2009 AFC North Preview: No Super Bowl Hangover in Pittsburgh

NC Nighthawk@NC Nighthawk (my Xbox gamertag)Analyst IJuly 11, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks with his players in the huddle against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers repeat as Super Bowl champions? What a loaded question!

After Pittsburgh’s 2005 Super Bowl, the Steelers experienced 2006 hangover. However, I do not expect the same after the 2008 Super Bowl win.

Almost all important players are back and who knows — the Steelers may get even better in 2009. 

Pittsburgh not only survived, they thrived playing the NFL’s toughest schedule in 2008.  So why not expect even better things for 2009?

Ben Roethlisberger makes mistakes but he is very athletic and he is a proven, pure winner.

Is he an elite QB in the NFL?

While he does not pile up the statistics, Big Ben extends plays with his mobility and he makes the plays needed to help his team win.

WR Santonio Holmes still has room to improve, Hines Ward is entering the twilight of his career, and even Limas Sweed could step up.

The Steelers offensive line improved in the playoffs after an inconsistent performance during the 2008 regular season. Thus, the rushing game only ranked No. 23 in the NFL. 

The Steelers defense was simply phenomenal a season ago. Look at some of the results: fewest points allowed, first against the pass, and second against the run.

Pittsburgh defense swarms to the ball the quickest and they gang tackle the most effectively of any defense in the league. NFL Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison, leads a dominant front seven and Troy Polamalu will keep making plays in the secondary. 

The Baltimore Ravens are Pittsburgh’s only real competition in the North and there is so much to like about them.

The Ravens look like a playoff team again and could make things interesting in the North if Flacco continues to improve and if he has another wideout other than Derrick Mason that elevates his game.

Joe Flacco’s strong arm finally gives the Ravens a real passing attack. Therefore, their passing game makes their running game much better.

Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain pounded opposing defenses for an AFC high 148.5 yards per game in 2008.

Having a competent offense allows the defense to rest more often. Baltimore’s defense is aging but it is still effective, as LB Ray Lewis still covers a lot of ground at linebacker and Ed Reed led NFL with nine picks in 2008. 

Now we are left with the two NFL teams in Ohio to battle it out for last place in the AFC North. I apologize to fans of the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns for my sarcasm, but both teams annually struggle.

Just flip a coin to predict which of these teams will finish in the cellar of this division. Or throw a dart.

Who gets the shortest straw?

Because of QB Carson Palmer, I predict the Bengals will finish third place in the AFC North for the 2009 campaign. However, now that Palmer finally gets healthy, T.J. Houshmandzadeh is no longer around.

I’m just not in the mood to discuss Ocho Cinco, a.k.a. Chad Johnson. But fans may follow his tweets at Twitter.

Palmer may finally get some pass protection after the Bengals spent a first-round pick on offensive tackle Andre Smith.

I am guilty of underrating Cincinnati’s defense. It was quietly the twelfth best in the NFL last season, which was the franchise’s best ranking in nine years. Veterans Roy Williams and Tank Johnson should only help it get better. 

Then we have the Cleveland Browns remaining. This team annually plays like its on a season-long hangover, interrupted by a few games in which they impress us.

Eric Mangini is coaching, Braylon Edwards’ hands are unreliable, and Kellen Winslow Jr. is gone.

QB Brady Quinn should get his opportunity to start and lead the team, although he’ll have to battle Derek Anderson again.

The Browns’ defense was ineffective last year but Mangini just might fix it. He brought along a group of his Jets players: Kenyon Coleman, Eric Barton, David Bowens, and Abram Elam should get Cleveland’s defense closer to respectability.

Technorati Tags: AFC North,AFC,NFL,Pittsburgh Steelers,sports

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Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson


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