8/26 Update:
Baltimore's defense has struggled in the preseason. If they get pushed around by the Steelers in week 1, the Ravens are in trouble.

Major Additions:
QB Kyle Boller, RB Musa Smith, FB Harold Morrow, FB Ovie Mughelli, WR Marcus Robinson, WR Frank Sanders, OT Tony Pashos, OT Orlando Brown, DT Jarrett Johnson, LB Terrell Suggs, FS Corey Fuller.
Major Subtractions:
QB Jeff Blake, FB Sam Gash.

Offense This Year: Remember the dull offense that the Ravens had when they won the Super Bowl in 2000? Well, expect to see more of the same this year. QB Chris Redman will be the starter at the beginning of the season, even though Baltimore took QB Kyle Boller in the first round this year. Redman is coming off injury, but has impressed this offseason. Redman's job is to protect the football and not to make mistakes. Outstanding RB Jamal Lewis will move the ball on offense with a solid offensive line creating holes for him. All-Pro TE Todd Heap, as well as WRs Travis Taylor, Randy Hymes and Frank Sanders will keep defenses honest. This offense won't score a lot of points, but it should not turn the ball over too much either.
Defense This Year: Other than the NT position, this defense eerily looks like the 2000 Baltimore defense. NT Greg Kelly will not be a run stuffer like Tony Siragusa was, but DEs Adalius Thomas and Anthony Weaver will be pretty effective in this 3-4 defense. The linebacker position is the heart of this defense. It would not surprise me if all four starters get voted to the Pro Bowl. They are led by veterans Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware. Also in this group are rookie Terrell Suggs, a monster pass rusher, as well as Edgerton Hartwell, who really opened some eyes last year. They also have some depth with Cornell Brown and Bernado Harris. They are backed up by a solid secondary. CB Chris McAlister is one of the best, while CB Gary Baxter and SS Ed Reed are both promising young players, who contributed positively last year. Baltimore also signed FS Corey Fuller, giving them four solid starters in the secondary. Depth is an issue though. This defense was missing Ray Lewis last year, and they had a 7-9 record. Imagine what they'll do with Lewis, Suggs and Fuller this year.
Schedule and Intangibles: No numbers stick out. The Ravens are 31-24 at home since they moved from Cleveland in 1996. Their best month happens to be December, where they are 16-13, and their worst month is October, where they are a horrible 8-18. Baltimore has a pretty balanced schedule. They have the pleasure of playing Cincinnati and Cleveland twice, as well as inferior teams like Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco. However, they also have to play Oakland, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami and St. Louis. If they win all the games they should win, they should be able to compete for the division title.

Analysis: This team reminds me of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. I picked that team to go to the AFC Championship that year. It would not surprise me if they went that far this year.

Projection: 10-6 (1st in the AFC North).

Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Year: 10-5-1).
8/26 Update:
The Steelers' offensive line is one of the NFL's worst. This may prompt Bill Cowher to yank Tommy Maddox early.

Major Additions:
TE Jay Riemersma, OT Todd Fordham, DE Alonzo Jackson, SS Troy Polamalu.
Major Subtractions:
QB Kordell Stewart, OT Wayne Gandy, SS Lee Flowers, K Todd Peterson.

