Jul 072010
 

Can you smell what is in the air? We are not talking basil or sage here; we are talking about some good ol’ blood and sweat. That is right folks, it is football season and with that it brings a certain pristine fall warming to all of the NFL souls in the land. We here at the Sport City Chefs are no different as we have a lot going on in the kitchen and we are not talking about cooking either. We are discussing the up-and-coming NFL season like no one else can. In this eight-part series we will be tackling each division in its’ own separate round table. This week we will be discussing the AFC North. So grab a seat, a fork and knife and enjoy. This promises to be as juicy as a Porter House steak.

Today in the kitchen discussing the AFC North will be Mark Moseley host of The Callers Cookout/Sunday Morning Brunch, Jeff who is an avid football fanatic, Chris Ziza owner of Working Man Sports and co-host of Grid-Iron Chefs.

The Appetizers (Quick Snacks Of NFL Opinion)

1. Carson Palmer has had over a year to recover from his arm woes. With a revamped offense behind him does Palmer continue to ascend to his old form, plateau, or decline? Why?

Mose – Carson Palmer is finally healthy and ready to lead the Bengals team once again. He played injured through most of last season and still performed very well. He passed for over 3000 yards, 21 touchdowns, and only 13 interceptions. The main reason the Bengals were not able to score in their playoff game was their inability to stretch the field. The death of Chris Henry hurt this offense more than we realize. Yes Chad Ocho Cinco was still there to make plays but the offense as a whole was not the same. Carson Palmer is a good leader and will be playing at a high level next year. I think he will turn the clock back to 2005. He posted career highs in passer rating at 101.1 and 32 touchdown passes.  The Bengals are a good team but are in very tough division. The first step in competing for a division title is  the health of Carson Palmer. If he can stay healthy look for a improved statistical season from last year and another winning season.

Jeffrey -I think the Bengals will be more balanced this season especially with the weapons that were added in the off season. They drafted Jermaine Gresham in the first round who should immediately upgrade there TE position which has been so ineffective the past few years. Gresham is a great pass catching TE that should be able to get vertical and exploit the seams of defenses. Also, the Bengals nabbed Jordan Shipley in the 3rd round who was a highly productive WR at Texas. Shipley is best suited in the slot and has excellent hands along with being a very solid route runner. Many people compare him to Wes Welker but not quite as fast. Shipley excels on special teams as demonstrated while playing with the Longhorns. Antonio Bryant was brought in from TB to be the Bengals #2 WR opposite of Chad Ocho Cinco. Bryant has shown flashes of brilliance in the past and should help upgrade the Bengals passing game. However, he’ll need to be more consistent and remain healthy if he intends on helping the Bengals offense in 2010. Pro Bowl talent Chad Ocho Cinco enters his 10th season and will remain Palmer’s go to guy. Ocho Cinco has averaged around 75 catches, 1100 receiving yards and nearly 7 TD’s a year since joining the Bengals back in 2001. Carson Palmer apparently is back to full health again and will need to throw more often this season to take the added pressure off of there running game especially with Cedric Benson’s recent off the field incident which still hasn’t been determined yet. In 2009, Palmer passed for 3,094 yds, 21 TD’s and 13 INT’s after coming off an injury plagued 2008 season in which he missed 12 games due to a partially torn ligament and tendon in his throwing elbow. Palmer elected to not undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the damage and opted to just rest the elbow. Although Palmer claimed to be back to 100% last year, there were times that he didn’t seem quite comfortable in the pocket as his throws lacked velocity and accuracy which led me to believe that he was still favoring the throwing elbow. With the plethora of weapons that he now possesses, Palmer could have a nice bounce back season. I still think he’s one of the elite QB’s in the game (when healthy) but it will all boil down to the o-line protecting him and weather or not the Bengals passing game can finally step up.

Chris – With the injuries that Palmer was going through for the past two seasons, the recovery time was expected to take him into this up-and-coming season. With that being said, there is no reason to believe that with the extra weapons that have been added to the Cincinnati Bengals offense that Palmer won’t keep making strides and a return to one of the better quarterbacks in the league is on the horizon.

2. With the addition of Anquan Boldin to the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver group, does Joe Flacco have it in him to take his game to the next level?

