As the Ravens aim for their third straight AFC North title, their division rivals hope a new champ emerges in 2013.
Just like the Ravens, the Bengals, Browns and Steelers have all been busy this offseason. Here are three faces in new places that could make it harder for the Ravens to win another division crown.
@ Bengals, LB James Harrison – The Ravens are used to butting heads with Harrison in a Steelers uniform. Now with the Bengals, Harrison could improve Cincinnati ‘s pass rush. Joe Flacco had a superb game against the Bengals in Week 1 last season, completing 21 of 29 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions for a season high 128.4 passer rating. The Ravens’ two games against the Bengals could go a long way toward deciding the division champion. At age 35, Harrison is not the player he once was, but he has something to prove and knows all about the Ravens-Steelers rivalry. If he helps the Bengals win a critical game or two, his addition will have been worth it.
@ Browns, LB Barkevious Mingo – The sixth pick in the draft, Mingo could be an immediate impact player. Listen to what Cardinals rookie Tyrann Mathieu said about Mingo last week.
“He’s a freak, man,” Mathieu told The Morning Journal of northern Ohio. “I’ve never played with anybody as freakish as him. He’s all natural. He’s not the biggest guy. He’s not the strongest guy, but he’s the most athletic out of the bunch. He’s definitely going to make some great plays in a Browns uniform.”
To most observers, the Browns still don’t look strong enough to win the AFC North. But the Browns could play the spoiler role if Mingo helped them knock off the Ravens at least once.
@ Steelers, Le’Veon Bell, RB – He could start as a rookie, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin likes having a workhorse back. Bell led the nation in carries (328) at Michigan St. last year, and if he can beat out Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman during training camp, the starting job will be Bell’s. The Ravens were not very good against the run last season, and opponents are sure to test their run defense in 2013. If Bell becomes difficult for the Ravens to stop, it will only make quarterback Ben Roethlisberger harder to contain.
While the Ravens remain confident in their ability to win the AFC North, their division rivals have added new players to game plan for.