Offense This Year: This offense used to be like the current Baltimore Ravens' offense. They used to count on Kordell Stewart not making mistakes. However, with QB Tommy Maddox, this offense is expected to carry the Steelers. With Maddox at the helm, the Steelers averaged 24 points per game. However, it is unclear if Maddox can repeat what he has done. He is distracted by only making $650,000 a year, while his backup, Charlie Batch makes more. Speaking of Batch, don't be surprised if he takes Maddox's job due to an injury, since the fragile Maddox lost Pro Bowl OT Wayne Gandy. If Maddox gets off to a slow start, he will get yanked. Either Maddox or Batch will have outstanding WRs Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward to throw to. Burress and Ward might be the best duo of receivers in the NFL. They also have the talented QB/RB/WR Antwaan Randel El, as well as free agent signee TE Jay Riemersma. The running game is an issue. RB Jerome Bettis either will be the backup to Amos Zereoue or will be cut. The Steelers must use Zereoue as a featured back, because Bettis is not what he used to be. The loss of Wayne Gandy will hurt their running game as well. The Steelers had the fifth ranked offense last year. Don't be surprised if it takes a slight hit, but I still think they'll be ranked in the top half.
Defense This Year: The Steelers play a 3-4 defense, and have a decent defensive line, that will have more depth this year with the addition of DE Alonzo Jackson. They also have outstanding linebackers that could be compared to Baltimore's four, but they do not have the depth that the Ravens do. The problem that the Steelers have is in their secondary. Everyone in the secondary stinks. Corners Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington often get abused, while current safties Brent Alexander and Mike Logan also play poorly. Rookie SS Troy Polamalu will make a positive impact, but he won't start right away. This is why teams like the Raiders, Patriots and Browns can throw 60 times a game and score over 30 against the Steelers. The Steelers allowed at least 30 points eight times last year. Without major additions, look for more of the same this year.
Schedule and Intangibles: KR/PR Antwaan Randle El is dangerous and can return a kick or a punt for a touchdown at any time. Kicker Jeff Reed kicked 20 for 24 last year, which is a nice change of pace from what the Steelers are used to. Pittsburgh has the third best home record since 1992 (63-24). They are also one of a few teams that have a positive road record in the last 10 years (46-42). They often get off to a poor start. Since 1992, they are 21-18 in September, but are 32-10 and 29-17 in October and November, respectively. The Steelers have a pretty balanced schedule. They play the Browns twice, Bengals twice and Cardinals. However, they also have to play the Titans, Raiders, Chiefs, Chargers, Rams and Ravens twice.

Analysis: Pittsburgh was lucky that the other AFC North teams didn't give them much competition last year. The Ravens will this year. If the Steelers can shut down passing games, they will win the division. I don't see that happening.

Projection: 9-7 (2nd in the AFC North).

Cincinnati Bengals (Last Year: 2-14).
Major Additions:
QB Carson Palmer, QB Shane Matthews, FB Mike Green, FB Jeremi Johnson, WR Kelley Washington, TE Reggie Kelly, G Eric Steinbach, DE Carl Powell, DT John Thornton, LB Kevin Hardy, CB Tory James, CB Dennis Weathersby.
Major Subtractions:
QB Akili Smith, QB Gus Frerotte, FB Lorenzo Neal, FB Nicolas Luchey, OT Richmond Webb, OT Reggie Coleman, DE Vaughn Booker, LB Takeo Spikes, LB Canute Curtis, S Cory Hall.

Offense This Year: Even though the Bengals drafted Carson Palmer, QB Jon Kitna will be the starter this year. Under Kitna, the Bengals averaged 21 points per game last year. He will have more help this year, as the Bengals drafted G Eric Steinbach to improve a terrible interior offensive line. Now, the Bengals have three solid starters up front, so this should help Kitna avoid interceptions that he throws when he is under pressure. The Bengals also drafted WR Kelley Washington and signed free agent TE Reggie Kelly, giving Kitna more reliable targets to throw to. Of course, you can't forget that the Bengals have stud players WR Chad Johnson and 1,300 yard rusher Corey Dillon. I think this offense will be better this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if they're ranked in the upper half.
Defense This Year: Head coach Marvin Lewis automatically makes this defense better, although they couldn't get much worse, because they allowed a league high 28.5 points per game. Despite losing Pro Bowler LB Takeo Spikes, the Bengals added a number of defensive players that will contribute like DE Carl Powell, DT John Thornton, LB Kevin Hardy, and CBs Tory James and Dennis Weathersby. This gives the Bengals at least four new starters on defense, and even though they still have a few holes, they will not give up the most points in the NFL. They should be able to stop the run effectively (they were 12th last year against it), but they will have trouble getting to the quarterback. Cincinnati had the third fewest sacks in the NFL last year, which led to only 9 interceptions, the NFL's fewest. They have not added enough of a pass rush to improve both of those numbers.
Schedule and Intangibles: Cincinnati has some ugly records like a 23-41 home record and a 19-69 road record since 1992. They are also way below .500 during every month in the last 10 years, except December (20-27). Marvin Lewis has created a positive attitude in Cincinnati thus far, and will improve those numbers within the next few years. The Bengals have to deal with the entire AFC West this year, as well as St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle and Buffalo. Of course, they also play the Steelers and Ravens twice. Cincinnati may not win a ton of games this year, but they'll be more competitive and they will definitely not get blown out seven times this year like they did last year.

