Tag Archives: Dennis Dixon

“What is a Journeyman”

The quintessential journeyman, Charlie Batch (pictured above), will start for the Steelers on Sunday against the Buccaneers.

A term that is often thrown around by experts and fans alike when talking sports is “Journeyman.”  Now what is a journeyman?  Is there an exact definition?  Well I do know one thing.  When I hear the word “Journeyman,” one name comes to mind.. 

Charlie Batch. 

I am assuming most sports fans know who this guy is.  And if you don’t, well you will after reading this.  Batch epitomizes in my eyes what a journeyman is.  He has been in the League for years. He has played for multiple teams.  He has never excelled. He is not necessarily well-known.  Yet he is continuing to play hard even though he never really rose to stardom. 

Batch is an NFL quarterback that is now 35 years old.  He has been on two teams during his 13 year career (Lions and Steelers).  He has only been a starter for 4 of those seasons (years in Detroit).  Never really put up impressive numbers, nor had success in leading a team to a successful season.  Yet he has kept the dream alive. 

His numbers over the course of his 13 year journey are as average as one could imagine.  He has thrown 57 career touchdowns and 44 interceptions.  Batch’s completion percentage is not the most ostentatious stat either at 57%. His quarterback rating is a modest 77.7.  Yet he is still on the roster even with guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Dennis Dixon, and Byron Leftwich on the team. 

Well this year, even amidst all the offseason fiascos the Steelers have had to deal with, Batch somehow remained on the roster as a 3rd string quarterback (then 4th with the addition of Leftwich).  Many figured Batch would be cut and his playing days were over.  Well the guy has continued to “journey” and will be starting for Pittsburgh on Sunday against the 2 and 0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

I may not be a Steeler’s fan.  But Charlie Batch is a feel good story no matter what team you like.  A guy that has lived the dream and continued on a magical journey for 13 years. 

I wish Charlie the best of luck in what could be his last action in the NFL on Sunday. 

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze. 

-TheSportsKraze 

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“NFL Week 2 Predictions”

It appears Michael Vick (pictured above), may be starting his first game since 2006 on Sunday. Does he still have the amazing athleticism that once made him the real "Human Highlight Reel?"

One week of the 17 week grind that is the NFL Regular Season has been completed.  Now we enter Week 2.  There is a little bit less mysteriousness to each squad.  There is a bit more familiarity and film to see what lays ahead.  But still, there are a ton of question marks.  A ton of teams looking to prove that Week 1 was a fluke, or for those teams that played well, that Week 1 was not a fluke.  Once again I go head to head with CV3 on picks.

Week 1 Results:  TheSportsKraze: 8             CV3:  9

TheSportsKraze Picks:

Steelers at Titans:  The Steelers proved me wrong last week.  But this week they are on the road with their young 3rd string quarterback in Dennis Dixon.  Not to mention they go up against the most dangerous running back in the NFL Chris Johnson.  Look for this to be a very competitive game, but expect CJ to be the game’s determining factor.  Titans by 3.

Dolphins at Vikings:  You think that Brett Favre and the Vikings like losing?  Now the Dolphins are a solid team, but you have to like Minnesota in their home opener.  The Vikings are a great all around team, that even though they played pretty awful in their opener, they were still in a position to beat the defending champs on the road.  Chad Henne, the former Wolverine, will struggle on the road against the outstanding pass rush of the very tough Viking’s defensive line.  Brandon Marshall, will have to make a couple of highlight reel plays to keep the boys from Miami in the game.  Though I think this game will be competitive most of the way, I got the Vikings by 10 at home.

Cardinals at Falcons:  Arizona is flying high after a big week one win at St. Louis.  Well not really.  They struggled against one of football’s worst teams and looked out of sorts for much of the game.  Other than a great 2nd quarter, and the phenomenal play of Steve Breaston, this team did not look like a team ready to make the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive year.  The Falcons on the other hand, nearly came away with a victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday.  And though their offense only mustered up 9 points, they were going against a whole different animal in the Steeler’s defense.  Look for Matt Ryan to connect with Roddy White early and often, and look for Michael Turner to have a big day on the ground.  I got the Falcons running away with this one by 13.

