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Know your AFC North


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Times are a-changing in the AFC North, where, heading into his sixth season in command of the Bengals, Marvin Lewis is the division's senior head coach.

Baltimore fired longtime coach Brian Billick after the 2007 season and hired former University of Cincinnati assistant John Harbaugh from the Philadelphia Eagles' staff. Romeo Crennel is entering his fourth season in Cleveland, and Mike Tomlin his second in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers, who won the division at 10-6 last season, are favored again. But the Browns - aggressive in free agency and on the trade market - are the national media darlings.

But they'd better beware of excessive expectations that befell the Bengals in 2006 and the New Orleans Saints in 2007.


Billick wasn't the Ravens' only major loss this past offseason. Quarterback Steve McNair retired in April, forcing the team to return its fate into the hands of first-round draft disappointment Kyle Boller. Baltimore invested its first-round pick this year in former Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco.

The Ravens always have a tough defense, and the return of coordinator Rex Ryan will help maintain continuity. Cam Cameron is the team's new offensive coordinator.

The Ravens want to run the ball, a job made more difficult by the retirement of 11-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden.


The high-scoring offense of quarterback Derek Anderson and big-play catchers Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow gets most of the attention, but general manager Phil Savage traded for defensive linemen

Corey Williams (Packers) and Shaun Rogers (Lions), grabbing the latter out from underneath the Bengals.

The secondary is young, especially after cornerback Leigh Bodden was let go to get Rogers. The training camp starters are second-year corners Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald.

Anderson was re-signed as a restricted free agent, seemingly sentencing 2007 first-round pick Brady Quinn - the fan favorite - to the bench for another three years.

The philosophy is to win now, with Savage defining 2008-10 as the prime window to bring a title back to the shores of Lake Erie. But the undercurrent of instability at quarterback could sink the Browns' high hopes.


The Steelers signed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a big contract extension but let perennial Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca leave in free agency for the Jets.

Tomlin stayed true to Steelers tradition in his 10-6 rookie season, running the ball and relying on ageless coordinator Dick LeBeau's zone-blitz defense.

Few teams have groomed backups in the free agency era more effectively than the Steelers, or let aging stars go at the right time. Chris Kemoeatu replaces Faneca, LaMarr Woodley replaces Clark Haggans at left outside linebacker, and first-round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall is expected to add power to Willie Parker's speed at running back.

Mark Curnutte


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Some injury notes already, too. Jerod Gaither, possible heir to Ogden, sprained his ankle, and Haloti Ngata sffered a "mild" mcl tear. Browns TE Steve Heiden screwed up his knee and G Seth McKinney has a sprained ankle. And in Pitt, NT Casey Hampton is on PUP after pulling a Jeremi Johnson in the offseason.

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