Jeffrey -I love what the Ravens have done in the off season. They acquired a legitimate # 1 wideout in Anquan Boldin from Arizona, who should immediately upgrade there WR core. Also, they drafted two very young and promising TE’s in Dennis Pitta (BYU) and Ed Dickson (Oregon). Both of these TE’s have lots of upside and look to replace Todd Heap as early as this season. Derrick Mason has been one of the better possession WR’s since entering the NFL in 1997. At age 36, Mason will likely retire at the end of the 2010 season. I think Mason and Boldin will compliment each another very well in Baltimore’s emerging passing game. Donte Stallworth was signed to a 1yr contract and should be the Ravens #3 WR. Stallworth has great speed to stretch the field but is often injured and lacks consistency catching the ball at times.The entire Ravens offensive line remains intact from last season and is still touted as one of the best in the league. They will need to protect Joe Flacco, who is steadily developing and maturing into a fine NFL QB. Flacco has a great arm and has the ability to scramble out of the pocket when pressured. He reminds me a bit of Ben Roethlisberger. When Flacco faces pressure he’ll look to dump the ball off to there rising star, Ray Rice. Rice is very strong and has great ability to read blocks well which allows him to gobble up chunks of yardage. The Ravens are a legitimate AFC Super Bowl contender in 2010 and I believe that Joe Flacco is now ready for the challenge of leading this team to greater heights.

Chris – The addition of Boldin is going to be huge. Not only does it add a stellar, no-holds-barred wideout to the Baltimore receiving group, but it will also allow for defenses to have to double-team him at times. That will open up the lanes for running back Ray Rice who is a huge weapon out of the backfield through the aerial game and in time it should open up the whole field for Flacco to continue improving his game. With the Ravens defense being beat up a little there will be an increased need to score more points this year. That should also help Flacco as the game plan will be a bit more geared to putting the rock into the end zone.

Mose – The Baltimore Ravens added a huge piece to their offense this year when they traded for Anquan Boldin. He is going to be an the number one receiver for Flacco. I am one of those that have doubted the University of Delaware stud at times. I know Joe Flacco is still young at 25, but he is a big, strong QB with a cannon of an arm. The offense came to life last season under Flacco. He improved his passing touchdowns from 14 in his rookie season to 21 last year. The big issue here is that Flacco passed for 11 of those touchdowns in the first 6 games. If you take away the game he passed for 4 touchdowns again Chicago, he finished the 9 out of the last 10 games with only 6 total. I think defense coaches started to really focus on Flacco. This allowed Ray Rice to shine carrying the workload. I do like Baltimore in this upcoming season and do think Boldin will be a huge component to the offense. Joe Flacco is going to be a great quarterback in the future but I do not think he is Pro Bowl ready right now. I am willing to eat my words if he has a monster year.

3. Does longtime coach and front office juggernaut Mike Holmgren have enough left in his tank to turn around the Cleveland Browns franchise?

Chris – As much as I respect Mike Holmgren, he hasn’t had the affect on franchises that other coaches/general managers have had such as Bill Parcells. While the Cleveland Browns seems to be the gig that Holmgren had wanted, rumors were even before he took this job that this may only be a couple year commitment. If that is the case, then his tank could be starting to run dry. That isn’t a very good thought for Browns fans who are in a dire need to rebuild smartly and not hastily. When the smoke is cleared, being that they are in a very tough division dominated by the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, this is one job that I can see Holmgren failing at.

Jeffrey -I’m not sure that Mike Holmgren is the answer for turning the Cleveland Browns franchise around but I do have a great deal of respect for him. I believe it will take some time for the Browns to get back to respectability, especially with there weaknesses at QB and WR. I like the Browns offensive line which is led by Joe Thomas, who’s arguably the best lineman in the NFL. The Browns were able to run the football last season but ran into problems when being forced to throw. With Brady Quinn exiting for Denver and Derek Anderson moving onto Arizona, the Browns brought in Jake Delhomme (Carolina) and Seneca Wallace (Seattle) to lead an already poor offense. I’m not high on either of these QB’s heading into 2010 but I’d still prefer Wallace simply because of his age and the ability to run the ball. I still believe Holmgren will have alot to say regarding the Browns offensive play calling and he has a very strong history of grooming QB’s. The Browns cannot afford to fall behind early in games this season especially with an average WR core that is led by Mohamed Massaquoi. The Browns are not deep at WR but they do have Josh Cribbs. Cribbs is a dynamic player, especially on special teams. However, the Browns are looking to get him more involved (offensively) in 2010. The running back position is the strength of this team, led by Jerome Harrison who really flourished in the last 3 games of last season. Harrison is more of a third down specialist, which is why they drafted Montario Hardesty out of Tennessee. Hardesty is a complete RB but does have a history of injuries. The Browns have raved about Hardesty because of how quickly he’s learning the playbook. Another promising player is James Davis. Davis is returning from an injury filled rookie season in 2009 and should compete as part of the Browns RB rotation. I think Cleveland will finish last in the AFC North this season but Holmgren has such a great football mind that the future of this franchise could improve within in a couple of years.

