When all the dust settled in the AFC North, there was one team at the top of the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals. All four teams fought and scraped to win the division or just make the playoffs, but in the end it was the Bengals who won the division.
The Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were all left in the wake. The Browns were not even remotely close to making the playoffs. The defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens were not the same team as the year before, very inconsistent play on both offense and defense. The Steelers started out horribly, but redeemed themselves enough to get to 8-8 and barely missed getting the Wild Card spot.
The Cleveland Browns have the most work to do next year, with selecting a new coaching staff, either drafting, trading or picking a quarterback from within. The Browns need to bring in a head coach that can motivate and mold the current and future players to have a winning attitude. The Browns will be interviewing for coaching positions in the next weeks to get the new staff on board and working toward getting the 2014 season schemes ready to go. The Browns also truly have to get their quarterback situation under control or they will not get anywhere. In my estimation the Browns organization have traditionally not spent enough money to attract the really good and elite players. The Browns have not been playing to their potential as a team.
Looking at the Baltimore Ravens who were the defending Super Bowl champions for most of the year looked nothing like champions. Joe Flacco got the big contract and his play did not look like it warranted the money that the Ravens paid him. Another reason that the Ravens looked like another team were the departures of two key components on the Ravens defense in future Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Reed signed with the Texans and ultimately ended up with the New York Jets at the end of the season. 2 time Super Bowl Champion, MVP, Pro Bowl Linebacker Ray Lewis retires from the game that he loves so much. Those two were the heart and soul of the defense. Running Back Ray Rice was injured a lot during the season and his production dropped of significantly. There are many more things that could be said, but losing the heart and soul of your team takes a lot out of the players and coaches and the whole organization.
The Pittsburgh Steelers started the off-season by firing first year offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. The Steelers offensive line was in trouble all season long. Losing center Maurkice Pouncey at the beginning of the season to injury. Pouncey is the best lineman that the Steelers have on their roster. Fixing their offensive line problems is paramount to the Steelers success in the upcoming season. Coaches Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley should sit down with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and start working on the offensive schemes that worked well, and refine others and throw out the ones that do not work. Filling in gaps in the defense will need to be addressed also because Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor are starting to show age.
I look to 2014 to be a much better year for the AFC North. It is still one of the toughest divisions in the NFL and with its fierce rivalries will be a sight to behold.
Mike Samuels is the AFC North Division Leader and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on twitter @steeler_mike, and Http://www.facebook.com/TheSportsDude