The Pittsburgh Steelers. The Baltimore Ravens. James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Ed Reed. Cleveland and Cincinnati. Which one does not belong?
If this were one of those grade school multiple choice questions, it would be about as hard to figure out as spelling your name right at the top of the page.
In a division dominated by years and years of tough Pittsburgh and/or Baltimore defenses, it seems as if Cleveland and Cincinnati have missed the boat—over and over and over again.
The landscape of the AFC North does not appear to be changing anytime soon. All of those players listed above are back in the fold for their respective teams in addition to a new crop of talent added via free agency and the NFL draft.
While some of the more familiar faces will change—Rex Ryan, for example, left Baltimore's sideline to become the Jets' next head coach—the philosophies remain the same for the division's top two teams: defense wins championships.
That philosophy helped both Baltimore and Pittsburgh reach the postseason last year and win Super Bowls this decade (twice for the Steelers).
In a division led by two teams that are throwbacks to a meaner, nastier era of professional football, the Browns stick out like a sore thumb.
Once again in rebuilding mode, perhaps new head coach Eric Mangini will take an approach similar to that of the Steelers and Ravens by building a tougher football team. But a process like that will take time, several years even, until Cleveland can level the playing field with two teams that are well established as elite contenders in the AFC.
Mangini was able to turn the New York Jets around rather quickly in his first stint as an NFL head coach. But he also had the luxury of veteran leadership in the locker room and a roster filled with a decent amount of talent thanks to savvy decision-making by the Jets' front office.
Mangini will have no such luxury in Cleveland, a franchise that has been run into the ground by former GM Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel, who made bad decision after bad decision, save one fluke 10-6 season a few years ago.
All of these factors leave Cleveland's playoff chances in 2009 as slim to none.
Stranger things have happened in the NFL, and Mangini was able to lead the Jets to the postseason in his first season as a head coach. Despite bringing several of his former players over from New York, however, playing Pittsburgh and Baltimore four times this season likely will leave the Browns four games behind both of those teams in the loss column.
That is just too much ground to make up in a division headlined by two of the most physically and mentally tough teams in the NFL.
http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1760 ... sults#poll