Mose – The answer is simple .. YES he does. Mike Holmgren is  the type of front office executive you want.  He is known for molding the careers of Brett Favre, Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Matt Hasselbeck. He has an eye for talent and a resume that speaks for itself. When Mike sits a young player down they listen to him. He has a Super Bowl ring and plenty of big game experience to back up his words. Mike Holmgren is going to be a great Team President for the Cleveland Browns. They have talented pieces in place for rebuilding the organization. The offense is totally turned over with Anderson and Quinn both being traded since Mike took over. He went out and acquired veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace at the quarterback position. He also drafted rookie studs Eric Barry and  Colt McCoy. The Browns have very key pieces returning from last season with Joe Thomas, Joshua Cribbs, and Jerome Harrison on offense and D’Qwell Jackson on defense. I think Holmgren stepped into a good situation that will allow him to take his time, rebuild, and give Cleveland Brown fans a solid product on Sundays. If Holmgren can’t do it , well than nobody can.

The Meal (5 Questions On The Minds Of NFL Fans)

1. The AFC North is home to two of the better, young running backs in the NFL. Both Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens and Rashard Mendenhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers have come into their own. Which young back do you feel is more important to his teams success in order to win their division?

Mose – The AFC North is a talented group at running back. The main attraction of the group is Ray Rice. That is right, Mr. Double R is only listed at 5’8″ but plays HUGE. He had a breakout season last year and I believe he will continue his success this season. I love what Mendenhall brings to the Steelers but I can see him splitting the load in Pittsburgh. Ray Rice last season posted over 2000 total yards with the ability to score a touchdown from anywhere on the field. Have you seen this guys legs? He has the ability and motivation to lead the Ravens on offense. When Flacco was struggling last year, Rice was the man carrying the offense on his back. I am not ready to say Mendenhall can carry the Steelers for an entire season. Ray Rice is the real deal and has established himself as one of the top 5 running backs in the league. He is my hands down pick for most important to his teams success for next year.

Jeffrey - Ray Rice is my choice here. Simply because he’s so effective with running and catching the football. Mendenhall showed some promise last year by rushing for over 1100 yards behind a mediocre Steelers o-line. The Steelers have had a terrible off season especially with the suspension of Big Ben, the shocking trade of Santonio Holmes and the recent loss of Willie Colon, who is arguably the Steelers best and most consistent offensive linemen. I really like the addition of 1st Rd draft pick Maurkice Pouncey, who will be an impact player at either guard or center. With the Steelers offense in disarray, most teams will likely stack 8 or 9 men in the box to shut down there running game. The Steelers will have to throw the ball more often and I don’t think that Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch can beat defenses through the air consistently. If the Steelers can weather the storm by going .500 or better without Roethlisberger, then things could certainly turn around for them. They will rely heavily on Mendenhall who should receive most of the workload. I still like Rice though and think he’s more valuable to his team’s success despite McGahee being a goal line vulture. The major problem with Mendy is that he doesn’t have anyone else to help fill his shoes.

Chris – This is a trick question if you ask me. For 2010 I think both players are equally important. You have Ray Rice on one hand who is going to try and help their young quarterback Joe Flacco as much as possible by getting fed the rock a ton, both through the ground and through the air. While in Pittsburgh you have the Steelers missing their top quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for nearly a half of a season. If either team is to make a run at the playoffs, their respective backs will have to have a huge year. That is why I think both backs have a lot of their teams success on their backs and must have a solid season for any type of shot at the post season.

