AFC North: The preseason preview

Like a weekly lunch buffet special, the NFL preseason will give you plenty to chew on.

To whet our appetites, here is a brief outline of what to watch for in the coming weeks. Reason, well there’s value in paying attention to the preseason and training camp battles.If not, you may become last year’s fantasy owner who drafted Donald Brown and Darrius Heyward-Bey and overlooked Ray Rice and Miles Austin.

Let’s start in the AFC North with the Ravens, Bengals, Browns and Steelers:

Baltimore Raves

  • A match made in Raven: Anquan Boldin’s arrival is as much needed and timely a WR arrival as, well Brandon Marshall in Miami. We’ll finally get to see how Boldin can produce as a clear cut No. 1 guy. He did have more than 100 receptions with 8 TDs his rookie year in Arizona, a year before Larry Fitzgerald arrived. It will give us a lot of confidence if Boldin can show he is clicking with Joe Flacco and the new offense in his limited time this preseason.
  • How ya go Joe?: A wonderful rookie year followed by a solid second year, so this is the year Flacco takes the step into the elite fantasy QB arena. We’ll get a clue this preseason. For the first time in his career, Flacco has all of the pieces, so no excuses. Plus, these are young pieces he can grow with. This may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!
  • Scrap Heap: Fantasy rankings may say Todd Heap is still a solid fantasy option. I say hogwash, having watched tons of Ravens games in recent years and noticing Heap is nowhere near the 70-reception, 7-TD TE he was in the mid-2000s. Flacco just doesn’t look for him on third down or in the red zone, two kisses of deaths for fantasy relevance. This preseason may be his last stand, especially since the Ravens invested two draft picks on tight ends. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Heap doesn’t make the team out of camp, if rookies Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson play especially well.

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Ocho dos: Chad “Johnson” rebounded from a rough ’08 campaign to show us he is still a solid No. 1 receiver. The question is who will be Ochocinco’s T.J. Houshmanzadeh. The Bengals are hoping it’s Antonio Bryant, but I’m suspecting it ends up being someone else. Andre Caldwell, Quan Cosby, Dezmon Briscoe, well we’ll see.
  • A Gresham novel: Jermaine Gresham has the talent and opportunity to be the Rookie of the Year and the biggest rookie fantasy player, and the Bengals sure hope so. The TE corps is very young (all four with three years or less experience), anchored by injury-prone 2009 draft pick Chase Coffman. This position battle will be intriguing and very important to the Bengals’ success this year.
  • Seeing through the jungle: Cedric Benson came from the scrap heap to save the running game with an impressive 2009 campaign. Can he reproduce that production? I’m sure. I’m also aware the lifespan of a RB is short, even being one hit away from being obsolete. The Bengals have a solid group of backs with Bernard Scott (capable of 1,000 yards) and Brian Leonard (Carson Palmer’s favorite third down receiver).

Cleveland Browns

  • Moving West: If there was one team in need of a complete offensive makeover it’s the Browns. With the new regime, Cleveland will be headed the West Coast offensive route, favored by Mike Holmgren. We’ll get our first glimpse of this transformation in the preseason, which will tell us a lot of what to expect.
  • Scoring a six pack: If, and when, Cleveland gets in position to score who will be the man? Hopefully, we find a clue this preseason. Running; we assume it will be Jerome Harrison. Passing; we figure it to be…
  • Cleveland Cribbs: It’s become clear in the past two years Josh Cribbs is Cleveland’s best offensive weapon. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a clear role, which negatively impacts his fantasy value. Cribbs has the ingredients of being a dynamic player who can score on any play from any position. What that position is has yet to be defined. Maybe we get a clue this preseason  as to where we can put Cribbs on our fantasy roster, if at all?

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Big Ben’s wing men: Many fantasy owners are going to avoid this position all together this season, but remember, the Steelers are going to be among the best in the AFC. Whoever the starting QB is in wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension can be a viable fantasy start. This makes the preseason battle between Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon a must watch. Four of the Steelers first five opponents: Atlanta, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and Cleveland.
  • Running through walls: With Roethlisberger’s absence, Pittsburgh will arguably revert more back to the pounding ground game it’s known for. That means plenty of Rashard Mendenhall. I say just because he looks good in jeans doesn’t mean he should sell them. Remember, this Illinois alum was benched last year for not knowing the playbook, got hurt in his rookie year and wore down considerably in December last year. Odds are he won’t be the No. 1 guy the whole season, so who will? We’ll see this preseason.
  • No. 2 who?: Hines Ward may be entering his 13th season, but he is clearly Pittsburgh’s No. 1 red zone and third down target. The key question is who is No. 2, specially with Santonio Holmes shipped the Super Bowl champion New York Jets? Mike Wallace made some headway last season but will it be enough. The Steelers drafted his twin, Emmanuel Sanders, who is surely going to get some reps this preseason.

Jay-Mo’s other preseason previews:

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West

NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West







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