By Christian Binder, WSOE Sports
Baltimore Ravens (2008 Record: 11-5)
-Key Additions: CB Dominique Foxworth, C Matt Birk, TE L.J. Smith, WR Kelly Washington, OT Michael Oher
-Key Losses: S Jim Leonhard, LB Bart Scott, DE Marques Douglas, K Matt Stover
Nobody expected to be the Ravens to be as good as they were last year. They had a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback out of Delaware. However, the defense carried the team into the playoffs. Joe Flacco did about as much as he was asked. He never put up stellar numbers, but he managed the game very well. Plus, the Ravens didn’t really need him to do much. The running game was so good that they didn’t need Flacco to throw for 300 yards a game. Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice were the dynamic trio of running backs and all three are back this year. Rice figures to see more time as McGahee is often injured and McClain will be featured more as a fullback. The key to this year’s Ravens team is how the defense will adjust after losing coordinator Rex Ryan to the New York Jets.
Cincinnati Bengals (2008 Record: 4-11-1)
-Key Additions: WR Laveranues Coles, QB J.T. O’Sullivan, S Roy Williams, OT Andre Smith
-Key Losses: WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, OT Stacy Andrews, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Glenn Holt, RB Kenny Watson, OT Levi Jones
What will Chad Ochocinco have in store for us this year? He’s already said he will “tweet” during games on his Twitter page. The good news for him is that QB Carson Palmer has declared himself “100% healthy.” The bad news is that T.J. Houshmandzadeh is now playing for the Seahawks and Laveranues Coles doesn’t quite demand the same respect that Housh does. The Bengals have yet to agree to terms with their first-round draft pick Andre Smith, which does not bode well. The O-line is already shakey as it is, and without his talent, it will be even worse. The Bengals also don’t have a very good ground game, though Cedric Benson finished the year out nicely. Roy Williams brings veteran leadership to a mediocre defense, which could help turn things around. However, the Bengals probably won’t be much better than last year.
Cleveland Browns (2008 Record: 4-12)
-Key Additions: OT John St. Clair, TE Robert Royal, CB Hank Poteat, WR David Patten, CB Corey Ivy, WR Mike Furrey, LB Eric Barton, DB Abram Elam, QB Brett Ratliff, DE Kenyon Coleman, C Alex Mack
-Key Losses: TE Kellen Winslow, WR Joe Jurevicius, LB Andra Davis, G Seth McKinney
After one failed Bill Belichick experiment, the Browns decided to try another. The Browns fired head coach Romeo Crennel and brought in Jets cast-off Eric Mangini, along with a slew of Jets players. The Browns have a lot of work to do this year. The quarterback situation remains unsettled while Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson fight it out in the preseason. The running game is on the decline as Jamal Lewis ages. The wide receiver corps is decent, but if Braylon Edwards can’t catch a ball to save his life like last year, it’s not going to be pretty. The defense did improve, though. Hank Poteat, Corey Ivy, and Abram Elam provide a lot of depth in the backfield while Eric Barton provides veteran leadership in the front seven. If Shaun Rogers can be even a little bit happy, the defense should be above-average. Let’s see if the Boy Wonder (Mangini) can turn this ship around like he did in his first year with the Jets.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2008 Record: 12-4)
-Key Additions: CB Keiwan Ratliff, WR Shaun McDonald, P Dirk Johnson, DT Evander Hood
-Key Losses: G Kendall Simmons, WR Nate Washington, CB Bryant McFadden, OT Marvel Smith, QB Byron Leftwich, LB Larry Foote
The song remains the same for the defending champs: Defense wins championships. The Steelers have probably the toughest defense in the league that doesn’t really have any glaring holes. They are a bit old at cornerback, but if quarterbacks are able to get the ball downfield before they get sacked, they deserve it. The team remains virtually unchanged on offense, though deep-ball threat Nate Washington is now with the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers will be looking for more production from sophomore wideout Limas Sweed to replace Washington, but other than that, the Steelers look good. They will also have RB Reshard Mendenhall, who missed 12 games after fracturing his shoulder in Week 4 last year. Mendenhall will split time with Willie Parker, but he could garner more time if Parker gets hurt, which is more likely than not. The Steelers have a shot to repeat this year.