TOP NOTCH SPORTS PICKS
AFC North Division:
1) Pittsburgh: The Steelers are still the crème of the crop in the AFC North having now won 31 of their last 38 contests and having been in the playoffs 4 of the past 5 years, however, they must guard against complacency after finally getting over the proverbial hump and winning HC Bill Cowher’s first Super Bowl. The Steelers must over come not only the distractions that naturally come from winning an NFL Championship but also the distraction of starting QB Ben Roethlisberger’s near career ending motorcycle crash. Roster wise Pittsburgh should be okay, they lost WR Randal El but he would have been the teams 3rd wide out anyway and they drafted to cover his special team return duties, the loss to free agency of SS Chris Hope will probably hurt an already weak secondary, unless of course former Redskin free agent Ryan Clark pans out and Pittsburgh is once again able to produce an excellent pass rush to protect that secondary. Projected record: 11-5
**Look to play AGAINST the Steelers in their season opening home game versus Miami, Dolphin HC Nick Saban brought former Buffalo HC Mike Mularkey on board to run the offense this year and brought former Houston HC Dom Capers on board to run the defense this year, both Mularkey and Capers were offensive and defensive coordinators with Pittsburgh and know the Steeler schemes inside and out, watch the spread in this game because historically speaking Miami is a perfect 7-0 ATS when installed as doggies of 6 points or more.
2) Baltimore: The Ravens had an excellent draft and got a serious upgrade at QB with the signing of former Titan QB Steve McNair who takes over the QB duties from Kyle Boller, McNair will be reunited with WR Derrick Mason who was his favorite target while both were still on the Titans payroll. McNair has been hobbled with injuries over the past few years but in the big picture the guy is only 33 years old and appears to be healthy once again, new surroundings could give him a much needed shot in the arm. As inconsistent as QB Kyle Boller has been over the past few seasons he is still the best back up QB in the division because he knows the offense and was the former starter. The Ravens suffered numerous injuries along both sides of the ball last year and that led to a very disappointing 6-10 season, the signing of McNair should give a now healthy Raven defense more rest, all six Raven wins last year came at home in Baltimore and that’s good news when considering San Diego, Carolina, and Atlanta are on this years visiting list. Projected record: 10-6
**Look to play ON the Ravens November 5th when divisional rival Cincy rides into town, the Ravens were a beat up injured team last year and the Bengals took advantage of that fact by sweeping the seasonal series for the first time since 1996 which was the Ravens first season in the league, according to the ole history book Baltimore has covered 7 of their last 9 home games against these Kitty Kats.
3) Cincinnati: The Bengals won the AFC North last season with a record of 11-5 but indications are they will fall short of that mark in 2006, for starters lets not forget that the status of QB Carson Palmer is still up in the air with regard to his ability to come back in time for the start of the regular season, a lot of media pundits predicting his return fall to remember that in September he will only be 8 months removed from that devastating knee injury he suffered in January. The opinion here is that Cincy should have held onto backup QB Jon Kitna for insurance instead of letting him go to Detroit, as it is the Bengals will be forced to use free agent journeyman Anthony Wright (who doesn’t know the offense) should Palmer not be ready or should he go down with injury again. Then there is the little matter of all the off field distractions that have plagued the Bengal organization with regard to numerous players getting into trouble with either the law or the NFL including the loss of starting linebacker Odell Thurman who is suspended for the first four games of the regular season. In the big picture Cincy made strides last season but they have too many problems and especially on the defensive side of the ball where they finished with a shoddy 28th ranking in overall defense. Projected record: 9-7
**Look to play AGAINST these Bengals when they visit Baltimore on November 5th, the Ravens were a beat up injured team last year and the Bengals took advantage of that fact by sweeping the seasonal series for the first time since 1996 which was the Ravens first season in the league, according to the ole history book Baltimore has covered 7 of their last 9 home games against these Kitty Kats.
4) Cleveland: These Brownies appear to be this years AFC “trendy pick” by the media talking heads with regard to a team that has the ability to come out of nowhere and surprise. In truth I believe Cleveland will be a much improved team this year but will not surpass the six game win total of last year. Sure they have WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow back healthy from injury and yes they signed WR Joe Jurevicius and LB Willie McGinest to add veteran leadership on both sides of the ball, however, the Brownies tossed veteran QB Trent Dilfer away (to the 49ers) and will start QB Charlie Frye. To back up Frye the Browns brought in former backup 49er QB Ken Dorsey. The Brownies also brought in Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley and OG Bob Hallen to bolster a weak offensive line and wouldn’t you know it, on the very first play of the very first practice Bentley blew out his knee and is done for the year forcing the Browns to convert recently acquired OG Bob Hallen to center.
The Brownies finished last season ranked 26th in total offense and will be hard pressed to better that mark with an unproven inexperienced QB under center and a converted guard playing center. Cleveland has a tough row to hoe this year with regard to having six games against tough divisional opponents in addition to having to face Carolina, San Diego, and Atlanta all on the road and hosting Kansas City and Tampa, as already mentioned I think these Brownies will be a better team overall this year but simply can not see them improving on last years win total. Projected record: 6-10
** Look to play AGAINST these Brownies when they visit Carolina on October 8th, Cleveland will be playing on the road for the 3rd time in a 4 week span and will also be playing with jet lag having just played at Oakland the week before, as a side note, according to the ole history book Cleveland is a shoddy 1-7 ATS as a non-conference road doggie of 7 or less points.