Ravens Still Rule

Afc North Analysis

May 01, 2007|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

Four months since winning the AFC North, the Ravens appear to be the clear favorite to capture the division again. After the moves made in free agency and the draft, the Ravens seemingly have not lost any ground to their chief division rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who finished five games behind the Ravens last season.

The Ravens upgraded at running back (trading for Willis McGahee to replace Jamal Lewis), broke even on the offensive line (improving with guard Ben Grubbs after losing right tackle Tony Pashos) and took just one hit to the NFL's top-ranked defense (allowing All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas to leave in free agency).

The Bengals still have an explosive offense, but they didn't resolve the problems of the NFL's 30th-ranked defense either in free agency or the draft. Their cornerbacks will be among the youngest in the league, and their linebackers are so suspect that they're thinking about signing Ed Hartwell, the former Raven who was a bust in Atlanta.

The Steelers seem to be in a transitional mode after losing two emotional leaders in coach Bill Cowher and linebacker Joey Porter.

Pittsburgh did little this offseason, signing free agent Sean Mahan to compete for the starting center job and using its first-round pick on linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who isn't projected to start this season.

The most-improved team in the AFC North is undoubtedly the Cleveland Browns, although it would be a remarkable turnaround for this team to compete for the division title this season.

The Browns looked to improve their running game in free agency, adding guard Eric Steinbach and running back Lewis. Then, Cleveland put together one of the best drafts in the league this year, selecting two franchise players in the first round in offensive tackle Joe Thomas and quarterback Brady Quinn.

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