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AFC North Breakdown: Will Ravens Repeat With Many New Faces?

steelerscowboys-wrThe defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens may not even win their own division this season. No Super Bowl champion in recent memory has had such a large roster turnover as these Ravens. Some of the faces no longer in purple and black had huge roles in the Ravens run to the title a year ago. Ray Lewis, the Hall of Fame linebacker, has retired. Ed Reed, the Hall of Fame safety, has moved on to the Houston Texans. Anquan Boldin, one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, is now with the San Francisco 49ers.

Taking Lewis’ place will be former Denver Broncos star Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos wanted to keep him, but missed a deadline and allowed him to become a free agent. He then signed with the Ravens and will make $18,000,000 this season. Replacing Reed in the secondary will be Michael Huff, formerly of the Oakland Raiders. The Ravens drafted free safety Matt Elam from the Florida Gators with their first round pick. Boldin will be replaced by, well, nobody. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones will have to step up and make up for the absence of Boldin.

The Pittsburgh Steelers should rebound in 2013. They normally don’t have two bad seasons in a row. Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich are gone. Why does this matter? With Ben Roethlisberger, the back-up quarterbacks will get to play. Big Ben will get injured at some point. He always does. The Steelers backups this year include John Parker Wilson, holder of ever passing record for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Landry Jones, the former Oklahoma Sooners star and Bruce Gradkowski, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter. Those would seem to be upgrades over Leftwich and Batch.

A look at the running backs leaves us a bit underwhelmed. The best of the bunch may be a rookie in former Michigan State star Le’Veon Bell who they drafted in the second round. Also gone is wide receiver Mike Wallace to the Miami Dolphins. But the Steelers should be better if Big Ben can stay healthy all year. Pittsburgh also normally doesn’t take missing the playoffs lying down. Watching their rivals win the Super Bowl just added fuel to their fire. Look for Pittsburgh to come back strong. Plaxico Burress is back with the Steelers where he began a once-promising career. It will be interesting to see if he has anything left in the tank.

The Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs two years in a row. That’s is big news for the perennially down-trodden team. Quarterback Andy Dalton seems to get better every year and with some star players on offense such as BenJarvus Green-Ellis at running back and A.J. Green at wise receiver, the Bengals do not appear to be going anywhere but up. Former Steeler James Harrison is now going to anchor the Bengals defense.

The Cleveland Browns are still a lock for last place, but may not be the doormat they usually are. They beat the Steelers twice last season. If Brandon Weeden improves this season like he did as his rookie season went on, with Trent Richardson in the backfield and a rather good defense back from last season, this Browns team might not be so bad.

Oddsmaker has the futures to win the AFC as such:

Baltimore +800

Pittsburgh +900

Cincinnati + 1500

Cleveland +2800

We like the Steelers to take the division this year. We also think the Bengals could finish ahead of Baltimore for second place. So be the Steelers and Bengals.

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