1) Cleveland Browns – I believe there will be a changing of the guard at the top of this division. Cleveland’s defense had some question marks going into the offseason, but they did well for themselves by bringing in Corey Williams and an apparently hungry Shaun Rogers. If Rogers plays hard even 60% of the time, Cleveland’s defense might actually go from questionable to solid (even with a porous secondary). And their offense (passing game at least) is exciting. One problem they may have this year is running the ball. Jamal Lewis has spent a good part of his career being hugely overrated. Last year, Lewis benefited greatly from a passing game that kept defenses honest and from having Joe Thomas out there. Despite having a solid year last year, I expect a down year from Lewis and the run game. (I have visions of Lewis completing his Corey Dillon-like transformation this year – which means getting run down by 370lb D-Line in the open field). Still, the team will be good enough to finally get back into the playoffs. 11-5
2) Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers have been a team that has managed to excel despite not being overloaded with talent. They just keep winning. They have good line play typically (O-Line and D-Line), good LB play and quality secondary play just by having Palomalu on the field. But Ben Roeth has proven to be a quality game manager and they seem to game-manage and play within themselves as well as any team out there. For this reason, I have a really hard time seeing Pittsburgh faltering too much this year. They will do well, but not as well as the Cleve. 10-6.
3) Baltimore Ravens – For a team without a named QB at this point (Troy Smith looked like the guy until his recent battle with tonsillitis – bet he gets ripped on in the locker room for that). So, they were indicating that for the final preseason game, Joe Flacco might have to play the entire game (Boller injured his shoulder pretty badly and may be out for the year). The Ravens aren’t very good, but they do have some talent on the team. Ray Lewis is still pretty good, Ed Reed is always good, as is Terrell Suggs, Chris McAllister is decent and Willis McGahee always has the chance to be solid (though it sounds like rookie Ray Rice is pushing McGahee for the starting spot because he looks so good). They also have Todd Heap, who is quality. But they have a new coach now and either they end up totally sucking (1-15) or they win some games simply because they’re just happy to be playing for another coach. My guess is they win a few, maybe even a few big games that they aren’t “supposed” to win. 5-11.
4) Cincinnati Bengals – There is an outside chance that this offense, once everyone is healthy, could explode and wins games despite the bad defense. However, frankly, as long as Marvin Lewis is at the helm there, I don’t see this team excelling. I think he’s overstayed his welcome. He may end up coaching well for another team someday, but it just seems like his time should be up there. He is a defensive coordinator who hasn’t put together a good Bengal defense during his entire stay there. Had he managed to assemble and coach even a mediocre defense, this is a team that could have gone deep into the playoffs considering the offensive talent. The question for this team is whether or not the talented Carson Palmer can essentially will the team to victory enough to give them a decent season. My guess is that in order for them to break .500, Palmer will need a QB rating near the 120s. 5-11.