1. Baltimore Ravens
This will be their last chance to stay ahead of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati with this current roster.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Time to get back to running the ball and rushing the passer in the Steel City.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Three straight years of playoff disappointments eventually take their toll.
4. Cleveland Browns
With all of the Manziel hype this team has a chance to succeed if ownership gets out of the way.
Head Coach: John Harbaugh
Key Position: Running Back – With the questions surrounding their starter Ray Rice both on and off the field the Ravens need him to regain his Pro Bowl form. If he doesn’t this season with a 2-game suspension then Bernard Pierce will have to be the guy. He hasn’t lived up to his potential in his three seasons. Justin Forsett isn’t the best backup plan, but he has experience in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system in Houston.
Key Acquisitions: TE Owen Daniels (Houston Texans), RB Justin Forsett (Jacksonville Jaguars), WR Steve Smith (Carolina Panthers), C Jeremy Zuttah (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Key Rookies: LB C.J. Mosley, DT Timmy Jernigan, S Terrence Brooks
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin
Key Position: Running Back – As soon as they signed Blount you knew that the Steelers wanted to go back to their old ways of pounding the football. With him and emerging RB Le’Veon Bell the Steelers believe they have one of the best combos in the league. You add rookie Dri Archer in the mix and the Steelers will make defensive coaches’ heads spin. This is all done to put less pressure on Roethlisberger.
Key Acquisitions: RB LeGarrette Blount (New England Patriots), S Mike Mitchell (Carolina Panthers), WR Lance Moore (New Orleans Saints), DT Cam Thomas (San Diego Chargers)
Key Rookies: LB Ryan Shazier, DE Stephon Tuitt, RB Dri Archer, WR Martavis Bryant
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis
Key Position: Quarterback – Before training camp even started the Bengals gave QB Andy Dalton a new extension showing their trust in him as a franchise quarterback. He has been very successful in his first three seasons with the Bengals getting them to three playoff appearances. His problem is that he doesn’t look very comfortable in that playoff setting. Granted his first two playoff starts were on the road. Another early exit or a no-show in the playoffs this year will bring more criticism to Dalton and the franchise.
Key Acquisitions: QB Jason Campbell (Cleveland Browns), S Danieal Manning (Houston Texans), T Marshall Newhouse (Green Bay Packers)
Key Rookies: CB Darqueze Dennard, RB Jeremy Hill
Head Coach: Mike Pettine (Buffalo Bills)
Key Position: Running Back – Their leading rusher had 377 yards last year. That’s it. Getting Ben Tate was the only choice for the Browns and getting Terrance West in the 3rd round of the draft wasn’t a bad idea either. Cleveland has some holes to fill this season and most likely next year too, but if they fix the running game this year that will be one big problem finally solved.
Key Acquisitions: WR Miles Austin (Dallas Cowboys), WR Nate Burleson (Detroit Lions), LB Karlos Dansby (Arizona Cardinals), G Paul McQuistan (Seattle Seahawks), RB Ben Tate (Houston Texans), S Donte Whitner (San Francisco 49ers)
Key Rookies: CB Justin Gilbert, QB Johnny Manziel, G Joel Bitonio, LB Christian Kirksey, RB Terrance West