By Will Robinson

Ok, we’re in the home stretch! After this bad boy, one more! And, as always, here are the past previews:

AFC West

NFC West

AFC South

NFC South

AFC East

NFC East


Baltimore Ravens


2010 Record: 12-4

Notable Additions: Jimmy Smith (CB), Torrey Smith (WR), Vonta Leach (FB), Bernard Pollard (S), Ricky Williams (RB), Lee Evans (WR)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Todd Heap (TE), Willis McGahee (RB), Dawan Landry (S), Le’Ron McClain (FB), Jared Gaither (OT), Josh Wilson (CB), Derrick Mason (WR), Kelly Gregg (DT)

Strengths: Defense, offensive balance, defense

Weaknesses: Aging defense, offensive line consistency

2010 Season Summary: After a 20-3 embarrassment in the second round of the 2009 playoffs, the Ravens set out to do more damage in the regular and postseason. Well, they accomplished the first, as they were a Wild Card only because they lost the tiebreaker with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but a 12-4 season is always a great regular season outing. Their defense was strong once again, including the all-world safety Ed Reed having a remarkable year after missing six games. Haloti Ngata proved he is the premier 3-4 defensive end in the league, as even when he drew double teams, he could break out and be disruptive: That’s ridiculous. Linebacker Ray Lewis compiled a very strong year at the age of 35 with over 130 tackles and two forced fumbles as he continued to be the quarterback of the defense. On offense, third year quarterback Joe Flacco put up good numbers in his third season, with 3,622 yards and 25 touchdowns with new toy Anquan Boldin in the lineup. Ray Rice, after coming off a MONSTER year in 2009, had his touchdowns reduced from eight to six, and yards from scrimmage from 2,041 to 1,776. Teams seemed to figure him out a bit, as his workload increased, or maybe it was just the fact they weren’t scared of Willis McGahee when he spelled Rice. Who knows. Anyway, the Ravens season went swimmingly until they had to face the hated Steelers in the playoffs, in which they lost to them. Again.

2011 Prospects: Fortunately, I think this is Baltimore’s year to win the division. For one, Pittsburgh always seems to have a down year following a Super Bowl appearance. Two, I really like the passing threats they added to help Flacco and Boldin in rookie Torrey Smith and veteran burner Lee Evans. And third, they have a strong, albeit old, defensive core, and they got possibly the best cover corner in the draft in Jimmy Smith to help Reed and company. I personally think Ricky Williams can be effective behind Baltimore’s great line, more so than McGahee could do, and that will help the offense’s efficiency. Plus, it appears that their schedule will be easy this season, which will help dominating the league. I really think the Ravens will have the best record in the AFC. Their overall team skill in depth rivals the best in the league, and they could make it back to an AFC Championship game.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Lee Evans (WR)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Ricky Williams (RB)



Cincinnati Bengals

2010 Record: 4-12

Notable Additions: A.J. Green (WR), Andy Dalton (QB), Dontay Moch (LB), Thomas Howard (LB), Nate Clements (CB), Manny Lawson (LB)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Carson Palmer (QB), Chad Ochocinco (WR), Terrell Owens (WR), Jonathan Joseph (CB), Antwan Odom (DE)

Strengths: Pass offense/defense, the only work release program in the NFL (wait, they don’t have that? Then why do they keep signing ex-criminals?)

Weaknesses: Distraction central, typically stingy owner, crippled defense

2010 Season Summary: The Bengals surprisingly made the playoffs in 2009 with a 10-6 record. I was shocked, you were shocked and Bengals fans were shocked. I thought they would regress last year, but not nearly as bad as they ended up doing (my worst-case scenario for them was 5-11 – I was almost right!). Nothing went right for the Bengals, but they really can’t blame anyone but themselves. For some reason, signing Terrell Owens sounded like a phenomenal idea, because – channeling Bill Simmons – whenever you have the chance to have two prima donna reality stars at the biggest diva football position, you have to do it. If I were Carson Palmer, I would have rather retire than deal with the Bengals incompetence (too soon?). Palmer put up decent numbers, but a lot came in garbage time with his team already down and out. Cedric Benson, who was a revelation in 2009, had injuries that hurt his on-field performance, as well as recreational illegal off the field things too. Defensively, Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph composed of a very strong corner back tandem. While they were still good, the rest of their defense fell apart. Antwan Odom missed another large chunk of a season: after recording eight sacks in six games in 2009, he recorded zero in the four games he played in 2010. In all fairness, they did have a really difficult schedule with the Steelers/Ravens twice a year, the AFC East and the NFC South all on their schedule.

