AFC North Predictions: 2012-2013
1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
The Ravens are the deepest and most talented team in the entire division. With that in mind, they have the most potential to go further than eleven wins on the season as well. Granted, the Ravens have a brutal schedule but the team needs to have every pass rusher step up to fill in for Terrell Suggs. Outside linebackers Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan, Courtney Upshaw and Sergio Kindle will be looked up to fill the void. As usual though, the Ravens defense has always been dominant because of the sum of the parts as opposed to just one player. With that logic in mind, I expect Kruger to excel while the younger guys have an up and down season but show plenty of promise for the future. On the offensive side the young guys need to continue to improve, namely Torrey Smith. Smith surprised many with an impressive rookie season but if he turns out to be just a speedster or a complete wide receiver still remains to be seen. My money is on the latter of the two.
Offensive Player of the Year: Joe Flacco
In order for the team to really push the envelope even further, Flacco needs to continue to improve. In my honest opinion, he is a very good quarterback that takes way too much heat considering how much success he has had over the years. In four season he has a record of 44-20 while maintaining a completion percentage of 61% and eighty touchdowns to his forty-six interceptions. He has made it to the AFC Championship a few times now and before last season he struggled in those games. However, last season in the AFC Championship against the Patriots he looked better then Tom Brady did. Had Lee Evans reeled in a catchable ball, and Billy Cundiff not whiff on the easy field goal then the Ravens may have just been the champions last season. All of that can be attributed to the strides that Joe Flacco had made last season. Expect him to continue to build on that this season under the tutelage of Jim Caldwell, Peyton Manning's old coach.
Defensive Player of the Year: Haloti Ngata
Big man coming through, best not get in his way. You wouldn't want to see him when he's angry now would you? I know I wouldn't, I've seen The Avengers enough times to know what happens when you piss off the mild mannered man of a superb group of individuals. Yes, in light of the success of that film I am comparing that block buster film to the Ravens collection of defensive stars. It kind of fits if you ask me as well. Thor (Suggs), Hulk (Ngata), Iron Man (Reed), Captain America (Lewis, as he is everything Baltimore over his career). Fanboying aside of that film, Haloti Ngata alone causes problems for offensive linemen and with Suggs out of the lineup for sometime I'd expect him to get plenty of attention allowing the young linebackers more room to get to the quarterback. Ngata is the perfect defensive end for a 3-4 defense as he can clog running lanes but also push the offensive line back giving the quarterback less room in the pocket. A quarterback will always want more room in the pocket as he would then obviously be much more comfortable to throw the ball down field.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
The Steelers defense is aging, but still stout. Their offense has also transitioned over the years from being a running team to a full fledged passing team thanks to their speedy wide receivers. Now the Steelers star wide receiver Mike Wallace is holding out, but it seems very likely he will be back with the team. Ben Roethlisberger has benefited from the development of young receivers like Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. He had adapted to the lack of protection he gets from his offensive line by usually getting the ball out quick. The Steelers did right by him by drafting two offensive lineman early in the draft, but it doesn't look like they have performed to well in preseason. On the defensive side of the ball, yes they still will be able to pressure the quarterback, but they are not by any sense a great defense. Tim Tebow can prove that point by his performance against them in the playoffs last season.
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown
Brown busted on to the scene with a huge season last year with his first 1000+ yard season. He only had two touchdowns but he was certainly a deep threat that needed plenty of attention by opposing defenses. He and Mike Wallace create one of the fastest duos at the position. However, all of this can be undone if Wallace does not come back. Again, I think Wallace will be back, but his contract issue may cause problems throughout the season. If that is the case, then Sanders and Brown will have to rise to the occasion. Brown was purely a speedster last season and if he can continue to develop into a more polished receiver, than Roethlisberger will have another fast weapon to play with in the mold of Santonio Holmes.