2. The Baltimore Ravens are best known to the NFL community as an organization that always fields one of the best defenses in the game. With Ray Lewis increasing in age and Ed Reed hurting, how do you see the unit faring in 2010/11?

Jeffrey - I think the Ravens defense will be strong against the run especially since they drafted another giant in Terrence “Mount” Cody (Alabama) to play alongside of Haloti Ngata. Ray Lewis enters his 15th NFL and is still recognized as one the best LB’s to ever play the game despite being 35 years of age. He’ll have plenty of open lanes to make tackles, especially with a huge wall in front of him. However, my concerns are with the Ravens secondary. Ed Reed is still rehabbing from reconstructive hip surgery and may be playing his final year of a Hall of Fame career. Reed has always been a great leader and a tremendous ball hawk in the Ravens secondary, but his days look to be numbered and this will likely be his final season in the NFL. The Ravens secondary has been suspect lately, especially there two returning corners in Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington. The key will be weather the Ravens can provide a consistent pass rush, which will help take pressure off of there secondary. If they’re able to do this effectively, then the Ravens should be a solid defensive unit again.

Chris – The Baltimore Ravens possess some of the biggest, most respected names on defense in the league. With that being said, they are aging and that is something that will show on the field this fall. While there have been upgrades at certain positions, the secondary leaves me worrisome. I see a solid product on the field but definite slippage compared to years past.

Mose – I do like the Ravens defense even with an older Ray Lewis and a banged up Ed Reed. I do not think the Ravens defense is the elite group of the AFC North. I think they actually would fit right next to the Bengals as far as defensive units go. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the #1 unit in the division followed by the Ravens/Bengals at 2a and 2b. The one thing you can not take away from the Ravens is experience.  The biggest question is not Ray Ray’s age but Ed Reed’s health. If Ed Reed is as banged up as some NFL reporters say than it could be a tough year in Baltimore. The unit counts of Reed’s game changing plays to keep them in tight games. If Ed Reed is healthy and available for a full season, I would upgrade them to the #2 unit over the Bengals.

3. With the recent arrest of running back Cedric Benson coupled with the consistent off-the-field problems that the Cincinnati Bengals have had to deal with in previous years, do you see a healthy Bernard Scott getting a fair chance to prove that he can be the future back of this franchise?

Jeffrey – I think Bernard Scott can be a solid back, especially if Benson misses any time due to his recent altercation at a night club last month. With Larry Johnson departing for Washington, the door is now open for Scott to shine. Scott was a highly touted rookie coming out of Abilene Christian last season and is a very good special teams player for the Bengals. He stood out in the preseason last year, which caught alot of people’s attention. Although, he battled turf toe and missed a few games throughout the season, I remain cautiously optimistic that his lingering problems are well behind him now. I really like the way this kid runs and think he’ll be a solid contributor in 2010. Scott doesn’t have anyone to really push him for the back up RB job, but if Benson would get hurt or the Bengals decide to part ways with him, then I still believe that Scott can be a solid NFL running back.

Mose- Cedric Benson is still the #1 option in Cincy. He earned the right to carry the work load for the Bengals. I do not think Benson will stay healthy for a full 16 game schedule. He posted career highs in yards (1251), carries (301), touchdowns (6), and games played (13) last season. That is right Cedric Benson’s monster season still came with him missing 3 games due to injury. He is a very physical runner that embraces a lot of contact. This grueling style of running causes injuries during the course of a NFL season.I think Bernard Scott will be a good second option and change of pace back when Benson is sitting out.

Chris – Does Bernard Scott have a fair shot at showing that he is the future back of this franchise? Of course he does. But that doesn’t mean the future will come in 2010/11. As Mose has said, he will most likely be utilized as more of a change-of-pace back that will have a shot to show his goods if and when Cedric Benson goes down with injury or has to miss some time due to this altercation. None-the-less, the Cincinnati Bengals will once again rely heavily on Benson to pound the rock. Will he have the same success this year, especially considering that two of the teams in the division eat up backs in Pittsburgh and Baltimore? Probably not. But then again if you really take a look at Benson’s stats last year and analyze them, you may come to the same conclusion that

4. Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson are out, Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are in. That sounds like a typical Cleveland Browns move. But is it? Do you see this as an improvement, a step backwards or something that just had to be done?