2011 Prospects: Cincinnati has gone through a decent sized overhaul to change the face of their team. For one, they traded Chad Ochocinco and did not re-sign Terrell Owens. In addition, Carson Palmer stated he would retire if the team did not trade him and since they have no intention to, it looks like he’s done playing ball. They drafted Georgia standout A.J. Green to be their big play threat in the future, and they drafted TCU quarterback and fellow ginger Andy Dalton to be their next big time quarterback. They replaced Jonathan Joseph with Nate Clements – a definite downgrade – and their defense didn’t change much besides some spot free agents. Compared to last year, the Bengals have an easier schedule, so they should win more games. But being with the Steelers and the Ravens, and the up and coming Browns, the light for this season is very dim.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Cedric Benson (RB) [he’s being undervalued]

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: No bust



Cleveland Browns

2010 Record: 5-11

Notable Additions: Phil Taylor (DT), Jabaal Sheard (DE), Greg Little (WR)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Eric Wright (CB), Abram Elam (S), Jake Delhomme (QB)

Strengths: Pass defense, rushing offense

Weaknesses: Inability to stop the run for their lives, anemic passing offense

2010 Season Summary: Last season was the first year of Mike Holmgren’s presidential reign. First, he decided to retain Eric Mangini for a season to see if he could be the coach of the future. Second, he went in the draft and acquired cornerback Joe Haden to bolster a weak secondary, and then picked Texas All-American quarterback Colt McCoy to possibly be the Browns’ first consistent starter since Bernie Kosar. And, most importantly, they wanted to improve over their previous season. Well, that last part didn’t happen, but they did find a potentially great QB in McCoy. They also deftly traded Brady Quinn for Peyton Hillis, after which, Hillis thrived as the starting back in Cleveland, as he ran over people for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. While McCoy showed some promise, he had nobody to throw to, thus limiting how he could produce as a rookie. On the defensive side, the Browns showed some signs of life, but they still struggled to put together consistently strong performances.

2011 Prospects: The Browns look to be stronger this season with new coach Pat Shurmur, but I think they are at least a year away. Colt McCoy has looked very strong this pre-season (although, it’s only the pre-season) and could be poised to break out and dominate. For his sake, I’m sure he hopes newly drafted receiver and tight end Greg Little and Jordan Cameron can be legitimate targets as he makes his way through his second season. The top pick, Jabaal Sheard, should have an immediate impact on the team’s defensive unit that struggled getting to the opposition on passing downs. Joe Haden’s progression should continue as he tries to become the best cornerback in the division. Similar to last year, the Browns will be in most games, but anything above six wins would surprise me.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Mohamed Massaquoi (WR) [why not]

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Montario Hardesty (RB) [I think Brandon Jackson will be the #2 back]



Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 Record: 12-4

Notable Additions: Cameron Heyward (DE), Marcus Gilbert (OT),

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Flozell Adams (OT), Max Starks (OT)

Strengths: Defensive ridiculousness (pass rush, depth, run stuffing), strongest top-to-bottom organization in football, pass game

Weaknesses: Cornerbacks, offensive line

2010 Season Summary: The Pittsburgh Steelers. Hearing just the name, I guarantee you thought of some things such as hard-nosed football, the Steel Curtain, alleged rape, DUIs, zone blitz, all of which would have been suitable answers. The team was surrounded with the Ben Roethlisberger controversy, who was suspended four games for violating the off the field conduct policy. The primary public thought was that if the Steelers stumbled without Big Ben, then it would set them back for the whole year. Fortunately for Steeler Nation, the Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch combo finessed their way to three wins in four games. After Ben’s return, the team finished 9-3 to have a 12-4 record. However, the big offensive stories were Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall. Wallace, the then second year man from Ole Miss, completely scorched secondaries as he gained 1,257 yards on 60 catches and ten scores: a ridiculous 21 yards per reception average. Not only did Wallace have a better catch rate than his peer DeSean Jackson (60 catches/100 targets as opposed to Jackson’s 47/97), Wallace was also fifth in the league in receiving yards and tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns. Mendenhall, who carried the rock 324 times for the Steelers for only 1,273 yards (3.9 yards per carry), but scored 13 times. The defense, of course, was the main stay of the Steelers’ game. For one, they featured the Defensive Player of the Year in Troy Polamalu, as well as at least three more All-Pro caliber players with James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Aaron Smith. Smith unfortunately missed another large portion of the year, but second year Ziggy Hood played well in his absence, although Smith could be deemed irreplaceable. The corner play was good at best, as the Steelers haven’t really had a marquee cornerback in years. One surprising thing was the play of Ryan Clark after Polamalu was hurt. Clark, who is Polamalu’s perfect complement, showed to take on the playmaking role that made Polamalu famous as exhibited in the playoff win against Baltimore. Woodley had a solid year pass rushing with 10 sacks, as Harrison had 10.5 with 100 tackles. Pittsburgh, of course, made the Super Bowl, and lost to the Green Bay Packers, and I really thought they were in it until Roethlisberger was incomplete on fourth down. Polamalu was definitely not healthy, and if he was, the game could have been different. Easily.

2011 Prospects: Unlike some Steeler fans, I think they will be just fine this year. Aaron Smith is apparently very healthy and in shape, as is Polamalu. The other receivers on the team, such as Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, have had an off-season to progress. They added Cameron Heyward on defense to fill in for Smith or Brett Keisel and his beard. Lawrence Timmons, the inside linebacker who broke out last year, will be back and badder than ever. While I think the Ravens have the potential to win the division, I think the Steelers’ easy schedule will allow them to win at least 10 games and propel themselves to a Wild Card berth at the very minimum. Even though it seems Pittsburgh has a pattern of having a down year after a Super Bowl appearance, I think their organization can keep them on track, as well as the strong coaching of Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau. Same Steelers, different year.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Emmanuel Sanders (WR)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Mike Wallace (WR) [I think he’s overvalued, but he will still be a very good year if you can acquire him at a good price]


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