The AFC North blog will conclude its rankings of each position this week with defense. This is a projection on how the group will fare this season. It's not an evaluation based on last year. For Friday, let's look at the defensive line.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: When it comes to defensive lines in the AFC North, it's the Bengals and then there's everyone else. Geno Atkins is the NFL's best interior defensive lineman. Michael Johnson looked like Jason Taylor during his breakout year last season. Carlos Dunlap's production could finally meet his potential this year. And Domata Peko is one of the more underappreciated nose tackles in the game. Plus, there's talented depth with Robert Geathers, Wallace Gilberry, Devon Still, Brandon Thompson and Margus Hunt.
2. Cleveland Browns: The Browns' best addition this offseason was Desmond Bryant. an under-the-radar free agent from Oakland who can become a game-changer up front in the Browns' new 3-4 defense. Phil Taylor will benefit if he moves to nose tackle. He's a powerful big body who can hold up against double teams in run defense and push the middle when rushing the passer. Ahtyba Rubin, who didn't make the same impact in 2012 as he did the previous season, has shed some pounds in anticipation of moving to end.
3. Baltimore Ravens: This could end up being the most improved defensive line from a year ago, when the Ravens' defensive line was the weakest spot on the team. Haloti Ngata is primed for a bounce-back season after playing out of position last season. He is expected to line up more inside (perhaps replacing Terrence Cody at nose tackle), where he's more comfortable playing. The free-agent addition of Chris Canty will boost the pass rush and the signing of Marcus Spears will significantly upgrade the run defense. Art Jones got better as the season progressed, starting six of Baltimore's final 10 games.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: The only certainty on the line is Brett Keisel, and he showed his age at times last season. This is likely the last season for Keisel, who turns 35 in September. This is also the last season for Ziggy Hood to prove he deserves a second contract. He hasn't been a bust, but he hasn't lived up to expectations of a first-round pick. The Steelers are banking on Steve McLendon to replace Casey Hampton. This is a tough ranking considering the Steelers' run defense has ranked in the top three for eight of the past nine seasons. But there's a lot of question marks with this group this year.