked the top ten in one of the nine predictor categories.

Cleveland Browns
W17L:  6-10
Forecaster:  6-10
Random:  7-9

W17L's Take:  I'm not sure why I even gave them this many wins, to be honest.  I do think Trent Richardson will be a very good if not great running back from day one, and the winner of the Colt McCoy/Brandon Weeden battle should provide enough balance to make the Browns' offense somewhat potent.

Forecaster's Take:  This analysis will actually make sense:  the Browns don't score enough points and give up too many rushing yards to even be considered good.

For an explanation of the Forecaster and Random projections, go here.  Teams are ranked by total wins over the three projections.

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