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A Quick AFC North Analysis: Can the Cleveland Browns Compete in 2009?

Written by Daniel Wolf
Originally posted on Dawg Scooper: An Unofficial Cleveland Browns News Source

The Cleveland Browns are going to have a tough time getting out of the bottom half of the AFC North in 2009 because there is a lock-down in the top half of the division.

In 2007, the Cleveland Browns were a hot, upstart 10-6 team that barely missed the playoffs. 2008 was a much different story finishing 4-12. Many things aided in the Browns falling apart in 2008 like injuries, player distractions and coaching/management issues.

One thing that does not help the Browns is the fact that they play in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. Others may say that divisions like the AFC East or NFC East are tougher, but as far as teams that are extremely physical and games are won in the trenches go, then you have to include the AFC North with those other two divisions.

Here's a quick look at each teams' strengths, weaknesses and predicted finish in the AFC North.


First up is the Super Bowl champs. The Steelers are now the most decorated franchise in the Super Bowl era with six championships. Having won two of the last four Super Bowls, the Steelers are the team to beat in the division.

The team does not make fancy and flashy off-season moves in free agency, and they stick to their plan of building through the NFL Draft and grooming younger players to step in and perform when the veterans move on.

Greatest Strength:

The biggest strength of the Steelers has to be their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. He is a force behind center. Big Ben is a tough guy for defenders to get on the ground, and the guy just makes plays game in and game out.

Big Ben is up there in the league when it comes to quarterbacks that you want to have the ball when the game is on the line along with guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Gone are the days of the Steelers grinding out the ball on the ground, and now they are more of a passing offense, utilizing Roethlisberger's wit and arm behind center.

Greatest Weakness:

With Big Ben being the Steelers major strength the offensive line is, coincidentally, their major weakness. When Big Ben does get brought to the ground, he goes down hard as evident in their meeting with the Browns when he left the game on a stretcher.

The Steelers need to protect their franchise quarterback otherwise, Big Ben's career will be a short one. The offensive line HAS to step it up this upcoming season.


The Ravens surprised a lot of people around the NFL last year. Going from a 5-11 team in 2007, to a 11-5 team that made a deep playoff run in 2008. No one would have ever guessed that Joe Flacco would have been as good as he was in his rookie year. Will he have a sophomore slump?

Will opposing teams now have a better game plan against him since there are 16 games worth of tape on him? Only the most innovative defensive minded coaches will be able to break the Ravens huge O-Line to get to Flacco.

Greatest Strength:

Even though the Ravens lost Bart Scott to the Jets, their defense is still their strongest part of the team. There are superstars on each level of the defense starting with Haloti Ngata on the D-Line, to Ray Lewis in the linebacker core finally to Ed Reed in the defensive backfield.

Somehow, general manager Ozzie Newsome just has a knack for finding the perfect defender to plug right into the scheme and perform at a top level. Time will tell if Rex Ryan leaving for the Jets will have an impact on the Ravens defense.

Greatest Weakness:

The Ravens have their quarterback of the future, now they just need some more receivers for him to throw the ball to. Draft analysts predicted that the Ravens would pick a wide receiver with their first round pick in the draft, but the draft was very unpredictable as usual and the wide receiver the Ravens coveted was not their when they picked.

Getting Flacco some targets is a must, but the pick up of tight end L.J. Smith will help in Flacco's growth. Like they always say, “A young quarterback's best friend is his tight end.”


The good old Bengals. What a very confusing team this is. Knowing you having many players with off-field issues, what do the Bengals go and do in the off-season? Draft more players with questionable character.

Yes they pick offensive tackle Andre Smith and inside linebacker Rey Maualuga, respectively, but is the risk worth the reward? This question will probably be answered sooner than later.

Greatest Strength:

After a strong draft where Head Coach Marvin Lewis focused his first two of three picks on defense, the Bengals are going to be much improved on defense. The strength of this team really lies in the health of their quarterback Carson Palmer.

When Palmer is healthy he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Palmer did lose his favorite target in T.J. Houshmandzedah (who left for Seattle), but the addition of Laveranues Coles will help.

Chad Ocho Cinco will have to step up and get back to his show-boating, Pro Bowl form for Palmer and the Bengals to have any success in the division.

Greatest Weakness:

The biggest weakness for the Bengals can also be a strength depending on how well Palmer recovers from his injury. Wide receiver is questionable at this point due to the loss of Housh. Will Ocho Cinco be able to regain his old form?

Will Coles be able to step into Housh's shoes?

All of the questions are very important and will be watched closely by the other AFC North teams. Another weakness of the team is its players. Will the Bengals players stay out of trouble during the 2009 season?


So much to say, so many questions that need answered, so little information provided by Coach Mangini.

The Browns are under this “shadow of secrecy” that leads to all these rumors that have surrounded the team recently, because no information is leaked out of the Berea complex under Coach Mangini's watchful eyes and ears.

Coach Mangini is obviously re-building and this may take a couple of years to come to fruition. Patience and time will play a big part in the success of the Browns.

As of right now, there is a very low probability that the Browns will be able to contend with the Steelers and Ravens, but don't quote this statement, because there is a reason Coach Mangini was called “Man-Genuis” after his first year as Head Coach of the Jets.

The Browns have a very slim chance of taking over the AFC North, and an even slimmer chance to make the NFL playoffs. (Again, don't quote this statement.)

Greatest Strength:

The offensive line period. With the addition of center Alex Mack to Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and left guard Eric Steinbach, the entire left side of the Brown O-Line will be virtually impenetrable and one of the best left side lines in the NFL. Improvement has also been made to the right side of the line, but the left side is way more stronger.

Greatest Weakness:

The biggest weakness of the Browns has got to be the quarterback position. Well documented on every single sports programming show and website, both Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson will be competing for the starting role.

Seemingly an annual occurrance, the quarterback position will hopefully be solidified and put to rest once Coach Mangini selects his starter. Then that's one weakness that will hopefully be resolved and finally have the chance to become a team strength which the Browns have not had since Bernie Kosar.

Remember that on any given Sunday any NFL team can out play their opponent no matter what the win-loss record says as long as there is hard work, studying, research and the proper game plan. This can help the biggest underdog come out as the winner and has been proven in the past, and will continue to be proven for years to come.

1 comment:

  1. My predictions: the Browns will finish 8-8 or 9-7 this season. We will beat either the Ravens or the Steelers but not both. We will beat the Bengals. We will be much improved in the trenches on both sides of the football. Our running game will be better. Braylon Edwards will have a year more similar to 2007 than 2008.