Jeffrey -I don’t see this QB change helping the Browns in 2010 or in the future of there franchise. Delhomme brings plenty of game experience to the huddle, although he’s coming off a dismal 2009 season where he threw only 8 TD’s and 18 INT’s in just 11 games. His poor play resulted in a 59.4 QB rating. Delhomme is now 35 and has played in only 43 games in the past 4 years, so injuries have certainly caught up with him. Seneca Wallace is now entering his 8th NFL season with a combined 14 starts while playing with the Seahawks. Wallace is a very fine athlete and can make defenses pay when running the football. He’s versatile enough to play WR at times too. However, Wallace sometimes has difficulties throwing over interior linemen. One of his main strengths is that he doesn’t force the ball or throw alot of INT’s. It looks like a battle between Delhomme and Wallace is shaking up, but if either one falters, then 3rd round draft choice Colt McCoy will be given the opportunity to lead the Browns. The Browns will likely sit McCoy in his rookie season, which should allow him plenty of time to learn the playbook and speed of the game. McCoy could also be forced into playing time at some point during the season, if the Browns continue to lose games. McCoy is clearly the Browns franchise QB and could take over the starting job as early as 2011.

Mose – Mike Holmgren wanted to change the culture in Cleveland. His first step was fixing the Quarterback position. I know Delhomme has struggled in recent years and Wallace has never been the #1 signal caller. The move by Holmgren was to bring in good leaders and start the rebuilding process. He had to get away from the old Browns and focus on the new Browns. The one surprising move was that he traded both Quinn and Anderson. Mike Holmgren has a better track record than me, so who am I to judge this move? I think Colt McCoy is the Browns future, but for this upcoming season one of the 2 new additions at Quarterback will have to takeover. The Cleveland Browns in their effort to become a playoff team should leave no stone unturned. Now if only LeBron could play Quarterback.

Chris – This situation in Cleveland is more like a double-edged sword. While I don’t think it improves the product on the field as far as production is concerned, this does bring a major overhaul to the attitude in the locker room. Both Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn were damaged goods and most likely probably would not have been able to overcome what had taken place during the 2009/10 season. You have to start somewhere and when you can’t replace all of the talent quickly, you can still adjust the attitude of the players. Having confidence in the quarterback is huge, and having the quarterback have confidence is equally important. This is a move that should prove effective during later seasons when both quarterbacks will most likely be gone. This is an attitude adjustment more than anything.

5. The Pittsburgh Steelers have come out and said publicly that they want to get back to the smash-mouth type of football which will emphasize the featured running back more. Does Rashard Mendenhall have it in him to take the reigns in this venture or do you foresee the Steelers having to go with a RBBC (Running Back By Committee)?

Jeffrey I do believe Mendenhall can still be a feature RB for the Steelers. However, he’ll still need another RB to help reduce his workload. With Willie Parker now in Washington, the only remaining backs are Mewelde Moore, Isaac Redmen, Frank Summers and there recent 6th Rd draft pick from Georgia Tech, Jonathan Dwyer. Moore is used primarily as a 3rd down and change of pace back. However, the remaining backs are all inexperienced, so someone will need to really step up and help fill the back up roll to Mendy. Most NFL teams are going with a RBBC approach today because of keeping there RB’s fresh throughout games and the entire season. Even though I see Mendenhall carrying a huge load in 2010, I still believe that he’ll need some help especially with teams focusing on stopping the Steelers running game, especially since Ben Roethlisberger will be missing a few games.

Chris – While Rashard Mendenhall proved last year that he can carry the load over a season, he didn’t have to carry the pressures of being a running back in a run first offense. With that being said, I don’t think that Mendenhall will fail in this role, but I do believe he is going to need a little bit of help. When the season comes into fruition, look for Mewelde Moore to also share the rock, with Mendenhall getting the better part of the carries. The Steelers could also look to keep Mendenhall sharp by continuing to use Moore in a goal line role.