Ravens at Bengals:  This may be the marquee matchup of the weekend.  Two major AFC contenders and divisional rivals going head to head.  The Ravens surprised many with a major Monday Night win in New York.  While the Bengals shot their load in a bad loss to the New England Patriots.  This is a whole new week.  And expect to see a different Bengals defense, plus more of the offense you witnessed in the 2nd half of last week’s contest.  In the Marvin Lewis/Carson Palmer era, the Bengals are 9 and 5 against the Edgar Allen Poe Bad Boy Ravens.  I will state this though.  If the Bengals play like they did in the first half of last week’s game even for a quarter, the Ravens will throw the knockout punch early.  But I expect Mike Zimmer’s defense to play big time smash mouth defense, and Palmer’s offense to have a big day.  I got the Bengals by 3 in a nail biter.

Chiefs at Browns:  Can you say Jamaal Charles?  Teams have a history of big days on the ground versus the Browns over the years.  Well this game will be no different.  And though the Browns sport the best return man in football, Josh Cribbs, the Chiefs are not too shabby themselves with rookie Dexter McCluster.  The Chiefs were a team that I said would surprise people this year and sneak their way to a pretty solid season. They definitely turned some heads last week with a major upset victory over San Diego.  Look for the Chiefs to be 2 and 0 at the end of Sunday.  I got KC by 9 over Cleveland.

Bears at Cowboys:  Da Bears verse America’s team.  No big deal right?  Wrong.  Both of these teams have a lot to prove after weak performances in Week 1.  The Bears escaped against the Lions on a very controversial call.  I will state that I thought it was a completed pass to Calvin Johnson.  And the Cowboys helped the Redskins shock the world.  By beating themselves.  This week will be different.  Jerry Jones, will not let another team full of big time talent, choke away the season already.  Look for the Cowboys to come out with a vengeance and expect Miles Austin to have another big day.  Cowboys by 13 running away with this one.

Eagles at Lions:  Michael Vick to start again?  I feel like it is 2006 all over again.  Talk about a time warp.  Well both of these teams surprised many with their Week 1 performances.  Though the Lions have weapons with guys like Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best.  Without their former number 1 draft pick, quarterback Matt Stafford (injured), the Tryin Lions will not get to taste victory for the first time this season.  I got Michael Vick leading the Eagles to a 3 point victory in Detroit.

Bills at Packers:  Buffalo heads to Cheesehead Country.  Well it will not be a pleasant visit.  This is the game that I feel could end up with the most lopsided outcome of this week’s batch of contests.  The Bills are one of the worst teams in football in my eyes, while the Packers are perhaps the most well-rounded.  Look for Aaron Rodgers to make up for last week’s 2 interceptions with a 4 TD performance.  Green Bay get excited, as your boys begin the year 2 and 0.  I got Green Bay by 17. 

Buccaneers at Panthers:  Neither of these teams looked great in their openers.  Tampa escaped against a weak Cleveland team, while the Panthers were torched by the G Men.  This game will be close from the start, with two teams that are towards the bottom tier of the League.  At least we may get to see former Notre Dame big shot, Jimmy Clausen, start his first game in the NFL.  Believe me, it won’t matter.  Buccaneers by 6 in a matchup of two bottom feeders.

Seahawks at Broncos:  Seattle may have pulled off the biggest surprise of Week 1.  They absolutely killed the hot pick in the NFC West, the 49ers, relentlessly.  Matt Hassleback demonstrated great management skills at the QB position, while defensive back, Marcus Trufant, led the D to an outstanding performance.  The Broncos on the other hand, surprised many including myself, with a tough loss to the Jaguars.  2 key turnovers killed them last week, and could once again hurt them this week.  Kyle Orton threw for nearly 300 yards, going to Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royals with a great frequency.  Well the Seattle defense is much tougher than Jacksonville’s, or at least they looked like it last week.  I got the Seahawks continuing to surprise and moving to 2 and 0 with a 6 point victory in Denver.

