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2012 AFC North Preview

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

2011 Common Opponents: AFC South, NFC West
2012 Common Opponents: AFC West, NFC East
For 2012, the AFC North will meet the AFC East's 2011 common opponents and vice versa. That's good news for the AFC East and bad news for the AFC North, especially with the addition of Peyton Manning to the AFC West. As a result, AFC North teams are all expected to win fewer games in 2012 based on their 2011 ratings than they deserved last season. Despite the rise of the Bengals last season, we still expect this division to strictly be a race between the Steelers and Ravens. While those three teams bring similar key players into the 2012 season, the Browns may be the most intriguing watch, with 1st round picks slotting in to start at QB and RB.

Baltimore Ravens
2011 Record: 12-4
2011 Rating: 2.2 (9th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 10.0
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 9.1
The Ravens broke through last season to sweep the Steelers, win the division, and almost win the conference championship. If not for the injury to Terrell Suggs, they would probably be a trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl. Our expectations are not so lofty. This is partly due to Suggs, but more because the stats show Baltimore overperformed a little last season. They took advantage of a down season in the AFC, won the division on a tiebreaker, and their only playoff win came against the Texans with a backup quarterback. The Ravens are a good team, but not a great team. Despite having our 2nd ranked defense, they need to improve on a very average offense to expect continued success. Joe Flacco hasn't proven to be a top 10 QB, and the Ravens would be mistaken to pay him like one. That said, the race for the division should yet again be between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, with the loser still likely to take a wild card spot.

Cincinnati Bengals
2011 Record: 9-7
2011 Rating: -1.9 (22th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 7.7
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 7.1
The Bengals made for a great story last season, and with rookies QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green producing last season, the common belief will likely be that they have nowhere to go but up. But the truth is the Bengals were a worse than average team with an easy schedule that got a little lucky, and Dalton got more credit than he deserved for the wins. Cincinnati's passing game and overall offense were both worse than average in 2011, and the defense was not much better than average. The Bengals deserved a win less than they managed last season, and a tougher schedule in 2012 will mean that even if Dalton improves some, they will face an uphill battle to make the playoffs again.

Cleveland Browns
2011 Record: 4-12
2011 Rating: -4.7 (29th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 5.9
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 5.4
Nothing seemed to go well for the Browns last season. But if there is a silver lining, it's that they didn't deserve quite as bad a record as they ended up with. Cleveland finished near the bottom in most categories. And at 5th from worst on offense, it's hard to blame them for giving up on QB Colt McCoy and giving the reigns to rookie Brandon Weeden. Unfortunately, it's also hard to expect much from a late 1st round rookie QB, especially given the lack of receiving options available. The Browns won't have high expectations for 2012, but with 1st round rookies at QB and RB by pairing Weeden with Trent Richardson, they will have some hope going forward.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2011 Record: 12-4
2011 Rating: 3.3 (4th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 10.6
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 10.2
The 2011 Steelers had a good regular season, but were stuck with a wild card seed due to the Ravens. They went on to a disappointing first round exit from the playoffs in Denver. Looking ahead, they may never be the best team in the league, but like past seasons they will likely always be one of the top teams in contention for the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh has a quality offense and defense. They aren't all that likely to manage 12 wins again in 2012, but despite last season we still have them rated slightly better than the Ravens. That makes the Steelers our slight favorites to win the division, and at least make the playoffs if not.

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

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