Mose- I think the Steelers are ready to get back to smash mouth football because Big Ben is not active to start the season. I do like Rashard Mendenhall as the number 1 option in Pittsburgh next season. That being said the Steelers will use a RRBC option for most games. The main carries will be split by Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore. They are both able to carry the load but look for Coach Tomlin to split the carries so that fresh legs are always in the game. The Steelers last season were a little pass happy at times with Big Ben throwing the ball all over the field. The loss of Santonio Holmes could impact the amount of passing plays called during the course of a game. I still feel once Big Ben is back the offense will look very similar to last year. The Steelers team needs to rebound from last year and it looks like the running backs are going to have to carry the load to start the season off.

Desert (Division Predictions)

Mose – The AFC North is a very tricky division. We have seen in recent years teams rebound to regain playoff form. The AFC North is going to be a close division but only one team can win the crown. I am going with the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the division this year. Thye won the Super Bowl in 2008 and I like them to regain form this season. I know Big Ben is going to miss the start of the season but I do think they have enough talent to overcome the loss. The Steelers are pegged to go 10-6 and winning the AFC North. I also have Baltimore Ravens making the playoffs at 9-7, with Ray Rice carrying the offensive load and Ray Lewis leading the defensive unit. The Cincinnati Bengals are going to fall just short of the playoffs this year at 8-8. The Bengals team needs Carson Palmer to stay healthy as well as Cedric Benson to exceed my expectations. The Cleveland Browns will improve from last season and finish 6-10. They will compete in games and look very improved from last year. I do believe that the Browns will be very competitive in this division very soon. Watch out for Mike Holmgren and company in the near future.

Jeffrey - I believe that Baltimore is the team to beat in the AFC North. I really like what the Ravens have done via the draft and free agency. Flacco has progressed each year since entering the league two years ago and has a really fine offensive line in front of him. His weapons are very good, when you start mentioning the likes of Ray Rice, Wilis McGahee, Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, Donte Stallworth and a plethora of solid TE’s. However, I do have some concerns with the Ravens defense, especially with Ed Reed’s football career now in jeopardy and Ray Lewis being another year older. The Ravens defense has aged quite a bit, but I still think they’ll find a way to win ball games in 2010. I’m picking the Bengals to finish 2nd in the AFC North division because of there underrated defense, which features two shutdown corners in Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall. The Bengals upgraded there one dimensional (running) offense from 2009. They brought in WR Antonio Bryant and Matt Jones from Jacksonville to provide depth and WR help for Chad Ocho Cinco. Also, they drafted Jordan Shipley to play the #3 WR and he’ll likely contribute in the Bengals return game too. I believe the Bengals will need to throw the ball more often in 2010. Carson Palmer will need to be more consistent and accurate for the Bengals to make the playoffs again. Cedric Benson is coming off a great year, while rushing for over 1200 yards. Benson wore down towards the end of last season and will need to get more help from Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard, if he wants to stay productive on the field. Benson has some question marks regarding his contract and off the field issues. Despite not having Ben Roethlisberger for 4-6 games of 2010, I think the Steelers could struggle, especially with having a difficult schedule. Pittsburgh will look to pound the rock with Rashard Mendenhall, but losing Willie Colon and Santonio Holmes could really hurt this offense in the long run. Byron Leftwich will likely start the season at QB, but his long arm release and lack of mobility could lead to many turnovers and sacks. Lefty is familiar with the Steelers offense while playing for them in 2008. Last season, Lefty was dealt to Tampa Bay, but was reacquired by the Steelers during the past off season.The Steelers defense should be solid again, but they could be on the field more often, especially if there offense can’t move the chains or sustain drives more consistently. The Steelers will have to, (somehow) win games without Big Ben’s presence, otherwise they won’t make the playoffs again. Cleveland will finish last in the AFC North mainly because of there QB problem. Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace have both proven to be inconsistent during there careers and without any viable weapons to throw to, it will only hurt the Browns offensive production even more. The Browns cannot afford to fall behind early in games, so establishing a solid running game early could go a long way in determining the teams success.

Chris – The AFC North should have some solid competition for the top-3 spots as all teams have something going for them as well as against them. Look for the Baltimore Ravens to trump all teams as they have both a solid group of offensive players and key defensive players to make a run at a good percentage of wins; probably nailing a 10-6 record. Coming in behind the Ravens will be the Pittsburgh Steelers who will not have their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a solid part of the season, yet they do have the ground game as well as the defense to keep games close. They should be able to grind out a 9-7 record. The rejuvenated Carson Palmer should be able to shoulder the Cincinnati Bengals’ franchise to a 8-8 record while the Cleveland Browns will come up lame with a 5-11.