Rams at Raiders:  This is a matchup that I could never tune into unless forced.  Two of the worst teams in the NFL going head to head.  There is really nothing appealing about this one in any way unless you are a Rams or Raiders fan.  I think the difference in this one will be Jason Campbell’s mediocre, yet steady play at quarterback.  I got the Raiders by 3 at home in a game that I do not recommend watching unless you are a fan of either squad.

Texans at Redskins:  Arian Foster, the story of Week 1, takes the Texan’s show to Washington.  The way Houston was able to run the ball last week, and the passing attack we know they posses could cause major problems for Washington (or anybody for that matter).  Though Washington pulled off perhaps the 2nd biggest upset of Week 1 over America’s team, the Texans destroyed a very tough Colts team.  Look for Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson to stay hot in this one.  Texans by 10 in D.C.

Patriots at Jets:  This is a great matchup.  The AFC East favorites locking horns already?  Can the Jets recover from last week’s embarrassing offensive performance on Monday Night?  Can the Patriots continue to play outstanding?  My brain is telling me to pick the Pats in this one, but I got the Jets.  Sanchez must wake up to give his team a chance though.  The Jets tenacious defense will force Randy Moss onto Revis Island, and the Jets will win this thriller by 1 point.

Jaguars at Chargers: Both of these teams surprised in Week 1.  The Jaguars surprised with a win, while the Chargers surprised with a loss.  Well, do not expect San Diego to fall to 0 and 2.  Especially since they are at home in this game.  Norv Turner has led this team to the playoffs every year he has been with them for a reason.  They have a tradition of starting slow, having started under 500 through their first 5 games for 3 straight years.  But they will take care of business this week.  I got SD by 7 at home.

Giants at Colts:  I feel bad for the G Men coming off a big time performance last week.  They are now facing an angry Colt’s team.  And you know what that means?  An angry and motivated Peyton Manning.  Not what you want to hear as an opponent.  Though the Giants are a very good team, good luck in going into Lucas Oil and knocking off Peyton’s Colts coming off of a loss.  I got the Colts by 10 in this one.

Saints at 49ers:  Two popular picks to bring home their respective divisions.  Though I believe the 49ers are much better than what they showed last week, they are playing the defending champs on Prime Time now.  Drew Brees, fresh off his debut appearance on the hit television show “Entourage” thrives on the big stage.  Sorry San Fran.  An 0 and 2 start will not be the end to your season in a weak NFC West by any means.  Saints by 9 in this one.

CV3’s Picks:

FALCONS over Cardinals by 6- Look for the Falcons offense to have a much better week after facing off with the Steelers. Both teams are playing at a similar level but the home field advantage and Falcon D should be enough to edge the Falcons over the Cardinals.

EAGLES  over Lions by 14- No Stafford, no win.

PACKERS over Bills by 10- Packers will roll at home with their offense, even without Ryan Grant. Look for the back-up Brandon Jackson to have a good day. Packers will be one of the teams with an early season winning streak.

Browns over Chiefs by 3- The Chiefs didn’t produce a whole lot when you look at the stats last week. The Browns can match the Chiefs on special teams and defense so I think the Browns have the edge if Delhomme plays. If not it is up in the air with two similar teams.

Cowboys over Bears by 10- The Boys should be embarrassed by their performance against the Skins last week. Jerry Jones will not let that happen in Jerry World. Look for the Cowboys to gel on offense and win a shootout against Jay Cutler and Mike Martz. 

Vikings over Dolphins by 6- Vikings are hungry for the W after a repeat loss to the Saints. They are playing at home and they will most likely stick to the run, as opposed to last week. AP should have a decent day with at least 2 TD’s in this one.