Defensive Player of the Year: Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu is the do-all be-all player for the Steelers defense. Without him in the lineup, the Steelers defense looks flat out awful but with him they fly to the ball. His leadership is unquestioned, as is his play. However, he is creeping up there in age and gaining more and more injuries over the course of his career. The Steelers by no means have even any good corners which frequently makes his job that much more difficult. All that being said, he still needs to play at a high level in order for the Steelers to return to glory. It is hard to see this team getting back there with as many holes as they have, but they have proved me wrong in the past.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
The Bengals were truly much better then anyone anticipated last season thanks in large part to the exceptional rookies they drafted. Namely Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Most scouts knew that the Bengals were getting something special when they drafted Green, but Dalton really impressed in his first year as a starting quarterback in the league. The defense was also surprisingly stout, but that shouldn't be too much of a surprise when you consider how good of a coach historically Marvin Lewis has been in regards to the defensive side of the ball. The team has a bright future and will surely continue to compete in the division as long as their young guys continue to develop.
Offensive Player of the Year: Andy Dalton
Everyone knows that this is a quarterback driven league, and when you play in this division having a quarterback that can air it out efficiently will certainly help your chances of making the playoffs. Dalton showed that he and fellow rookie Green had tremendous chemistry with one another but now the team has added more talent on the offensive side of the ball. They added Benjarvus Green-Ellis to the backfield to give him a solid, dependable running back. The wide receiver group took a hit, but with a healthy offensive line and Jermaine Gresham, Dalton showed be in for a solid sophomore season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Carlos Dunlap
In a 4-3 defense getting pressure from your defensive ends is crucial. In Carlos Dunlap's first season he had ten sacks but then dropped to four and a half in his sophomore season. Getting pressure on the quarterback is the name of the game on defense, and it should be Dunlap's bread and butter. He was a terrific prospect coming out of college despite his off the field issues, but he has all the skill sets to be a terrific pass rusher in the NFL. Now entering his third season, he needs to put it all together for a big season where he becomes one of the best players on the defensive side of the ball. Leon Hall is the best player on the team's defense as he is a shut down corner but aside from him they don't have any real star players. As a team all of the pieces work really well together however. Dunlap has the potential however to be a true star defensive end in the league, now is the time to step up to the table.
4. Cleveland Browns (3-13)
Get ready to be back in the top five picks of the NFL Draft. I'm sorry Cleveland fans, but I promise things will get better. They have to, but the Browns are in a good position considering how many picks they got from the Redskins for Robert Griffin. In the upcoming draft it is likely that they could have two top ten draft picks in which they could use to add two potential stars. So with that being known Browns fans, be patient. I know you've been patient for a long time but hey good things come to those who wait. Trent Richardson was a good start in this year's draft, as was Brandon Weeden, but Weeden will struggle consider the lack of skill position players he has at his disposal. Aside from the offensive side of the ball, the Browns still have a solid defense thanks to their front seven and D'Qwell Jackson in the middle of it all.
Offensive Player of the Year: Trent Richardson
This is incredibly easy to predict seeing as how he is the most talent player on the Browns offense and when you take into factor the team's lack of wide receivers, the Browns will run the ball a lot. Richardson is a tremendous talent and one of the best backs to enter the league since Adrian Peterson, however he will constantly be facing eight or even possibly nine men in the box which will make things incredibly difficult on him. Richardson is a big back with speed, and with that in mind he should still be able to put together a decent season. Just don't expect anything horribly flashy out of him stat-wise in his rookie season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Joe Haden
Joe Haden is another player that has tremendous potential and two years ago it showed as he had the most pass deflections in the NFL. Last season he had nineteen pass deflections but no interceptions too boot. Haden is a solid tackler, a physical corner that will get up on a receiver while still having the speed to stay with one. Having a shut down corner is a welcome commodity in the NFL these days as they are incredibly rare and incredibly valuable. Haden has the skill set to become one, do I think he will be one? Probably not, but I think he has the potential to be a very good corner as he continues to develop. Judging by his first two seasons as well, he has been a slightly above average corner already.
Heartbreak (Sorry Ravens fans)
NFL Articles: 2012-2013 Season
- NFC East Predictions: 2012-2013
A detailed set of predictions on the NFC East for the upcoming season