ESPN.com's esteemed panel unveiled its 2010 predictions Thursday for each division.
But we're going to take it a step further in the AFC North blog. ESPN The Magazine also made its season predictions (via Football Outsiders). So let's compare notes with all three ESPN entities.
ESPN The Mag: First
Analysis: This team is stacked on offense and defense, and health permitting, the Ravens could finish in the top 10 in both categories. The only glaring concern is the secondary, which was enough for Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. and ESPN Insider Adam Schefter to pick Baltimore third and likely out of the playoffs. I don't believe the hole at secondary is that debilitating. Cornerbacks Fabian Washington (knee) and Lardarius Webb (knee) are getting healthy and could both be ready for Week 1. General manager Ozzie Newsome also pulled off a solid trade to land Josh Wilson to help with depth. To give you a range of opinions, ESPN The Mag predicts Baltimore will go 11-5 and win Super Bowl XLV. Although my Super Bowl pick is the Indianapolis Colts, I agree the Ravens are among a handful of strong contenders.
ESPN The Mag: Third
Analysis: With the Bengals' history of instability, it's no surprise predictions are all over the place. It ranges from 2010 division champ (ESPN.com) to third place at 7-9 and out of the playoffs (ESPN The Mag). I'm in between. I think the Bengals will be a good second-place team in the division and will grab a wild-card spot. I've covered this division in some fashion since 2004, and this is most talented team I've seen in Cincinnati in that span. This group is tougher and more professional than the 2005 squad, which didn't know how to handle success because it didn't have any the year prior. Chad Ochocinco says it will be a shame if the Bengals don't win the Super Bowl. I wouldn't go that far. But if the Bengals stay healthy, they're good enough to earn a wild card and give themselves a shot to have postseason success.
ESPN The Mag: Second
Analysis: I like this year's Steelers and the way they go about their business. But quarterback is the NFL's most important position, and I'm not confident the offense can produce without Ben Roethlisberger for at least four games. ESPN The Mag, which picked Pittsburgh second, appears to have more confidence in the offense under Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon. "RB Rashard Mendenhall piles up 100 yards per game during Big Ben's suspension," according to ESPN The Magazine. In my opinion, if Pittsburgh is .500 when Roethlisberger returns, it should be considered a success. From there, the team would be in a good spot to make a run in the second half of the season and push for a wild card.
ESPN The Mag: Fourth
Analysis: Cleveland was the only AFC North team all three entities agreed on. From everything I've seen, the Browns are too short on talent to be a contender. I think the Browns are scrappy and have potential to play smart football, especially if Jake Delhomme has a bounce-back season at quarterback. But I'd be surprised if Cleveland wins more than a game or two in the AFC North this season. If you can’t win in the division, you probably won't have a successful season.