Titans over Steelers by 3- The Steeler’s D will not allow Chris Johnson to run all over them. I believe he will get to 100 yards but it will take about 25 carries. This should be another low scoring one with a good Steeler’s D and a stagnant Steeler’s offense. Unless for some reason DD comes alive the Titans offense will prevail.

Broncos over Seahawks by 8- The Broncos will have a good offensive showing in this one. Last week the Seahawks shut down a poor offense that has trouble throwing the ball. This week Orton will pick through their D with a lot of short “West-Coast” style passes. The Seahawks are on the rise but will take a loss in this one.

Panthers over Buccos by 6- I don’t believe either team will be close to the playoffs but I give the advantage to the Panthers in this one solely on the home field advantage. Last week the home teams won 75% of the games.

Raiders over Rams by 1- These two are pretty evenly matched but again I give it to the home team. I think Bradford will show flashes of a future star but he will fall short again in this one. The Raiders offense should get a boost if Michael Bush is able to play this week. He is a big bruiser that will open up the game for McFadden. Plus if the Raiders are going to win a few games this season you would think St. Louis would one of the few they will beat.

Patriots over Jets by 10- This one will not be very close. The Jets coaching staff showed that Mark Sanchez clearly isn’t ready for the big time game yet. They had no confidence in him and limited him to the short game. The short game is what the Patriots are best at. The Jets D has taken a big hit looking Jenkins and I don’t think they will be able to hang with the Patriot’s high-flying offense that resembles 2007 already.

Jags over Chargers by 3- Last week the Chargers showed that something is clearly off in their organization. I doubt it is a quick fix. The Jags just saw the mighty Colts go down and have some extra motivation now that they realize the Colts can be beat. Unless Rivers can rally his team, the Chargers will struggle again.

Texans over Redskins by 9- WOW… This Texans team is scary! I wouldn’t want to play ‘em.

Colts over Giants by 7- Big brother will show why he is still big brother in this one. Peyton is at home and they are angry. He will not miss a beat in this one. Look for a three or four touchdown performance by him in this one. Little Eli will have to wait another year before he gets to take down big bro.

Saints over 49ers by a lot- Hmm… the tough 49er’s D was not so tough against the Seahawks. I think we know what will happen in this one. The defending champs will show why they are the defending champs.

Bengals over Ravens by 5- I do not have much faith in Bratkowski but if he comes out flat (not using the no huddle) then he should be fired. He should have been gone a while ago but Mr. Brown won’t let that happen. If he cannot recognize how effective that offense was last week (in the no huddle) then he deserves no spot in the NFL. Everyone knows what the Raven’s D is capable of but their offense is not very productive. The Bengals are angry and ready to react (not think) on defense. Playing at home against a division rival, I’m taking the Bengals in this one.

Can I begin to catch up to CV3 this week?  Feel free to post your picks in the comments and see how you stack up.

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.

-TheSportsKraze

“NFL Week 1 Predictions”

In one of the top matchups of Week 1, Darrelle Revis and the vaunted Jet's defense look to contain an extremely talented Baltimore Raven's offense.

Are you ready for some football?..

Well the NFL is back in the flesh tonight baby.  So I am going to give you my Week 1 Prediction breakdown.  And for those of you who are College Football Fans, I will be picking the major games as well in the very near future.

But let’s get something straight about this pick’em scheme.  I am not a gambling man.  So I do not pay any attention to the spread.  I am going to pick straight up winners with a predicted margin of victory.  So take it as you will.

In addition, joining me on my NFL Predictions each week will be a lifelong friend, Chad Vordenberge, aka CV3.  Chad is an avid sports fan, who has innate expertise pertaining to the NFL.  We will be competing all year.  He has the honor of being the first official guest ever on “TheSportsKraze.” Here is a write up about him:

CV3 Bio: While I love just about every sport, even soccer, the NFL is my favorite and I pay very close attention to it all year long. With some football experience I look for more than the average fan when it comes to picking winners. I pay very close attention to offensive and defensive schemes and how they match up against one another among many other aspects of the game. I look forward to picking each weeks winners along with the knowledgeable Kraze this season. We are in for a treat this season with a lot of top and emerging teams that could make a run for the Super Bowl. There are some old faces in new places this season that might shake a few things up along with some talented rookies. This season should be an interesting one for NFL fans everywhere.