Can’t Stand The Heat? Get Out Of The Kitchen!

Ben Roethlisberger in any sense of the word has been a major disappointment off of the field to all, his teammates, coaches, organization as a whole as well as the fans of the city of Pittsburgh. With a pair of possible sexual misconduct acts having taken place, what will Roethlisberger have to do to gain back the confidence in all, or is that something that you just don’t see happening?

Chris -The sporting world tends to have a “what have you done for me lately” type of attitude and will turn their noses up in a heart beat. But that doesn’t mean that Ben Roethlisberger’s reputation can’t withstand all the negativity and eventually work himself back into the graces of the Pittsburgh Steeler fan. If he comes back this year, focused towards one goal which is a playoff berth and he achieves that while keeping his nose clean WHILE also contributing some way in the community, he can once again become the golden boy in the heart of Pittsburgh. This is a blue-collar city that we are talking about and if you truly express repentance, fans will open their hearts to you. But not all will be rosey.

The odds are set heavily against Big Ben ever coming close to the marketing value that he once had. That won’t really matter though as long as Roethlisberger is ready to focus on football and forget about not only his popularity but also his off-the-field habits. Can Roethlisberger keep from getting into bad situations? Can he forget about what he had going in his career and focus on a new beginning? Does he even want to change? He has never been the poster boy for loved media-icon. Reporters and journalists can’t stand the guy. And he comes off as not only arrogant but a bit slow in the head as well. We are talking about a major overhaul in the person himself. If he can win that battle, then he may be able to win a lot of his teammates respect back. But if he can’t, don’t be shocked if Roethlisberger is moved a year or two down the road.

Jeffrey - This has been the biggest story of the off season so far. I think Ben Roethlisberger will come back stronger and better than he’s ever been before. He is one of the winningest QB’s in the first 6 years of his NFL career and owns two Super Bowl rings. The Steelers will go as far as Ben can lead them, and I hope that he can somehow pull himself back together from all of this. He’ll need to regain the trust of his fans, teammates, coaches, Steelers management and the rest of the NFL community. I’d like to see him putting in the extra work both on and off the field just to prove to everyone that he’s still the leader of this proud organization. Big Ben is coming off one of his best season’s as a pro in 2009 after throwing for 4,328 yards, 26 TD’s, 12 INT’s and an impressive 66.6 completion percentage. What really makes Ben so dangerous as a QB is his willingness to extend plays while being pressured in and out of the pocket. He is a clutch player, especially in two minute drills as we have all witnessed repeatedly in the past. One problem with Ben and some of these other professional athletes is that they’re always making poor decisions. As long as pro athletes are out in the public eye they will always remain a target. Hopefully this will be a learning experience for Roethlisberger and I believe this will be his last opportunity to show his true class and character. The Steelers organization have given him one final opportunity to succeed, otherwise he’ll no longer be playing in the Steel City, and his football career could very well be in jeopardy.

Mose – Big Ben needs to stay out of the night life scene first and foremost. He needs to focus on improving his overall image. If he can win games for the Steelers, the fans will love him once again. The national public  may never see him in a good light again. He has the ability to shake off his bad image with winning championships (think Kobe). I do think that this will take a few years to regain trust  and it starts with being respectful, grateful, and humble. I hope  for the sake of the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger he can repair his image.

Thank you for checking out the AFC North edition for the Sport City Chefs NFL Round Table. Don’t hesitate to let us know what you thought. Who do you agree more with? Who do you think is absolutely insane? Let the Chefs know. We promise not to spit in your food! Check back soon as we will be releasing the AFC South.

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Chris Ziza

Born and raised in Metro Detroit, no matter where I live, Motown has always been in my heart. I am an avid fan of the Detroit Lions and Tigers while also rooting for the Pistons and Michigan State Spartans. I am a head banging, single daddy of two beautiful little girls. I have many interests, one of which is blogging. In the past I have worked for the Most Valuable Network and the Bruno Boys, and now I have decided to turn my attention to the Sport City Chefs. Grab a plate, the kitchen is serving up the goods!

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