A Totally Biased Way-Too-Big NFL Preview: The AFC North

After another long off-season and players coming and going, 2013 is a new year and everyone is 0-0.

The Ravens coming off their Super Bowl Championship, having lost many great players, like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, have their work cut out for them in a tough AFC North division. The Bengals have added some good depth through the draft and free agency, but don’t count out the Steelers and Browns, as well.

The AFC North could be one of the most competitive divsions in the league and one of the toughest. Each team has a rugged defense that will smash you in the mouth and cause takeaways. Don’t be surprised to see 2 or even 3 of these teams in the playoffs.

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Cincinnati Bengals

2012 Recap: For the second straight season the Bengals made the playoffs as the Wild Card. And for the second straight season, they lost to the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round. Can they go for three?!

After a rough start to the season at 3-5, the Bengals won 7 of their next 8 games to complete the year at 10-6. Going in to 2013, the Bengals look to have one of the deepest teams in the NFL on both sides of the football. Will that spell at division title?

Biggest Off-season Move: Signing James Harrison. With several of the Bengal’s starters leaving town, Cincinnati signed veteran Linebacker James Harrison to help sure up the defense.

Harrison brings a fearsome pass rush that the Bengals lacked from the linebacker spot last year. Although Harrison isnt the same player we’re used to seeing, anytime you bring in a former Defensive Player of the Year, that’s an upgrade.

Breakout Player: Tyler Eifert. This one is easy. The rookie TE from Notre Dame is expected to have a big year for Cincy after the Bengals drafted him in the first round of the draft. The 6’6″ 250Lb tight end is built like a familiar player, Rob Gronkowski. With a good QB in Andy Dalton, and AJ Green taking the top off the defense, Eifert should get plently of one-on-one match-ups, which spells big numbers for the rookie.

Crucial Match-up: vs Indianapolis Colts Sunday, December 8th. A big match-up against the Colts late in the year as both teams could be fighting for a Wild Card playoff spot.

Baltimore Ravens

2012 Recap: Recap? The Ravens are the Super Bowl XLVII Champions. That’s your recap.

Biggest Off-season Move: Re-Signing Joe Flacco. Making Flacco the highest paid QB in the league is quite the head-scratcher. Although he’s not Rodgers or Brady or Brees, he’s still a Super Bowl Champion. Flacco’s deal is easy on cap-space for the next few years, and it ensures the Ravens having a solid QB for that time.

Breakout Player: Torrey Smith. I know what you’re thinking, Torrey Smith had a great season in 2012, so how can he be a breakout player? I say, shut up and settle down, hater. With Anquan Boldin now in San Fran and Dennis Pitta out for quite a while, the Ravens will need a receiver to rely on. That receiver is deinitly, Smith. Expect him to have a huge year.

Crucial Match-up: @ Denver Broncos Thursday September 5th. The football season starts off with a huge re-match of the 2012 divisional playoffs. Bring on the Football!

Pittsburgh Steelers

2012 Recap: For the first time since 2009 the Steelers missed the playoffs with their mediocre finish of 8-8. The Steelers took a huge step back from their 12-4 record in 2011. Also, 2012 was their first non-winning season since 2006.

Of course, when you lose some of your best starters, Mike Wallace, Heath Miller, and Ike Taylor. With a healthy Big Ben and Troy Polamalu, the Steelers still have a chance to contend in a very competitive AFC North.

Biggest Off-season Move: Not Re-Signing Mike Wallace. Wallace is one of the best deep-threat wide outs in the league. When Pittsburgh let him walk, obviously their offense took a tremendous hit. While Mike Wallace is a great WR, he became more of a headache for the Steelers. So the break-up isn’t entirely a bad thing.

Breakout Player: Al Woods. The defensive end has shown some ability in the preseason and will need to step up for an aging Steelers defensive line. If he doesn’t break-out for the Steelers D, I’d be surprised.

Crucial Match-up: @ Cincinnati Bengals Monday, September 16th. A huge divisional game on MNF. The Steelers will be put to the test against a great Bengals team.

Cleveland Browns

2012 Recap: The Cleveland Browns improved on their 2011 campaign by one whole game, improving to 5-11 in 2012. Still, they failed to reach the post season for the 9th straight year, which is not a surprise. First Round draft pick, Trent Richardson, was one of the only bright spots on the team, finishing with almost 1,00 yards and 11 TDs.

Biggest Off-season Move: Paul Kruger. After amassing 9 sacks, 1 INT and 42 tackles, Kruger became one of the more sought after free agents in 2013. The Browns inked the OLB in hopes he increases his production after he signed a 5-year, $40 million deal. Only time will tell if Kruger will become the stud pass-rusher the Browns have been looking for.

Breakout Player: Josh Gordon. In 2012, Gordon chalked up 50 catches, 805 yards and 5 TDs. Another year with starting QB Brandon Weeden, Josh Gordon should be in for a great year. Despite a 2-game suspension to start the year, Gordon could still have a 1,000 yard season.

Crucial Match-up: @ Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, December 29th. The Browns last game of the season could be a crucial one for both teams. Or it could be another crappy game.

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