Week 1 (TheSportsKraze picks):

Vikings at Saints:  Saints by 7 in a shootout type of atmosphere.  Remember that the defending Super Bowl Champion has won their opening contest for 10 straight years running now.

Panthers at Giants:  G-Men by 7 in an old school smash mouth struggle that is won on the ground.  Look for some great running schemes and blocking during this affair.

Steelers at Falcons:  Falcons by 3 in a game where the Steelers really miss the lack of Big Ben on the field.  Dennis Dixon will have some “rookie” like struggles on the road (I know he is not a rookie).

Browns at Buccaneers: Buccaneers in a rumble of some pretty weak sides all around by 6.

Broncos at Jaguars: Broncos are always tough early in the year even if they may be in for a down season.  A very close 3 point escape.

Colts at Texans:  In perhaps the marquee matchup of Sunday’s games, I got the Colts  by 7.  Never sleep on Peyton Manning finding  a way to win on the home or on the road.  The Colts are not ready to give up their AFC South Crown yet.

Dolphins at Bills:  I got the Dolphins by 10 against a Bills team that lacks a passing attack.  Do not be surprised to see CJ Spiller break off a long run at some point though.  The kid is electric.

Lions at Bears:  Bears by 6 in a game that will demonstrate that the Lions are improving.  They just are not quite there yet.  But also enjoy getting to watch Peppers and Suh on the same field for the first time.

Raiders at Titans:  Titans by 3 in a down to the wire type of atmosphere.  The Raiders have the makings of a team that could sneak out 6 wins.  Ultimately though, in this game, as will happen in many, their lack of a big time receiving threat will come back to bite them.

Bengals at Patriots:  Welcome to a first place schedule Cincinnati fans.  I guess things could be worse, and you could have to go up to Gillette Stadium during the bitter cold of November, December, or dare I say January.  But my brain is telling me Patriots, but my heart has the Bengals winning this one by 3.

Cardinals at Rams:  Cardinals by 10 in a matchup of a declining Arizona squad and a woeful Rams team.  If only the Rams could have Albert Pujols suit up.  At least there would be excitement for football in St. Louis again.

49ers at Seahawks:  49ers by 6 in a back and forth affair.  Many are declaring San Francisco the favorite to win the NFC West.  And I will admit, I have jumped on the bandwagon.  A very solid defense led by the stud Patrick Willis, and a capable offense led by Alex Smith, Frank Gore, and Vernon Davis will be too much for Seattle.

Packers at Eagles: The post Donovan McNabb era will start with a loss sadly for the fighting city of Philadelphia.  I got the Packers running away with this one in perhaps the most lopsided affair of the week.

Cowboys at Redskins:  I know the Redskins made a great off-season pick up in acquiring Donovan McNabb.  And we are all very excited to see what he can do.  But the Cowboys have been aware of all he can do and more now for years.  I got the Boys by 10 as the Redskins inner turmoil proves to be too much of a distraction against the much more talented team out of Dallas.

Ravens at Jets:  I know the Ravens are becoming a very popular Super Bowl pick with the newly acquired TJ Houshmandzadeh out of Seattle.  And I will admit, they have as good of a chance as anyone.  But my pick to win the Super Bowl this year is the Jets.  And I got Rex Ryan and the Jets by 3 at home in a fantastic Monday Night Opener.

Chargers at Chiefs:  Chargers by 7 in the first game of the post LT era.  Though the Chargers have many issues with resigning players, holdouts, etc, they are still a little bit too tough for an improving team out of Kansas City.

Week 1 (CV3 Picks):

There are a lot of good match-ups on the schedule for this opening weekend in the NFL. There may be a few surprises this season with some top teams struggling and some young teams flourishing. I am excited to see how things play out over these very important first couple weeks of the season. Here are my picks for semana uno.

