In 2011, the AFC North was statistically the best division in football. With three of the four teams making the playoffs, they are going to look to show the rest of the league such a feat can be repeated. There are the old school Steelers who try to beat you into submission with a punishing defense, the cagey Ravens who use Ray Rice for offense and an old guard with Pro Bowl skills to win games, the Bengals who used a rookie quarterback and receiver to come out of nowhere to make the playoffs. and then the Browns who showed up for the season. Hey, they are in Cleveland you can't expect much.
The AFC North is the division you don't want to draw when the schedule comes out. You can't come out of a game with one of these teams and expect to feel like you are in one piece. Even Ben Roethlisberger can plow over opposing tacklers with ease. That being said, the North is still a little under the radar this season. People are talking about New England, Green Bay, San Francisco, New York (both leagues), Philadelphia, etc but no talk of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, or Cincinnati. Why is this? The Ravens made it to the AFC Championship and lost on the luckiest chop this century. This entire division is listening to the silence. It makes them hungry. It makes them want to be noticed.
Who wants to be noticed the most? The no name guys. The ones we feel can be a dime a dozen. The guys we claim have the "easiest jobs in the world" getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to sit on the bench. Last year there were many cases of breakout stars, led by Antonio Brown, AJ Green, Torrey Smith, and Andy Dalton. There are plenty of older players in this division, meaning these teams are looking for guys who can fill in when it is these guys times to walk away and call it a career. This division will show that there is a reason people sit on the bench and wait. The opportunities will come, and when they do certain players will relish the opportunity.
Cincinnati Bengals- Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis
The Law Firm has made a small name for himself in this league. He is best known as just another Patriots running back in a sea of interchangeable parts. It is easy to get over shadowed when the likes of Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Rob Gronkowski are sharing the same field. Truth is, if it wasn't for this guy's consistency at running back the offense wouldn't roll like it does. Other than Green-Ellis, there was no other player in the NFL who rushed for ten touchdowns and had zero fumbles. Nobody else could score like the Law Firm without causing himself a turnover. It is unheard of to think that he has 510 carries in the NFL and has never coughed up the football. Maurice Jones-Drew, considered the best back in football, lost the football six times. Green-Ellis is not the feature back in Cincy, and he is looking to make a huge impact. His presence will take a huge impact off the sophomore duo Green and Dalton. He will become one of the league's best, showing New England it made a mistake watching him go in free agency. The Bengals play some great defenses in their division, but outside the Giants they don't really play any defense worth mentioning. Green-Ellis will have a year worth mentioning, however.
Cleveland Browns- D'Qwell Jackson
I feel bad for this guy. Jackson led the league in solo tackles with 116, was second in total tackles with with 158, and was fourth with nine stuffs. Add in three and a half sacks, three deflected passes and two forced turnovers and you have a superstar defensive player. So why isn't this guy talked about with the Patrick Willises and Ray Lewises of the NFL world? He is stuck in Cleveland. If this guy is playing on the Packers he would be talked about more than Clay Matthews. He is a certified stud. Jackson was an after thought after he missed nearly two seasons with a shoulder injury. He showed in 2011 that he is even more of a force to be reckoned with. Jackson is on a full-fledged journey to show everyone he should be in the conversation for best linebacker in the game. He will prove that in 2012. Forget Troy Polamalu, Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, this guy will be the best defensive player in the division, if not the league in 2012, even playing for the Browns can't stop him from becoming that.
Baltimore Ravens- Lardarius Webb
Webb is coming into his fourth season as a pro. He has become better and better as the years have gone by. He ended 2011 with five interceptions, a forced fumble, and twenty-five passes deflected. Those are decent numbers, but the playoffs is where Webb shined brightest. In two games, he caught three interceptions, recorded ten tackles, and deflected five passes. When everyone was watching, Webb was at his best. He showed he could play with the big boys. Tom Brady threw for 5,235 in 2011. Against the Ravens, and Webb as the number one corner, he threw for 239. We are about to see the best of this guy coming in 2012. I am predicting nine interceptions for Webb in 2012. He just signed a nice contract with Baltimore that will keep him around for a long time. He will be looking to repay the Ravens nicely for their gratitude.
Pittsburgh Steelers- Jonathan Dwyer
This guys is going to be a certified play maker in this league. He has been buried on the depth chart for the Steelers behind Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, and Mewelde Moore. This season Moore is gone and Mendenhall is still coming back from a torn ACL. Dwyer has shed those rumors of his bad conditioning and too much weight gain. If it wasn't for questioning his conditioning he would have been drafted in the top thirty. He got one chance last year and took full advantage of it. Against the Titans and their number one scoring defense, he rushed for 107 yards on eleven carries. For the 2011 season, Dwyer average well over seven yards per carry. Redman is slated to be the number one running back to start the season, but that won't last long once they give this guy significant carries. Dwyer is a star in the making and has the talent to back it up. The Steelers got a steal getting him in the sixth round. Now it is time for Dwyer to show all the teams that passed on him that they made a crucial mistake. Dwyer has shown up to camp in the best shape of his professional career. He is ready to make a name for himself, and nobody is going to stop him.