AFC preview: North

Bengals looking to make consecutive playoffs for 1st time in 28 years

August 29, 2010|By Sam Farmer, Tribune newspapers

Bengals

Big questions: Will receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco form a winning combination for Carson Palmer, or merely be a circus sideshow? After a breakout season with 1,251 yards, can Cedric Benson assemble another impressive year? Can the defense stay out of the trainer's room after only three starters made it through each of the 17 games?

Big moves: The signing of Owens made the most headlines, but the biggest help to Palmer will be tight end Jermaine Gresham, a first-round pick. The Bengals also signed receiver Antonio Bryant, but he didn't wow anyone in the offseason. Kickers Dave Rayner and Mike Nugent are battling to replace the departed Shayne Graham, the most accurate kicker in Bengals history.

Bottom line: The Bengals need to break a long trend. They haven't made the playoffs in consecutive seasons in 28 years.

Ravens

Big questions: Will the addition of receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth allow the Ravens — and QB Joe Flacco — to take the next step? How will being in training camp for the first time in three seasons help Terrell Suggs? The Ravens have a history of strength up the middle of the defense; can Terrence Cody and Haloti Ngata carry on that tradition? Who will wind up claiming the kicker job, Billy Cundiff or Shayne Graham?

Big moves: Boldin could turn out to be a phenomenal acquisition. The only starter the Ravens lost is defensive end Dwan Edwards, who signed with the Bills. But the team has high hopes for former Seahawks defensive end Cory Redding. The Ravens didn't draft a corner and expect a lot from Lardarius Webb, who is coming off a knee injury.

Bottom line: John Harbaugh is in good position to do something no other Ravens coach has done: Make the playoffs three years in a row.

Steelers

Big questions: What position will the team be in when Ben Roethlisberger returns from his suspension? (He will miss at least home games against the Lions and Panthers and road games against the Giants and Broncos.) Should Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon be the starting quarterback in his absence? Can a franchise known for great offensive lines get a decent performance out of this one? Will Troy Polamalu, coming off knee injuries, be the dominant player we have come to know?

Big moves: Drafting center/guard Maurkice Pouncey in the opening round was the first step in rebuilding the offensive line. The team said goodbye to receiver Santonio Holmes and welcomed back Antwaan Randle El, who left as a free agent in 2006.

Bottom line: The Steelers have fallen fast and far from the team that won the Super Bowl two years ago. As outstanding a coach as Mike Tomlin is, this season will be a test.

Browns

Big questions: Mike Holmgren took the Packers to two Super Bowls and the Seahawks to one; can he turn around the Browns? Which team will show up, the one that started 1-11 or finished 4-0? Is there a quarterback answer in Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy that wasn't there with jettisoned Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn? Which Browns receiver will step forward to help as a capable target, helping rescue the league's worst passing attack?

Big moves: Delhomme used to be a very good quarterback. His confidence hit the skids in the playoffs two years ago, though, and last season he had eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Does he have anything left? Gone are DE Corey Williams and LB Kamerion Wimbley.

Bottom line: The heat is on coach Eric Mangini, who kept his assistants from a team that was 32nd on offense and 31st on defense.

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