CineSport—Cincinnati HC Marvin Lewis got a two-year extension. CineSport's Noah Coslov and Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy discuss this, the Bengals' Super Bowl hopes & Cincinnati's new training camp home.
The AFC North was one of the most competitive divisions in football in 2011, with three teams making the playoffs. With training camps getting underway and the regular season about a month away, how do these teams look for 2012?
The Bengals took home the second wild card last season with a 9-7 record led by rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Dalton had an excellent first year in the NFL, but he must avoid a sophomore slump if the Bengals want to compete. He will no doubt be helped out by another huge season from his emerging wide receiver.
A.J. Green will be one of the best wideouts in the NFL in 2012 barring a catastrophic injury. He has great size and speed at the position with the ability to catch the ball anywhere. He could easily finish the year as the top fantasy wide receiver as well, even surpassing Calvin Johnson of the Lions.
After grabbing the AFC North championship last season, the Baltimore Ravens aim to win back-to-back division titles. Joe Flacco has come into his own as a quarterback, outplaying his previous “game manager” status. That being said, Ray Rice is the true offensive star of the team. After rushing for more than 1300 yards in 2011, the Ravens rewarded the running back with a five-year, $40 million contract.
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed lead a Baltimore defense that manages to scare everyone, despite the fact that they could be retired and on “Dancing with the Stars” by now. They will be without star linebacker Terrell Suggs, however, who tore his Achilles tendon playing basketball and/or conditioning in the offseason. Regardless, the Ravens should have a very strong year and repeat as division champs as well as make a deep postseason run.
The Pittsburgh Steelers finished second in the division but still grabbed a wild card berth in 2011.
Ben Roethlisberger leads the way in Pittsburgh. He is going into his ninth season as a Steeler and the team will be competitive as long as he has a say in the matter. Their biggest concern is running back Rashard Mendenhall, who is trying to come back from a torn ACL. Mendenhall is expected to return by the middle of the season, so Isaac Redman will continue to carry the load until then.
James Farrior and Troy Polamalu anchor a defense that can be one of the strongest in the league as long as they all stay healthy. Pittsburgh’s 227 points allowed was tops in the league in 2011 and they featured the best pass defense as well. Save for a disastrous injury or one of the suspensions that always seem to plague Steelers’ players, they should be able to head back to the playoffs.
Rounding out the AFC North are the cellar dweller Cleveland Browns. After a disappointing season from Madden 2012 cover boy Peyton Hillis, the Browns hope that they have found the next superstar running back in Trent Richardson, whom they took with the third pick in the draft. With a skill set similar to that of Adrian Peterson, the former University of Alabama star has the potential to be highly productive in Cleveland.
The Browns also took quarterback Brandon Weeden in the first round of the draft. A former Yankees’ draft pick, Weeden changed his career path and decided to play wide receiver for Oklahoma State.
After later becoming their starting quarterback in 2011, he led the Cowboys to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal. He is expected to beat out Colt McCoy for the starting gig, who is actually three years Weeden’s junior.
The Browns should show improvement from recent years past, but with the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals all in front of them, last place seems likely yet again.