AFC NORTH: Let’s get ready to rumble

Street Talk AFC NORTH: Let’s get ready to rumble

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The season is finally upon us. In The Hood takes a look at the first week match-ups involving teams in the AFC North. The NFL schedule-makers were kind to the division as all 4 teams open at home this year.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs

The Ravens open their schedule with 2 games against AFC West foes. The home opener against the Chiefs looks like a much easier contest than the Chargers match in week 2. New Chiefs QB Matt Cassell is questionable and was limited in practice on Wednesday but most observers expect KC’s shiny new toy to play despite injuring his knee in the 3rd pre-season game. TE Tony Gonzales now resides in Atlanta and outside of WR Dwayne Bowe, there are no names that stand out as threats in the Chiefs receiving corps. Can Larry Johnson and a stable of solid backs run the ball against the Ravens? Can a young Chiefs defense with some legitimate NFL talent slow down Joe Flacco & Co.?

John Harbaugh insists that the Ravens are not taking this team lightly, but his Lou Holtz-like statements can’t be taken too seriously. Kansas City was 2-14 in 2008 and a new coach and QB weren’t given any breaks by the schedule maker. They do have history on their side as KC is 3-0 all-time in Baltimore versus the Ravens. A lot of young and talented players will need to protect the football for the Chiefs to even have a chance in this one. ITH doesn’t see that happening and sees the Ravens rolling in the opener. Don’t expect to hear the infamous voice of the Chiefs declaring, “Touchdown KAN-SAS CITY!!!!!!!!” this week.

PREDICTION:      Baltimore   31     Kansas City   6 

 
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos

“Who Dey” opens at home against a once-proud franchise in the Broncos that nobody wants to play for any more. Shunned by Jay Cutler (Bears); the Broncos march into the Queen City with a “bad–throwing-hand- index-fingered” Kyle Orton leading the offense and calling the shots for new Coach Josh McDaniels.

The good citizens of Cincinnati are sincerely hoping that Brandon Marshall and Chris Henry decide not to hang out together on Saturday night …, if you know what I mean. Somebody might get beaten up.

Carson Palmer having recovered from a pre-season ankle injury could be tested by a Broncos secondary that includes the likes of CB Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman, as well as S Brian Dawkins. The new-look offensive line in Cincy will need to contain DE and sack-happy Elvis Dumervil to keep Palmer in the game. Look for Marvin Lewis to pound the Broncos with the rushing attack to take control of this game on the ground, and hope that their newly minted 3-4 defensive scheme does enough to keep the Broncos from outscoring them.

PREDICTION:      Cincinnati   24     Denver   20 

 
Cleveland Browns vs. Minnesota Vikings

The Browns under new Head Coach Eric Mangini have decided to keep their starting QB choice a secret. Recent reports from NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora point to Brady Quinn, but do you really think the Vikings care which one it is? The Browns have lost 5 straight at home and host a Vikings squad that appears loaded on both sides of the football. Indeed many believe that Minnesota could make it all the way in 2009. On the other hand, the Browns have more question marks than the Riddler. 
 

It will be difficult for the Browns to run the ball on both the Williams’ that play tackle for the Vikes. They’ll have to work the perimeter, so perhaps rookie James Davis should get the nod over the elder-statesman and the Peter King man-crushed Jamal Lewis. Braylon Edwards will find it difficult to get open against the Viking secondary, but even if he does, will he catch the ball? But look for “Quin-derson” to find Kellen Winslow to dump it to when in trouble… oops; Winslow plays for Tampa. Uh-oh!

Do the Browns have an answer for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor? Will the Orioles win the AL East?

On paper, this looks like a blow out, but ITH thinks that the pumpkins will find a way to keep this one close.

 
PREDICTION:      Minnesota   23     Cleveland   17
 
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans

What a great game with which to start the season. Wish I had a dollar for every time the NFL Network shows the replay of Titans RB Len Dale White stomping on the Terrible Towel in last year’s match-up. Last December, the Titans pretty much had their way with the Steelers in a game that locked-up home field throughout the playoffs for the Titans. During the game the Titans defense wouldn’t allow Big Ben to leave the pocket and forced several un- Ben- like turnovers including a spectacular Mike Griffin interception on a throw Ben was baited into making.

But as they say, that was then and this is now. While Jeff Fisher does an excellent job preparing his team for tough road games, the Steelers have revenge on their side and don’t want to disappoint their loyal fans in their opener. The Titans need Chris Johnson to make some plays on the edge to have a real chance in this one. Look for an improving Steelers O-Line that doesn’t have to face Haynesworth this time to protect Roethlisberger and carve out some running lanes to provide the Steelers with a victory in a hard-hitting battle.

ITH would love to see a helmet-less fist-fight between Hines Ward (the original Pumpkin-head) and Cortland Finnegan (Pumpkin-head II) when they cross paths early in the game. Be more fun to watch than the game itself.

PREDICTION:      Pittsburgh   23     Tennessee   13
 
 
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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.
 

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