Looking into my crystal ball I see...
How the AFC North will finish
Hello truebelievers, today I will take you through an amazing journey into the center of the AFC North world as seen through my crystal football. However, beware that my crystal football sees countless realities and alternative universes so the future I see may not necesarily be that of our own. Now lets look deep...deeper...an image is appearing...its the Browns finishing at 1st place in the division?!?! How could that be possible you ask?
I'm glad you did.
It starts with a team that everyone is picking to win the division...Pittsburgh, and why not? They didn't care whether there was a 2002 draft or not because they feel they already have what it takes to go all the way. Don't they?
My first problem with this scenario would be "player of the tear" (not a typo) Kordell Stewart. Yes he loved the new offense that was installed last year. He should, it was totally designed for him which could present nightmares for the offense in the event of an injury or lack of production with Tommy Maddox as his backup.
That would put the pressure on an aging Jerrome Bettis who reported into mini camp in the worst off season shape of his long career with flukeamatuma'afala and a currently unhealthy Zereoue as his backups, so no offense but there may be no offense unless Plaxico Burress can continue to get Browns players to come to his parties and get busted. And have I mentioned their strength of schedule, it doesn't let up until December. It will be the toughest division fight for first place in the league. They will finish 2nd.
Choosing the team that would finish 3rd was a challenge to say the least and many of you might find this shocking but the Cincitucky Bengals should look to improve with some added stability in the front office and new towels in the locker room for the second year in a row.
Actually this team could only be a quarterback away from going .500 this year. Say what you will about Corey Dillon but he has continued to produce through nightmare seasons, multiple coaches and numerous quarterbacks. The offensive line is very good and if they keep Darnay Scott they will have depth at the wideout position as well.
The defense is the other obstacle for the Bengals to overcome. Yes, they have a great set of linebackers but without the proper scheme its like Russia trying to get to the moon in the 60's. They have a rocket but don't know how to launch it. The laws of probability say that they cannot continue to fail forever. They will finish 3rd.
Now I see a purple haze forming around the Baltimore Ravens as the team continues to unfold, I forsee many rookie opportunities and mistakes. I see confusion and a quarterback controversy between Redman and Jeff Blake as they experiment with different positions. The only person I will feel sorrow for is Ozzie Newsome who tried to bail the ship and explore his opportunities but was denied permission to talk to other teams.
Peter Boulware and Ray Lewis continue to hold out at this time and I see one at least holding out through the preseason and perhaps beyond. Jamal Lewis at running back can't seem to get through a season without injury and who is his backup? The Ultimate question is can the team avoid brushes with the law, the current defensive line coach, Rex Ryan was charged on June 3rd with 2nd degree assault of one of his neighbors...maybe he just wanted to fit in.
The once mighty Defense has more holes in it than Art Modells moth ridden closet, this team has fallen and they can't get up. They will finish last.
And the AFC North division champion: 'The Cleveland Browns'
The reason I feel this way is not just because I'm a die hard fan, it is a simple fact that if the offensive line can get on the same page by the time the regular season begins that it will open up Clevelands running game which will be much improved with the addition of William Green, the Browns first round draft pick this year. Not to mention, but I will, Jamel White has bulked up in the off season, I have always thought he had potential and you can probably see him as the number two back on the depth chart when the season begins. James Jackson is a great 3rd back in the rotation, he just can't handle the pounding of being an every down back, can you say depth? Still looking for an answer at fullback though.
This of course is going to open up the passing game which will lay on the shoulders of Tim Couch who will have no excuses with the added talent of Andre Davis who will compete for a position at 3rd receiver. Its an offensive domino effect, and it all starts with the line. The addition of Stokes and Tucker and the return of Tre Johnson now makes that possible. Also look for Quincy Morgan to step up as the number two guy opposite Kevin Johnson. On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns have a solid defense that has only strengthened during the off season. I like the fact that they added Earl Holmes (plus if they didn't take him he would have stayed in Pittsburgh and played the Brownies twice a year) and drafted 3 linebackers back-to-back-to-back in the draft to add depth to the position plus helping their special teams out, because you don't have a bunch of defensive backs getting knocked on their tooshes againt kickoff return blockers.
The defensive line has a lot of talent but can never seem to avoid the injury bug. Kenard Lang was aquired as a free agent and will help stop the run which was the defenses weakness last year. They will not match the number of interceptions from last season whichled the league, but they will get more sacks from putting teams in more passing situations.
The secondary is everything the eagles and 49er's are trying to put together in an effort to beat the Rams at the playoff game in theNFC. Depth, Speed, Reaction and good tackling are common traits of this talented group of defensive secondary. It makes me wonder what they will do with Lewis Sanders who was a star on the rise during pre season of last year returning from an injury that caused him to miss the entire 2001 season. And they added Robert Griffith...whew
And the final factor is the igniter that launched this rocket...Butch Davis, who made this team exceed not only my expectation last year but the team itself. Some thought the Browns might take a step back with a new coach implementing a new system and philosophy, but it didn't, it absorbed it like a sponge, and had fans thinking playoffs for the first time since the 'betrayal of Art Mo(money)dell'.
This team now knows what its like to win, and they expect to.
Mark my words, the Clevland Browns will reach the playoffs in 2002 and represent the new AFC North as its champion. Think about all the talented players that I didn't even mention... Daylon McCutcheon, Dwayne Rudd, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, Jamir Miller, Corey Fuller, Anthony Henry and I havn't mentioned an offensive name in this paragraph.
How far they will advance in the playoffs is undetermined by the crystal football, but hop aboard it sure is going to be an exciting ride. I for one can't wait.