NFL 2013: AFC North preview capsulesBy The Associated Press , Associated Press
Aug. 26, 2013 5:35 PM ET
BALTIMORE RAVENS (14-6)
NEW FACES: DE Chris Canty, TE Dallas Clark, LB Elvis Dumervil, S Michael Huff, LB Daryl Smith, DE Marcus Spears, WR Brandon Stokley.
KEY LOSSES: WE Anquan Boldin, LB Ray Lewis, S Ed Reed, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Paul Kruger, C Matt Birk, S Bernard Pollard, NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu, CB Cary Williams.
STRENGTHS: QB, RB, DL.
WEAKNESSES: WR, TE.
EXPECTATIONS: Defending Super Bowl champions went through vast offseason makeover, beginning with retirement of Lewis and including exit of Reed, both fixtures for more than a decade. Although team bears only small resemblance to one that earned Lombardi Trophy in February, key offensive contributors Joe Flacco and Ray Rice return, and retooled defense might actually be better than aging unit that struggled at times last year. Ravens expect to make sixth straight trip to playoffs.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (10-7)
NEW FACES: LB James Harrison, TE Alex Smith, TE Tyler Eifert, RB Giovani Bernard
KEY LOSSES: QB Bruce Gradkowski.
STRENGTHS: DT, DE, OL, TE, RB.
WEAKNESSES: WR, Backup QB.
EXPECTATIONS: For first time in long time, Bengals have high expectations. They've never reached playoffs three years in row, but have team capable of doing it. CB Terence Newman points out things change when expectations increase. Nobody's going to overlook them. How they respond will tell how far they go. Just reaching playoffs no longer considered accomplishment; overriding goal is win at least one playoff game this season. Anything less than going deep into playoffs will be considered underachieving, which is new standard in Cincinnati. And a lot of it will be up to QB Andy Dalton, who has played poorly in playoff losses at Houston each of last two years.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-8)
NEW FACES: LB Jarvis Jones, RB Le'Veon Bell, TE Matt Spaeth, RB Felix Jones, RB/KR LaRod Stephens-Howling, CB William Gay, WR Markus Wheaton, S Shamarko Thomas
KEY LOSSES: LB James Harrison, WR Mike Wallace, NT Casey Hampton, T Max Starks, CB Keenan Lewis, G Willie Colon.
STRENGTHS: QB, S, LB.
WEAKNESSES: OL, RB.
EXPECTATIONS: Coach Mike Tomlin loves to say "the standard is the standard" but it was certainly not met last fall when Steelers missed playoffs. Pittsburgh hasn't missed postseason in consecutive years this millennium, but bouncing back will be difficult in one of NFL's toughest divisions. Departure of longtime stars Harrison and Hampton leave chance for younger faces to shine, though it won't be easy. Rookie RB Bell out indefinitely with midfoot sprain, leaving mixture of career backups to take his place. League's top-ranked defense needs to produce more splash plays for team that finished minus-10 in giveaway/takeaway margin in 2012.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (5-11)
NEW FACES: OLB Paul Kruger, DE Desmond Bryant, WR Davone Bess, OLB Barkevious Mingo, TE Gary Barnidge, WR David Nelson, CB Leon McFadden, coach Rob Chudzinski, offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
KEY LOSSES: K Phil Dawson, WR/KR Josh Cribbs, TE Benjamin Watson, CB Sheldon Brown, S Usama Young, DT Frostee Rucker, LB Scott Fujita.
STRENGTHS: DL, OL.
WEAKNESSES: CB, S, K.
EXPECTATIONS: After five straight seasons of at least 11 losses and continuous coaching carousel, Browns seem to finally be headed in right direction. Chudzinski inherits more talent than predecessors, and Cleveland could take major step forward despite playing in tough division. Second-year QB Brandon Weeden has all physical tools, and as long as RB Trent Richardson stays healthy and WR Josh Gordon stays clean, Browns should put up points in Turner's system. New coordinator Ray Horton favors multi-front, attacking defense that puts premium on pressuring quarterback. If Browns can start strong and gain confidence, .500 season is doable.
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