THE AFC NORTH

Street Talk THE AFC NORTH

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Baltimore
 
Baltimore opens the season on the road at Tampa Bay…
 
The Ravens offense takes the field for its first meaningful game with Steve McNair at QB and will be facing the NFL’s #1 ranked defense from 2005… The weather forecast is for clear and sunny conditions with a high temperature of 90 degrees; in more ways than one we’ll see if the Ravens can stand up to the heat… Baltimore is 0-2 all time against Tampa Bay, including a 25-0 shutout by the Bucs at the then PSI Net Stadium in 2002… The Ravens opening day roster includes 18 rookies and 2nd year veterans, 34% of the roster… How will the new look Ravens D-line fare against NFL Rookie of the Year RB Cadillac Williams?  Will Jon Gruden attempt to exploit the match-up of TE Alex Smith against rookie S Dawan Landry?  Will the much-maligned Ravens O-Line be able to stand up to the pocket push that will likely be generated by DE Simeon Rice, DT Chris Hovan, DT Anthony (Booger) McFarland, and DE Greg Spires?  This game has the look of a low scoring defensive struggle; look for the outcome to hinge on a breakaway special teams play or a defensive score.
 
ITH prediction: Tampa Bay 17 Baltimore 13
 
Cincinnati
 
Cincinnati opens the season on the road at Kansas City…
 
QB Carson Palmer and the Bengals offense will be challenged to produce a victory at one of the more difficult venues for road teams in the NFL… The weather forecast is for rain and 79 degrees… Cincinnati is 10-12 all time against the Chiefs including a pasting by KC to the tune of 37-3 in last year’s season finale… The Bengals were 4-0 in the preseason… Which Johnson runs for the most yards, the Bengals’ Rudi or the Chiefs’ Larry?  In last year’s match-up, Larry pilfered the Bengals for 201 yards in a New Year’s Day game rendered meaningless as the Bengals were resting their starters for the playoffs… This year the Bengals think that they are a much better rush defense; and KC is without shelved bookend tackles Willie Roaf and John Welbourn… In a close game the big cats have a huge advantage if Coach Herm Edwards is required to manage the clock.
 
ITH prediction: Cincinnati 27 Kansas City 20
 
Cleveland
 
Cleveland opens their season at home against the New Orleans Saints (nice draw!)…
 
The weather forecast is for showers and 70 degrees… The Browns are 11-3 all time against the Saints… The Browns traded an undisclosed 2008 draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in return for veteran Center Hank Fraley, the 6th Center fielded by Cleveland since LeCharles Bentley was injured on the 1st day of training camp…(so much for that familiarity with the line calls theory) GM Phil Savage tried to pick up a DB from the NY Jets via a trade for RB Lee Suggs, but Suggs failed the Jets physical exam and the Browns eventually cut him… Remember when Ravens fans were upset that Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome traded up one spot with Savage to draft Haloti Ngata; it turns out that the Browns used that pick on DT Babatunde Oshinowo; who was also cut… The Browns will be facing a revamped Saints team that includes RB Reggie Bush, QB Drew Brees and 5 players who were picked off waivers on Sunday; new Coach Sean Payton wants to rid the roster of the 3-13 poisoners from 2005… If WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow Jr can get healthy and stay that way, the Browns will actually have some weapons on offense.   
  
ITH prediction: Cleveland 26 New Orleans 17
 
Pittsburgh
 
Pittsburgh opens the season at home and faces the Miami Dolphins in the kick-off to the 2006 NFL season on Thursday night…
 
The Steelers are 9-11 all time against the Dolphins… The weather forecast calls for a picture perfect high of 74 degrees and a night time low of 59 degrees… Pittsburgh lost all 4 preseason games and will start the game with Charlie Batch at QB… Ben Roethlisberger will miss the game as he recovers from surgery after an emergency appendectomy on Sunday… The Steelers success in the postseason stemmed largely from their ability to pressure the passer and they face Daunte Culpepper and an O-line that allowed only 26 sacks in 2005… The Steelers O-line will also have to contend with a challenge from a Miami defense that tied a team record by tallying 49 sacks in 2005.
 
ITH prediction: Pittsburgh 20 Miami 17

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Eric Buckner

About Eric Buckner

Eric Buckner is a native of Baltimore and has lived in the area his entire life. A graduate of Towson University , Eric has been a student of professional football since the day he wept in his grandfather's bedroom after the Baltimore Colts were upset by the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. A loyal fan of the Colts and subsequently the Ravens, Eric's passion for the NFL is unwavering as evidenced by his near flawless attendance record at Ravens' games. He's missed only one preseason game -- back in 2005. We'll cut him some slack since he was on his honeymoon. You won't find Eric slacking when it comes to covering the AFC North for ProFootball24x7.com.   More from Eric Buckner

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