Analysis: Marvin Lewis will give a playoff berth to Cincinnati, but it won't happen this year. The Bengals should hope for a four or five win improvement and possibly the playoffs in 2004.

Projection: 4-12 (3rd in the AFC North).

Cleveland Browns (Last Year: 9-7).
8/26 Update:
Kelly Holcomb has been named the starter, so the Browns will put up a lot of points this year. The problem is, they are going to let up even more.

Major Additions:
RB Lee Suggs, C Jeff Faine, LB Barry Gardner.
Major Subtractions:
C Dave Wohlabaugh, LB Earl Holmes, LB Jamir Miller, LB Dwayne Rudd, FS Corey Fuller, S Chris Atkins.

Offense This Year: Other than the quarterback position, this offense is set. RB William Green ended last season on a positive note, the offensive line is adequate and the quartet of receivers (Dennis Northcutt, Quincy Morgan, Kevin Johnson and Andre Davis) are all good enough to start. However, the big question is who the quarterback will be. Check out this Top Story to see who I think the quarterback should be: Couch or Kelly? As long as the right quarterback starts, the Browns should put up a lot of points every week.
Defense This Year: This defense might be the NFL's worst this year. Their defensive line does not get any sort of pressure on the quarterback. Their supposed best player, DE Courtney Brown, only had 2 sacks last year. DE Kenard Lang had the most last year (six), while the other two starters only had 2 and 1 (DTs Gerard Warren and Orpheus Roye, respectively). The Browns compensated for this last year with excellent linebacker play. Dwayne Rudd, Earl Holmes and Kevin Bentley all played pretty well, but Rudd and Holmes are no longer with the team. Bentley returns as a starter, and will play along side disappointing Barry Gardner, as well as unproven Ben Taylor. The Browns' secondary is the best unit on this defense, even though they might be the AFC North's worst secondary. Top corner Daylon McCutcheon is a #2 corner on any other team (being generous), while second corner Anthony Henry is at best a nickle back. SS Robert Griffith is the leader of this secondary, but at age 32, his best days are behind him. When you factor in that coordinator Foge Fazio retired, and that idiot head coach Butch Davis loves to play prevent defense at the end of games, you wind up with the worst defense in the NFL.
Schedule and Intangibles: No Browns lead is safe. The nation witnessed this in the wild card playoff game against the Steelers. Butch Davis is an expert at giving up big leads. He does have the luxury of good kick/punt returns. Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt both scored touchdowns last year off of returns. Speaking of Northcutt, expect the Browns to use him in multiple situations this year. They must get him the ball as often as possible. Cleveland has the NFL's worst home record. They are only 26-38 since 1992 (3-5 last year). Surprisingly, they were 6-2 on the road last year. The Browns are a losing team in every month except for September (16-14). They are 11-21 in November, and 10-25 in December. Cleveland has a tough schedule on their hands this year. They play the Bengals twice, and the Cardinals once, but they have to deal with the Steelers twice, Ravens twice, Raiders, Chargers, Chiefs, Broncos, Rams, Patriots, Colts, Seahawks and 49ers. Wins will be tough to come by.

Analysis: The Browns' defense is so bad that the offense will probably have to score 30 points every week. That is a lot to ask of any offense in the NFL. They will certainly score 30 or more a few times this year, but they might not even win those games.

Projection: 3-13 (4th in the AFC North).

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