Talk around the Bengals has centered around the two biggest egos in professional sports, but, their effectiveness in games will ultimately lie with Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham. The matchup problems the latter two provide will allow the Bengals to maximize T.O. in his declining years. The key in maintaining this balance will be for the Bengals to quell Owens and not try to pacify him by forcing him the ball. If they can be a balanced offense and Cedric Benson can stay healthy this team of misfits is good enough to win their fair share of games. However, I also feel they’ll be unstable enough to lose rather unceremoniously in the playoffs. My main concern with this team are the challenges their difficult schedule will yield starting from week 1 in Foxboro. Their division is the toughest in football and their out of division games aren’t much of a reprieve. I expect this team to be good but they’ll struggle to win tough close games. (9-7)
Player To Watch: Jermaine Gresham. This guy is a wide receiver with the body of a stand up defensive end. He runs good routes and uses his 6’5 260lb frame to shield defenders and snatch the ball out of the air. Sam Bradford found him to be a dominant and reliable force in the redzone and I suspect Carson Palmer will do the same.
Waiver Wire Sleeper: Jordan Shipley. In my opinion he is the key to this offense. A defense will be forced to play T.O. and Ochocinco straight up if Shipley can be a reliable slot receiver. It’s a natural position for him and I expect him to thrive in that role.
Baltimore made the type of offseason moves that suggests they’re serious about getting to Dallas in February. They better be ready to make a statement from the first game though, the Ravens first 6 games are brutal. It’s very possible they could be the best 3-3 team you’ve ever seen after 6 weeks. These first six games include matchups with New England, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati…..all away. I believe Baltimore is up to the task many due to the emergence of Ray Rice. I believe he is headed for a monster year. John Harbaugh finally has the pieces to implement an explosive passing game and Joe Flacco throws one of the prettiest and most accurate deep balls in the league. Flacco developing a connection with Anquan Boldin is crucial in helping to take a defender out of the box to assist Rice in the running game. It may break a football commandment to say this but without Ed Reed I am a little concerned with the Ravens defense, their secondary in particular. However, the offensive upgrades should help alleviate any shortcomings they may have whether Ed Reed returns or not. I anticipate Baltimore being one of the front runners in the AFC, a lot will hinge on that crucial 6 game stretch but I believe they have the right pieces to at least be 4-2 by the end of it. (11-5)
Player To Watch: Anquan Boldin. It will be interesting to see how he integrates into a new offense. He clearly wasn’t happy in Arizona but you can’t deny that lining up with Larry Fitzgerald had benefits. This season I’m interested to see just how much he can benefit the Ravens.
I think the Ben Roethlisberger situation has polarized the team to some degree. This won’t be a scenario where they galvanize and instill that ‘us against the world’ mentality. I believe some teammates still have concerns about Big Ben, and rightly so. Still, losing him for the first 4 games will more than likely put them a game down in the division when Baltimore comes to town. The loss of Santonio Holmes will hurt the Steelers as well. Mike Wallace is an intriguing you prospect and will be really good someday, but I don’t think he’s capable of the clutch catches that made Holmes a Super Bowl MVP. The good news is Troy Polamalu’s return. The bad news is that we saw how weak their defense was without him when they lost to Kansas City, Oakland, and Cleveland. Pittsburgh used to be all about defense and physically dominating their opponent, but last year they only won 2 out of the 9 games in which they failed to score more than 24 points. The Steelers desperately need to regain balance in their offense which is why the Roethlisberger suspension could be a blessing in disguise. Mendenhall is a very capable back who can grind down the opposition. I expect a Super Bowl winning coach like Mike Tomlin to be aware of these issues and refocus the team toward a balanced attack. If they fail to do so their defense will once again be exposed, and in this division this year, they won’t go far at all. I’m hesitant about Pittsburgh this year, I think they have a lot of questions and it remains to be seen how they respond to Ben Roethlisberger when he returns. (9-7)
Player To Watch: Mike Wallace. I don’t expect him to be Santonio Holmes, and if the rest of the Steeler organization feels that way he’ll have a nice year. He’s a speedy receiver that had 6 receptions over 40 yards last season in only 39 catches. With an increased role those numbers should only get higher.
Last year Jake Delhomme threw 18 interceptions in 12 games with a top 10 wide receiver and a top 5 rushing attack. This year he has Mohammad Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie as primary targets and an average running game in a much tougher division. In short: things don’t look too promising. Montario Hardesty looked to be an intriguing talent that could assist their running game, but he’s out for the season with a torn ACL. Again, things don’t look promising. The Browns mediocre talent, tough division, and difficult schedule makes it impossible to predict anything other than failure. (3-13)