Hackin’ the NFL by Nolan Hack: Predictions (AFC North)
The Bengals have the best roster in their division, but they still have Marvin Lewis. The Bengals had a really good draft, and added serious talent and depth to their team... but they still have Marvin Lewis. The Bengals have the best 4-3 defensive tackle in the game in Geno Atkins, but they still have Marvin Lewis.
They've never won a playoff game under Lewis, and actually, he has a losing record during his stay in Cincinnati. Two of Lewis' Bengals teams have lost in the Wild Card round to quarterbacks named Mark Sanchez and T.J. Yates, neither of whom should have been starting in the NFL.
Lewis is actually the most tenured head coach in the NFL not named Bill Belichick. The Bengals will make many highlight plays this season and they have a world of talent, but the Bengals will underachieve once again mainly because of their head coach.
Best Offensive Player: A.J .Green
Best Defensive Player: Geno Atkins
Projected 2013 Record: 11-5
The Ravens had a better offseason than the team they beat in the Super Bowl. The wizard that is Ozzie Newsome pulled off magic trick after magic trick, starting with drafting Arthur Brown in the 2nd round. Brown has ability and a great combination of athleticism and strength, but is tasked with replacing future first-ballot Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.
Super Bowl hero Anquan Boldin is playing for the NFC Champions and Dennis Pitta is out for the season. It will be much harder for Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco to convert on those 3rd downs.
Baltimore has improved their depth and talent up front on defense with rookie Brandon Williams and veteran Chris Canty. Elvis Dumervil actually had more sacks last year than former Raven, Paul Kruger. Second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw is in much better shape which will improve his ability to rush the passer off the edge.
The Ravens probably won't repeat as champion, but I wouldn't bet against an always resilient team, led by John Harbaugh. He's never missed the playoffs as a head coach.
Best Offensive Player: Marshall Yanda
Best Defensive Player: Haloti Ngata
Projected 2013 Record: 10-6
This club has a very good roster, but their quarterback-play is an uncertainty. If Brandon Weeden is able to play well, then this team can make a playoff run. Cleveland has all the tools elsewhere.
Barkevious Mingo is an outside pass rusher that will help from the get go. Paul Kruger adds another talented pass rusher to a side that has been lacking edge rushers. Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor and Desmond Bryant make up one of the best 3-4 lines in the game. D'Qwell Jackson has gotten over injury problems, and is a rock in the middle of the Browns' defense. Joe Haden and T.J. Ward give the Browns a passable secondary for new defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
The Browns receiving core is better than it has looked in years, especially if star-in-the-making Josh Gordon can stay out of trouble. Greg Little and Jordan Cameron can contribute in the short and intermediate parts of the field.
On offense, it all starts with running back Trent Richardson, but this season's ending will be determined by the play of its nearly 30-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Best Offensive Player: Joe Thomas
Best Defensive Player: D'Qwell Jackson
Projected 2013 Record: 8-8
The honeymoon is over for Mike Tomlin. Pittsburgh was knocked out of the playoffs in 2011/12 by a quarterback (Tim Tebow) who's out of the NFL. Last season, the Steelers missed the playoffs. That's a far cry from a team that made two Super Bowl appearances in three years, from 2008-2010.
Ben Roethlisberger has been banged up worse than Heinz Field was in the last Batman movie. A last-place finish in the division is not out of the question for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh offense lacks a number one receiver and depth at wideout. Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is likely out for a month or two, and his backups aren't capable of carrying the load week-to-week. If Bell was healthy, or gets back sooner than expected, he can take pressure of Big Ben and open up playaction for the Steelers offense.
Jarvis Jones, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward aren't elite talents, and they all need to step up for a defense that continues to age. A playoff appearance looks to be too much to ask for from this team.
These aren't the same old Pittsburgh Steelers.
Best Offensive Player: Maurkice Pouncey
Best Defensive Player: Lawrence Timmons
Projected 2013 Record: 7-9