AFC North
Overview:
The Ravens and Bengals are clearly the favorites. The Bengals have a good young defense that should only improve with key additions "” draft picks and players returning from injury. Ditto for the Ravens' offense, which added difference-making wide receiver Anquan Boldin to an already strong unit. Like last season, the Bengals' corner tandem of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph (six interceptions each in '09) will have to remain injury free and at the top of their games. Linebacker Ray Lewis (fifth in NFL in tackles with 134) is getting older, but he and the Ravens' defense (No. 3 in NFL) show no signs of slowing. Pittsburgh is a team in turmoil after a tumultuous offseason that saw the team's best receiver, Santonio Holmes, shipped off for one transgression too many and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger earn a six-game suspension for questionable behavior. It could be too much too overcome tactically, and the Ben situation could hang like a black cloud all season. The Browns showed some life running the ball last season albeit at the expense of the league's worst passing game, which doesn't look to be primed to be any better with the casting off of quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson and the addition of quickly aging veteran Jake Delhomme and career backup Seneca Wallace. Browns president Mike Holmgren has said third-round draft pick Colt McCoy won't play this season.

North schedule:
Week 2 (Balt. @ Cin.); Week 3 (Cle. @ Balt.); Week 4 (Balt. @ Pitt.), (Cin. @ Cle.); Week 6 (Cle. @ Pitt.); Week 9 (Pitt.@ Cin.); Week 13 (Pitt. @ Balt.); Week 14 (Cin. @ Pitt.); Week 15 (Cle. @ Cin.); Week 16 (Balt. @ Cle.); Week 17 (Cin. @ Balt.)

Player keys to success:
Bengals "” QB Carson Palmer, RB Cedric Benson, S Roy Williams. Browns "” CB Joe Haden, LB D'Qwell Jackson, WR Joshua Cribbs. Ravens "” WR Anquan Boldin, QB Joe Flacco, RB Ray Rice. Steelers "” QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Mike Wallace, LB James Harrison.

Standings prediction:
Ravens (12th-toughest schedule: 11-5, 5-1 North), Bengals (3rd-toughest schedule: 9-7, 4-2), Steelers (21st-toughest schedule: 7-9, 3-3), Browns (10th-toughest schedule: 4-12, 0-6).



Rookies

TE Jermaine Gresham (Oklahoma)
Round: 1 (No. 21 overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6-5/261
Comment: A big target that opens up the field. With weak TE corps, might start from Day 1.

 
 
 

DE Carlos Dunlap (Florida)
Round: 2 (No. 54 overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6-6/277
Comment: Tall rush standout "” at end or tackle "” might make immediate impact on third downs.




 

WR Jordan Shipley (Texas)
Round: 3 (No. 84 overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6-0/193
Comment: UT's catches leader has chance to play a lot in slot and be factor in return game.
 
 
 
 
 

CB Brandon Ghee (Wake Forest)
Round: 3b (No. 96 overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6-0/192
Comment: One of fastest, most athletic draftees, may factor in nickel early if he develops.

 
 
 
 
 
DT Geno Atkins (Georgia)
Round: 4a (No. 120 overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6-1/293
Comment: With very strong, thick body, son of NFLer adds depth to interior defensive line.
 
 
 
 
 

LB Roddrick Muckelroy (Texas)
Round: 4b (No. 131 overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6-2/246
Comment: A 3-year UT starter (256 tackles, 20½ for loss), has time to develop at deep position.

 
 
 
 

OL Otis Hudson (E. Illinois)
Round: 5 (No. 152 overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6-5/320
Comment: An OL coach Paul Alexander project at right guard. Long but needs to build strength.

 
 
 
 
 
WR Dezmon Briscoe (Kansas)
Round: 6 (No. 191 overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6-2/207
Comment: Possible steal of draft class. Had 219 catches, 3,240 yards, 31 TDs in 37 games at KU.
 
 
 
 
 
 
OL Reggie Stephens (Iowa St.)
Round: 7 (No. 228 overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6-3/314
Comment: Another developmental project. Solid run blocker could back up at guard or center.