Saints over Vikings by 3- Will be tough to beat the Saints in what is possibly the loudest stadium now that the RCA dome is gone. Vikings are the better team if AP holds on to the football. Its hard to pick against Favre even at his age but the atmosphere will make the difference in this high scoring matchup.

Bills over Dolphins by 3 (Buffalo will make the field goal)- Buffalo’s defense will play better than Miami’s. Plus, C.J. Spiller will sniff out the endzone, maybe multiple times.

Titans over Raiders by 9- Chris Johnson is already a star, Michael Bush will establish himself as a better version of Brandon Jacobs (although he may not play week 1, look out for him). Raiders have more promise now that Jamarcus is gone but not enough to hold Chris Johnson to under 100 yards.

Bengals over Pats by 3- I’m waffling back and forth on this one. Both quarterbacks have shown that they are capable of last minute drives to win games, this will be close. If the Bengals O-line holds, the Defenses will be the difference in this game. 

Bears over Lions by 6- Lions have a lot of fire-power with Pettigrew, Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Jahvid Best, and Matthew Stafford but the defense is now the question. Can Suh help the Lions get back on track? Probably not, they need more than just one stud on D to help their team.

Giants over Panthers by 10- Quarterbacks will make the difference in this game. 

Falcons – Steelers TIE! Not this time. Steelers over Falcons by 6. Dennis Dixon will be a pleasant surprise. Also, the Steelers will not be run all over and Polamalu is back healthy. Plus, the Steelers are at home.

Browns over Bucs- Battle of who can make fewer mistakes. Having Holmgren as president will start a turn around in Cleveland, but not a complete turn around.

Broncos over Jags by 3- Bronco’s defense is missing a lot with Elvis out of the building but Dawkins and Bailey are capable of making the plays to keep them in the game. Orton is looking good and Tebow might show up in a few wildcat plays. If MJD has a great performance the Jags can win. 

Colts over Texans by 3- Look for this be a tight one. In their last four games the Colts have outscored the Texans by only 14 points, total. Schaub had more yards than Manning last year and the Colts have to deal with a beast in Andre Johnson. Houston is more than capable of hanging with the big dogs, however, I still have to go with the Colts on this one because of the experience in the organization and, Peyton Manning.

Cards over Rams by 10- Cards on the decline and Rams on the incline, should meet somewhere in the middle. With an even running game, only because Stephen Jackson doesn’t have an O-line to block for him yet, the Cards will win out with a better passing game and stronger defense.

Packers over Eagles by 8- The Packers had a great defense last year and their offense is borderline scary to any opposing defense. Rodgers has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and I believe he is ready to handle that responsibility. The Eagles are not a scrub team but there has to be some transition from McNabb and Westbrook to Kolb and McCoy.

49ers over Seahawks by 14- Mike Singletary has a terrific defense this year with P Willis continuing to lead the league in tackles. Expect Seattle to have trouble getting any type of offense going in this one.

Cowboys over Redskins by 10- The Cowboys have not lived up to their Superbowl expectations in recent years but with a healthy backfield and a solid defense they will go a long way this year.

Chargers over Chiefs by 9- I do not like the guy but Rivers knows how to lead that offense, even without Vincent Jackson. The Chargers, another team with high expectations, should control the Chiefs in this game. The one positive side for Chiefs fans is their rushing game with Jamaal Charles in the backfield who finished last year strong. 

Ravens over Jets by 1- Wow, football fans are going to be treated to an amazing game to  kickoff Monday night football. Two top teams with a lot of expectations. These two are very similar in the way they approach a game with a stingy D and tough rushing attack. Look for Sanchez to be the deciding factor in this game. It’s now time for him to take control of a game rather than manage it. Between Sanchez and Flacco, look for Cool Joe to lead his Ravens to a victory.

So there you have my picks along with CV3’s.  I will keep a running tally of my accuracy versus CV3 for the year.  Please provide your picks in the comments and we can compete and see who is the most accurate picker over the course of the season.

