2012 NFL Season Countdown: AFC North Preview

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Football is now officially just two weeks away, and as the season gets closer, we have been previewing each of the NFL's eight divisions. So far, we have covered the AFC East (Click here to view) and the AFC South (Click here to view); today we shift to the AFC North, perhaps the league's toughest division.

Baltimore Ravens

Top Ravens Games of 2012

Sept. 23 vs. Patriots Tickets »
Oct. 14 vs. Cowboys Tickets »
Dec. 2 vs. Steelers Tickets »
Dec. 23 vs. Giants Tickets »
Ravens TN.com Team Page »

For more than a decade now, the Baltimore Ravens have been known for their defensive prowess, and during that time, they have seemingly had the same cast of characters, and 2012 is no different. Linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are back again, and the team's defense should continue to be one of the league's best. The offense will be relying on running back Ray Rice as well as quarterback Joe Flacco, who needs to continue to improve if the Ravens want to find postseason success.

Projection: The AFC North is one of the most difficult to predict, but with their great defense and All-Pro running back Ray Rice, the Ravens should be in the postseason and should be favorites to win the division title.

Cincinnati Bengals

Top Bengals Games of 2012

Sept. 16 vs. Browns Tickets »
Oct. 21 vs. Steelers Tickets »
Nov. 4 vs. Broncos Tickets »
Dec. 9 vs. Cowboys Tickets »
Bengals TN.com Team Page »

The Bengals were the surprise team of 2011, going from 4-12 in 2010 to 9-7 last year, including a trip to the playoffs. The team's quick turnaround was thanks to the rookie duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, who both outperformed expectations. Cincinnati's success this season will be predicated on those two players' continued progression, and a step back from them could mean a step back for the team.

Projection: The Bengals are still a young team and won't surprise anybody this season as they did last year. In a division with heavyweights like the Steelers and Ravens, the Bengals will struggle to win the division, but they should be right there for a Wild Card spot.

Cleveland Browns

Top Browns Games of 2012

Sept. 9 vs. Eagles Tickets »
Oct. 28 vs. Chargers Tickets »
Nov. 25 vs. Steelers Tickets »
Dec. 16 vs. Redskins Tickets »
Browns TN.com Team Page »

The Browns struggled throughout the 2011 season, finishing with a record of 4-12 and landing in last place in the division. The team used the draft to try to improve their offense (which ranked 29th in the NFL last year), selecting running back Trent Richardson in the first round and quarterback Brandon Wheedon in the second. The team still has a lot of holes on both sides of the ball, and 2012 could be another long one for the team and its fans.

Projection: Unless Richardson and Wheedon exceed all expectations, the Browns are looking at another year in the basement of the division.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Top Steelers Games of 2012

Sept. 16 vs. Jets Tickets »
Oct. 7 vs. Eagles Tickets »
Nov. 18 vs. Ravens Tickets »
Dec. 9 vs. Chargers Tickets »
Steelers TN.com Team Page »

The Steelers have been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL over the last decade and should once again be near the top of the AFC come the end of the year. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needs to stay away from injuries this season for the Steelers to be successful, something he has struggled with in previous seasons.

Projection: The Steelers could be described as co-favorites with the Ravens for the division title and with good reason. At the end of 2012, expect the Steelers to be playing in the postseason.

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