The AFC North has been one of the more fierce divisions in football for quite some time.
The competition between the Ravens, Steelers, Browns, and Bengals has always been competitive.
As we enter the 2010 season, there was disappointment around the division in regards to last season.
The Cincinnati Bengals took the division with ease, sweeping the division.
The Baltimore Ravens made the playoffs with a 9-7 record, while the defending champion Steelers didn't make the playoffs at all.
However, despite these stats, the division still had three teams that finished in the top five in total defense (Ravens, Steelers, Bengals).
With that in mind, my prediction may be bold to some, but the truth to many—the AFC North will be the best division in the NFL in 2010.
Yes, I know, the AFC East did quite a bit to create an argument, but the off-season for the AFC North as a whole was arguably the best in the league.
Big Acquisitions Via Trade And Free Agency
The AFC North was active in the trade/free agency market this season.
Cincinnati and Baltimore saw major needs at the receiver position, and to take the next step, upgrades had to be made—neither disappointed.
Anquan Boldin and Dante Stallworth brought not only talent, but veteran leadership to Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense.
The Cincinnati Bengals gave Antonio Bryant a multi-year contract to go on the opposite side of Chad Ochocinco.
Bryant has been with quite a few teams, but the talent is there. His talent will strive in Cincinnati, especially with Ochocinco on his side.
The Cleveland Browns went through major changes in the front office, with Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert leading the way.
Cleveland's acquisition of quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace brings a veteran leadership at the quarterback position. Newly drafted QB Colt McCoy now has time to learn the system.
Success At The NFL Draft
Looking back, the AFC North might have had the best draft in the league.
Look at these names: Sergio Kindle, Joe Haden, Terrence Cody, Colt McCoy, Maurkice Pouncey, Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Jordan Shipley, Jermaine Gresham, Emmanuel Sanders, and others.
The Baltimore Ravens added youth on defense and bolstered their offensive attack. Sergio Kindle and Terrence Cody—drafted in the Second Round—were some of the best value picks in the whole draft.
Kindle will have a solid role in the Ravens defense. He won't face the pressure of starting, but will be used on key positions. Terrence Cody, on the other hand, has been proving doubters wrong.
He has reportedly lost 25 lbs. since the Senior Bowl. Kindle will create trouble with Haloti Ngata against rushing attacks that come their way.
On the other side of the ball, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta were two great tight end selections. Dickson is more of an athletic tight end that can run 20 plus yards down the field.
Pitta is more of a Dallas Clark (yes, the comparison is huge), that can get big chunks of yards from the slot position. These players highlighted another great draft from the Ravens organization.
The Cincinnati Bengals make a compelling argument as well. Offense was first on the Bengals agenda, and the selections of Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley did just that.
Gresham was the best tight end in this year's class. He brings explosiveness Carson Palmer needs at the tight end position.
Jordan Shipley has great value. He has been compared to Wes Welker, and the potential is there. His ability to be in the slot could be a reason he may have 100 plus catches a season in his future.
Brandon Ghee was also a solid selection at cornerback to bolster the already strong secondary.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, amid the controversial off-season, had a pretty solid draft as they normally do.
The two picks I am going to talk about are on the offensive side of the ball.
Center Maurkice Pouncey has plenty of potential, and should do quite well in the Steelers offense.
From what I saw of him in Florida, if Pittsburgh can get back to the running game, this is where he will be most effective.
Another receiver that caught my eye is Emmanuel Sanders. He was a great value pick in the third round.
I love the guy's confidence already. He expects to win AFC Rookie Of The Year. He may indeed get a chance to start due to the departure of Santonio Holmes. Mike Wallace and Sanders will be the key to Pittsburgh's success this year.
The Cleveland Browns highlighted their draft with two big names in Joe Haden and Colt McCoy.
Haden was rated as the best cornerback to come out of this class. His skill set is already making him fit in with Mangini's defense.
Colt McCoy is the future of the Cleveland Browns. His rookie season will consist of knowing the game plan inside and out so he can take the starting job in 2011.
The AFC North will be once again the most competitive division in football. This year it will be a three team race with the Browns making strides to be relevant again.
Defense will still be the face of the division, despite the acquisitions on offense. All teams are fighting with injuries early, which will make this a very close division race.
The offenses will be improved. The top teams made enough acquisitions to bolster their roster. Joe Flacco will continue to climb near the elite quarterbacks in the league. Carson Palmer will look for real success in January.
The Ravens and Bengals will be the top two teams for most of the season. The Steelers are a strong dark horse because of their talent.
Yes, they have lost Ben Roethlisberger, but the defense will keep them in games where I say they will finish with about 9-11 wins on the year (yes, I am giving away my predictions a little too early).
Despite the AFC being a tough conference, the AFC North is the only division that has the possibility of three teams making the playoffs.
Other opposing teams out of the division will argue that theirs is the best.
However, as the 2010 season approaches, the AFC North will be the most exciting to watch this upcoming year.