Get ready for Week 1 of the 2010-2011 NFL season folks.

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.

-TheSportsKraze

“AFC North Preview”

How will the arrival of Anquan Boldin in Baltimore and another number 81 in Cincinnati affect the AFC North this year?

Welcome to perhaps the most brutal conference in the NFL.  Or at least the most physical.  These teams are generally tough both on and off the field.  Most off-seasons, you hear a lot of press about what these players are doing with their spare time and normally it is not good news.  You ever hear the saying, “No news is good news?”  Well the AFC North does not believe in that saying.  This is a division with great rivalries, great players, and great fans.  Many say Pittsburgh, or “Shitsburgh” as many Cincinnatians like to say, possesses the best fan base in American sports.  All I have to say is, there is no love lost in the rivalries of this very unpredictable and talented division.

AFC North: Bengals, Browns, Ravens, Steelers (alphabetical order)

Cleveland Browns (4th place):  It seems like the Browns have been inhabiting the cellar for some time now.  In actuality, they have resided in this position every year but 2 since the year 2002.  So there is quite a familiarity with always looking up at their rivals in the standings.  And this year will be no different for a town where things continue to get worse.  The Indians have been god awful the past few years.  Their “King” and savior Lebron James, just jumped ship and added insult to the wounds by having a 1 hour special to make the “Decision,”  and the Browns continue to struggle.  Also lets not forget that winters in Cleveland are awful.  But this team truly does not have much to bring to the table.  They had the worst offense in the League last year for a reason.  They had a passing attack that reminded me of watching a high school team (averaging 129 yards per game).  This year they will have a new QB in Jake Delhomme, who can hopefully rekindle the fire a little bit.  Also their rushing attack will rely squarely on the shoulders of Jerome Harrison and the rookie out of Tennessee, Montario Hardesty.  Now Harrison is not terrible, nor was Cleveland’s rushing attack last year.  But this was partly because they ran the ball so much.  Also on the offensive side of the ball, much will be expected of Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs.  Massaquoi had a few big games last year, and has the talent to be a big play receiver.  But does this really sound like an offense that will be able to score against the likes of the Ravens, Bengals, or Steelers?  On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns are nearly just a bad.  This unit will depend heavily on a hopefully healthy Shaun Rogers, a hopefully healthy D’Qwell Jackson, and the always fun to watch Eric Wright in the secondary.  With the arrival of TO in Cincy and Boldin in Baltimore, Wright along with his buddies in the Cleveland secondary may actually need some Pepto Bismal.  Lastly, realize the best play the Browns have is on their special teams.  No team in the League possesses a threat like Joshua Cribbs in the return game.  This may be the Brown’s only hope to steal some games in the brutal AFC North.  As many in Cincinnati say, “If it is Brown flush it down.”  Well the Browns sadly are going to be down, and are in for another long season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (3rd place):  Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the best run franchises in professional sports will go a second consecutive year without tasting the postseason.  It is not that the Steelers are even so bad, it’s that the Bengals and Ravens will be very tough this year.  When talking about Steeler football, defense always comes to mind right away.  And this team does have a rough a tough defensive unit.  They are one of the top run stopping teams in the League, but do struggle with defending against the aerial attack at times.  James Farrior and James Harrison continue to get better with age it seems like.  Troy Polamalu, when healthy is one of the League’s best.  And Ryan Clark is becoming more and more well-known around the League for his bone shattering hits.  But the flash of the secondary cannot hide its inability at times to defend against the pass.  Big hits only can get you so far in this League.  Guys like Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, and all the recently drafted rookies in the secondary could make or break this team down the stretch.  Can Pittsburgh prevent the big play?  Offensively this team has a major issue before the season even starts.  Big Ben Roethlisberger, their quarterback and leader, will miss at least the first 4 games, and possibly more.  This will hurt.  It would not have been as big of a blow in the past, since the Steelers were always a smash mouth running team.  But they have turned into a pass first offense along with most of the NFL.  Can Dennis Dixon make sure the Steelers do not dig themselves another early season whole this year?  Because believe me, the Ravens and Bengals will be too tough to allow Pittsburgh to dig out of a massive early year deficit.  Is Rashard Mendenhall ready to carry the load as the featured back?  How many more solid years does Hines Ward have left?  The loss of their top receiver Santonio Holmes hurts, and it will be interesting to see if young guns Mike Wallace and Limas Sweed are ready to step up.  Pittsburgh will be a good team this year and win probably 6 to 8 games, but they will not be good enough to make the playoffs.  There are just too many question marks on both sides of the ball.

