Ultimate Depth Chart: AFC North
SportsCenter's Ultimate Depth Chart series will break down each NFL division over the next two weeks.
It's always a long summer in anticipation of the new NFL season, but "SportsCenter" has come up with a way to keep your attention aimed between the end zones.
|ULTIMATE DEPTH CHART|
June 11 -- AFC East: Story
June 12 -- AFC West: Story
June 13 -- AFC North: Story
June 14 -- AFC South: Story
June 15 -- AFC: Story
June 18 -- NFC East: Story
June 19 -- NFC West: Story
June 20 -- NFC North: Story
June 21 -- NFC South: Story
June 22 -- NFC: Vote
Watch "SportsCenter" and check back each day to see the expert picks as well as the results from SportsNation.
Best offense in the AFC North?
Mark Schlereth: Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals easily have the best offense in the division. The Bengals have the ability to be as explosive as any team in the league through the air and can run the ball with the best of them. This offense will miss WR Chris Henry, who is out for eight games while serving a league-mandated suspension, but the Bengals will be just fine throwing to T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson while he's out.
Merril Hoge: Bengals
This is a complete offense with QB Carson Palmer, WR Johnson and one of the most underrated running backs in the league with Rudi Johnson running the rock. They can cut you so many different ways with those three guys because there is no area of the field they can't attack. Johnson has the ability to run any route that is thrown at him, and Palmer can make all the throws.
Joe Theismann: Bengals
This is an explosive team with one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Palmer. What makes this offense better than most is its offensive line, which does an amazing job of keeping defenders off Palmer and giving Johnson time to hit his holes and accelerate into the second level of the defense.
Best defense in the AFC North?
Schlereth: Baltimore Ravens
You can't bet against a defense that is led by Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. These two are perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates. They are smart and aggressive and know not only where they should be but also where every defender on the field should be at all times. This means that when a younger defender makes a mistake, Reed and Lewis can process that information quickly and do what is necessary to rectify the situation. That may mean filling a spot on the fly or changing the game plan and showing the quarterback a different look to force him away from that area. Simply put, these two play chess on the field, and that's why the Ravens are the best in the AFC North.
The Ravens are still the best, even with vaunted defender Adalius Thomas leaving to go to New England via free agency. This is one of the most versatile and aggressive defenses in the league, as they can mix it up to confuse basically any quarterback in the league. This is the type of defense that offensive coordinators brew extra pots of coffee to get ready to face.
This is a team with a slew of Pro Bowl-caliber players at every level. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan loves versatility, and the Ravens have the personnel not only to execute Ryan's complex schemes but also to thrive in them. This is an extreme, aggressive brand of defensive football.
Best team in the AFC North?
While defense leads the Ravens, they will get a huge shot in the arm offensively with the arrival of RB Willis McGahee. He's the type of big-play threat that has been missing from the Ravens' offense in recent years. He and QB Steve McNair should lead this team to a division title.
The Bengals get the nod because of the defensive improvements they've made. Don't forget that coach Marvin Lewis is one of the foremost defensive minds in the league. There's no doubt that he hasn't been happy in recent years with the play of his defense, but that is subject to change as he finally has the type of personnel necessary for him to finally execute his schemes.
McNair and McGahee are the reasons why Baltimore is my pick. McNair is one of the best leaders in football, and he has another year under his belt with coach Brian Billick's offensive scheme and with his receivers. Bringing in McGahee gives this team the type of big-play threat that hasn't been seen in Baltimore from the running-back position since Jamal Lewis' 2,000-yard season.