Last year the AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs – Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. ESPN analysts Bill Polian, Herm Edwards, and Marcellus Wiley only expect two of the three to make it this year.
But here’s the catch: They say that the odd team out is Pittsburgh.
On Tuesday night, ESPN aired a one hour special on the AFC North that ended with the analysts making their predictions for the division standings. Polian picks the Bengals to finish first, while Wiley and Edwards pick Cincinnati to finish second behind Baltimore. All three analysts have the Steelers finishing third.
“I believe that the Bengals – because they’ve had such a great off-season – will win the division,” said Polian. “I think the Ravens will be a close second and be reckoned with in the playoffs. I think the Steelers had too much change.”
“Baltimore will win the division,” said Wiley. “We saw that this team was one play away from being in the Super Bowl. Then the Cincinnati Bengals…9-7 last year and they improved. They’ll have the same record as the Steelers, but they’ll win the tie-breaker. I’ll go with that because it sounds like heresy to say that the Steelers are third in their division.”
Host Trey Wingo raised the possibility of the Bengals taking a step backward in 2012 if Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have sophomore slumps, but none of the analysts expect that to happen.
“I don’t expect either one of these players to have a sophomore slump,” said Wiley.
“There won’t be a sophomore slump with Green because he can run past the slump,” said Polian. “He’s got the speed and no one can cover him. Speed kills, and he will kill his sophomore slump by catching long passes.”
At this time last year, the Bengals were widely expected to be among the worst teams in the NFL, but they made a five-game improvement from 4-12 to 9-7 to make the playoffs. A big goal this year will be to perform better within the AFC North after going 0-4 vs. the Ravens and Steelers last year.
“If I know Marvin,” said Edwards, “he’s preaching this in this OTA period: ‘Men, we were 2-4 in our division, first of all. We didn’t really beat winning teams. That’s what we have to improve on if we want to be the team to win this division.’ So I think Marvin Lewis is going to say, ‘We did a good job and got into the playoffs at 9-7, but men, here’s the reality of it – let’s not live off of our success.’”
“This is a young team that got an awful lot better in this off-season,” said Polian. “An awful lot better. I think they had the best off-season in the National Football League.”
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