Baltimore Ravens (2nd place):  The bad boys out of Baltimore will make the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive year.  And though they would prefer to win the division, they will still be a tough out as a Wild Card.  This team has had a fantastic off-season and finally look to have the tools of a top-notch offensive squad.  So the Ravens will finally have a very tough offense to compliment their always tough defense.  Defensively, it is the same story it has been for the better part of a decade.  They stop the run better than anybody, rarely ever giving up 100 rushing yards in a game.  Ray Lewis, the future Hall of Famer, and possibly the best linebacker of all time continues to perform even at the ripe age of 35.  They also feature a very strong safety tandem in Dawan Landry and Ed Reed.  Plus Terrell Suggs, along with Ray Lewis may be the best linebacking duo in the League (even though Ray is 35).  But the corners have been a question the past couple of years, and may be the only minor flaw on this otherwise awesome team.  Can Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, and David Carr defend the likes of the Bengal’s outstanding trio of big play receivers?  These matchups will probably determine who wins the AFC North.  So strap in for some excitement there.  There is also the Ravens now revamped offensive side of the ball.  Joe Flacco, looks to be a quarterback that will continue to win in this League for some time.  And now he has some great weapons to throw to in Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and Donte Stallworth.  He also still has the former ASU standout, Todd Heap to throw too.  Also the Ravens possess one of the best rushing attacks in the entire League.  Between the up and coming Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and big boy Le’ron McClain, defenses beware.  These guys are no fun to deal with.  And with the look of a team that should really be able to throw the ball downfield, teams will not simply be able to just key on the vaunted Raven’s rushing attack.  Look out for the Ravens in 2010, as they look to go deep into the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals (1st place):  Who Dey Nation has been celebrating for the past couple of days.  The TO Show has arrived in Cincinnati to add to an already solid receiving corps.  This team, which was one of the League’s best in running the ball last year should now be able to throw deep with authority.  They have 3 big play receivers in Owens, Ochocinco, and Bryant.  Not to mention the surehanded Andre Caldwell to act as a possession guy, and Jermaine Gresham at tight end.  Also they have one of the League’s best running backs in Cedric Benson.  Carson Palmer has a heck of a team to work with offensively.  Be ready to witness the Carson Palmer of 2005 all over again. Redemption will be so sweet for the former USC standout.  The Bengals on the defensive side of the ball last year, behind the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, became one of the League’s elite.  Do not expect that to change this season as guys continue to get healthy.  The Bengals were extremely efficient at stopping both the run and the pass.  The cornerback tandem of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph is now known around the football stratosphere as one of the League’s elite.  Really for the Bengals, there are two question marks.  First of all is Carson ready to start playing like an elite quarterback again(which I think he is)?  And secondly, can the Bengals get healthy at safety and defend against a team like the Ravens, who have so many weapons?  With the Bengals, as with any team around the League, the big challenge is to stay healthy.  But this is by far the deepest and most talented team Marvin Lewis has ever had in Cincinnati.  Look for this team to have a big time year and play deep into the postseason.

So there you have.  The AFC North will be brutal as usual and will be represented in the playoffs by both the Bengals and Ravens like last year.  The only real question in this division is can the opposing secondaries handle the deep threats of the Bengals and Ravens?  We will begin to find out come September.

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.

-TheSportsKraze