AFC North Preview- Baltimore Ravens

The AFC North will be the first division that will be broken down by The Sports eXpress for the 2009 NFL Season. Fittingly enough, it should be started by the team that won the Super Bowl last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers won the AFC North and Super Bowl XLIII. With the same squad returning from last season literally, the Steelers are pretty much primed for a repeat run. The stiffest competition comes from the Baltimore Ravens, but they do have some major changes from last season, as Rex Ryan departed from Baltimore to be the head coach of the New York Jets. The Cincinnati Bengals are healthy once again, with their leader Carson Palmer back at QB, and are hoping to relive the success of 2005. They lost T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but gained a reliable weapon in Laveranues Coles to compliment Chad Ocho Cinco. The Cleveland Browns have a new head coach in Eric Mangini, and he is looking to turn around what his previous Bill Belichick disciple Romeo Crennel’s mess from the last couple of years in the Dawg Pound.

This season will be as follows:
1. Pittsburgh
2. Baltimore
3. Cincinnati
4. Cleveland

Here is the team by team breakdown of the AFC North:

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens came off a surprising 11-5 season which the rookie coach, John Harbaugh, and the rookie QB, Joe Flacco proved that they could put consistency and finally give the Ravens a good, stable offense that complimented the superb defense that has been a staple for this franchise for years. The RB situation is still showing that Willis McGahee is the #1 man, and he does have a good power compliment in LeRon McClain and speed in Ray Rice. The Ravens did draft Cedric Peerman, who has a good combination of power and speed. Should he make the team, expect McClain to play his true position at fullback. Flacco has three good reliable targets in Mark Clayton, Todd Heap, and Derrick Mason, who retired and then decided to come back and play another season in Baltimore. Another good target would be Drew Bennett, but he has not reported to the team. On the offensive line, expect rookie Michael Oher to have an immediate impact on the offensive line. He has good size and will be a valuable asset in protecting Flacco and the running game.

On Defense, the Ravens are still strong as ever. Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, and Trevor Pryce anchor the line, Ray Lewis is still the heart and soul of the defense and the team, and with a new contract in place for Terrell Suggs. The key loss from the LB corps was Bart Scott, who followed former Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan to the NY Jets, and the secondary is still the best in the game… Ed Reed is the game’s best Free Safety. No Chris McAlister, as he was released from his 7 yr, $55M deal, but the Ravens did bring in Domonique Foxworth, who is a good upgrade to compliment Chris Carr in the secondary.

One fixture that has been part of the Ravens for year is Matt Stover, who was one of the two original Ravens left from the team in 1996 (along with Ray Lewis), is now gone. Graham Gano and Stephen Hauschka are now in an open competition for the kicker’s job.

The Ravens are going to have another solid season, but it will still be a little bit until they catch up with Pittsburgh. But if any team in this division has what it takes to topple the Steelers, it is the Ravens.

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