Afc Central

September 02, 1994|By Team capsules and division predictions by Vito Stellino

Division prediction

The Browns and Bengals figure to finish 3-4, with the Oilers and Steelers vying for the top. It likely will turn on whether Houston's Cody Carlson plays better than Pittsburgh's Neil O'Donnell and if the Steelers' Barry Foster is all the way back from his foot injury.

1. Houston Oilers

1993 record: 12-4, first in division; lost to Chiefs in divisional playoff.

Coach: Jack Pardee (86-68 career).

Key additions: TE Pat Carter, P Rich Camarillo and DE Kenny Davidson.

Key losses: QB Warren Moon, DE Sean Jones, DE William Fuller, LB Wilber Marshall and P Greg Montgomery.

Strengths: If Cody Carlson can pull the trigger the way Moon did, they'll still have a wide-open offense -- it ranked third last year in total yardage and passing yardage, with Webster Slaughter, Ernest Givins and Haywood Jeffires all catching more than 60 passes.

Weaknesses: Jeff Fisher, a Buddy Ryan protege, has to replace the rambunctious Ryan and put back together a defense that lost Jones, Fuller and Marshall. It won't be as intimidating as last year, when it ranked No. 1 against the rush.

Extra point: The Oilers, despite their losses, probably are a playoff team. Their problem is that they never go anywhere once they get there.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

1993 record: 9-7, second in division; lost to Chiefs in wild-card playoff.

Coach: Bill Cowher (20-12 career).

Key additions: WR Charles Johnson, FB John L. Williams, DE Ray Seals, G Todd Kalis and CB Tim McKyer.

Key losses: FB Merril Hoge, WR Jeff Graham, DE Donald Evans, RB Leroy Thompson, TE Adrian Cooper and CB D. J. Johnson.

Strengths: RB Barry Foster, who is back from a foot injury, and rookie Charles Johnson will give a spark to the offense and complement a strong defense -- ranked No. 3 last year -- that was anchored by CB Rod Woodson.

Weaknesses: Neil O'Donnell is one of those quarterbacks who are good enough to get a team to the playoffs, but don't take it very far once they get there.

Extra point: Remember the days when the Super Bowl seemed to be on Pittsburgh's schedule? It has been 15 years since they've been there, and they're still not ready to return.

3. Cleveland Browns

1993 record: 7-9, third in division.

Coach: Bill Belichick (20-28 career).

Key additions: CB Don Griffin, QB Mark Rypien, RB Earnest Byner and TE Walter Reeves.

Key losses: LB Clay Matthews, DT Jerry Ball, LB Michael Johnson, P Brian Hansen and CB Terry Taylor.

Strengths: Eric Metcalf is virtually a one-man threat for the Browns. Last year, he was second on the team in rushing with 611 yards, first in receiving with 63 catches (for 539 yards), first in punt returns with 36 (for a 12.9 average) and second in kickoff returns with 15 (for a 21.2 average). This man needs a rest.

Weaknesses: The Browns are the latest team to become infatuated with QB Vinny Testaverde. He has the physical tools to be a great one, but has never lived up to his potential. A team led by Testaverde can't be taken seriously.

Extra point: Belichick needs to take one of those courses on how to win friends and influence people. His dour personality has yet to win over the fans.

4. Cincinnati Bengals

1993 record: 3-13, fourth in division.

Coach: David Shula (8-24 career).

Key additions: DT Dan Wilkinson, S Louis Oliver, G Eric Moore, WR Tim McGee and G Darrick Brilz.

Key loss: LB Randy Kirk.

Strengths: The Bengals hired a pair of proven coordinators in Bruce Coslet, the former Jets coach who was Cincinnati's offensive coordinator when it went to the Super Bowl in 1988, and defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello, who was Richie Petitbon's top lieutenant on the Redskins' Super Bowl teams. Now, the Bengals have to get them some players for them to mold.

Weaknesses: The Bengals scored only 187 points on offense as David Klingler failed to live up to his potential at quarterback. The offense ranked 27th and the defense was 24th against the run.

Extra point: The two men who run this team, president Mike Brown and Shula, are sons of famous men -- the late Paul Brown and Dolphins coach Don Shula. They have yet to show that they are chips off the old block.

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