The AFC North has produced the AFC representative in the Super Bowl 3 of the last 4 years. The division is known for strong defenses and teams committed to the run and this year will be no different. That being said the North is in transition mode. No longer can you pencil in Pittsburgh or Baltimore as the winner. This season I predict there will be a new division winner with Super Bowl aspirations. Here is how the NFC North will shake out.
Baltimore Ravens: 10-6
The Ravens are the defending champions, but this is a new season and the 2013 squad barely resembles the one that won the Super Bowl. The Ravens start this year without their emotional leader Ray Lewis, future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, dependable Anquan Boldin, and starting tight end Dennis Pitta. That puts a lot of pressure on Joe Flacco and Ray Rice to perform at a high level. For the first time in almost two decades it will be up to the offense to make big plays, a task easier said than done.
Cleveland Browns: 7-9
Norv Turner is not a great head coach, but if his only responsibility is to run the offense he can do wonders. Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, and Jordan Cameron will all benefit from Turner's play calling and the defense won't have to stay on the field so long. Joe Haden is a star in the making and if Barkevious Mingo can get healthy the Browns will be better than you think.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-7
The Steelers still have a top 5 quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, but they have lost their identity on defense. Although Pittsburgh is still committed to stopping the run the defense is getting old (especially the secondary) and they're not what they used to be. For that reason they will lose close games they are accustomed to winning and might miss the playoffs for a 2nd straight season.
Cincinnati Bengals: 11-5
On paper the Bengals have enough talent to make the Super Bowl. The problem is this team has always struggled with the pressure of expectation. Andy Dalton, Jermaine Gresham, AJ Green, and Giovani Bernard provide a great nucleus on offense and they have a top 10 defense so there's no physical limitation in taking the next step. If they can overcome the mental obstacles we might see them playing for the Lombardi Trophy this year.