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2012 NFL Team Needs: AFC North

By: Roshan Bhagat

Baltimore Ravens: Interior OL, S, WR, RB Depth, ILB, LT
The Ravens offense made strides last season showing signs that they are ready to take the next step into becoming a consistently productive offense. To do that, they'll need to ensure offensive line play remains a strength of the team. In the interior, left guard Ben Grubbs is a free agent and questionable to return, while centers Matt Birk and Andre Gurode are also free agents and on the wrong side of 30. Bryant McKinnie was brought in as the starting left tackle despite being dumped by the Vikings for his ballooning weight. McKinnie's weight concerns have been known to affect his level of play and as such the Ravens would be wise to have someone capable to play the position in a pinch in case his game gets ugly fast. The emergence of Torrey Smith really assuaged many of the problems the Ravens faced on offense for years. He stepped in an immediately developed a deep ball connection with the elite arm of Joe Flacco, forcing opposing defenses to guard against the threat. And as he came into his own down the stretch of the season, Joe Flacco's numbers also significantly improved. However, with the departure of Lee Evans, the need for a 3rd receiver has opened up to help the offense take the next step. With the amount the Ravens rely on the running game, the retirement of Ricky Williams makes depth at running back a concern too. On defense, the focus must soon turn to replacing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on defense. The ageless Ray Lewis is still playing at a very high level, but injury concerns to Ed Reed and the expired contracts of back-ups Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura make safety a much higher priority.

Cincinnati Bengals: OG, CB, WR, RB, S, DL Depth
A year ago, the Bengals looked to be in all sorts of problems with little promise in their future, but two draft picks later, the team has plenty to get excited about. The connection of Dalton to Green will surely become the focus of the offense, but like any good offense, it will need more than just one trick. Strong focuses should come this offseason in helping improve the running game. In a draft class weak at running back, a stud running back seems unlikely to be found, but a premier offensive guard may be available with their first of two selections in the first round. With the top three guards on their roster set to hit free agency, replacing at least one of the two seems likely. Seven yards back, Cedric Benson will probably not be there. The Bengals seem eager to give Bernard Scott a shot at the starting gig and Benson's mouth will do him no favors in putting him back in to the good graces of the team. In the passing game, the Bengals won't want to stunt the growth of Andy Dalton. With Jerome Simpson's future uncertain, the sooner the Bengals find themselves a capable wideout to pair with AJ Green, the sooner Andy Dalton can continue further down the learning curve for quarterbacks and avoid falling into the habit of locking into his primary target. Defensively, the Bengals found some success behind one of the best inside and outside pass rushes in the game. While winning the division will rely heavily on stopping the run, the budding passing offense of Baltimore and the strong aerial attack of Pittsburgh will require a strong secondary. Corner play for next season seems to be up in the air with Leon Hall coming off a serious injury and Nate Clements heading into his 12th season in the league. At safety, improvements can be made.

Cleveland Browns: QB, OL, FS, WR, OLB, DE, CB
Rather than taking the step forward, McCoy took one back in his sophomore season. While a lot of his struggles can be attributed to surrounding talent, McCoy's struggles as a deep passer will always hinder the Browns. With a number of intriguing options in the draft and free agency, the Browns will have to decide whether they want to spend another offseason without having a backup plan at the very least. Even so, building up the offensive line, a commitment the organization has proven in the past with first round draft picks Alex Mack and Joe Thomas, will be important for anyone under center. Greg Little showed some promise, but must stop dropping so many passes. Finding another receiver to join Little and Cribbs would really help open up the offense. Running back could quickly become a need depending on the outcome of Peyton Hillis. Defensively, the Browns should continue to build the front seven. They have one of the best inside triangles in the game with Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, and D'Qwell Jackson and a nice perimeter pass rusher in Jabaal Sheard. Even so, defending the run was difficult for them. Upgrading the defensive end opposite Sheard and the outside linebackers will give them the athleticism they need to improve as a whole. In the secondary, the Browns were successful a year ago, but free safety Mike Adams is a free agent and now on the wrong side of 30. At corner, they could continue to build depth behind Joe Haden.

Pittsburgh Steelers: NT, DL, OL, CB, LB Depth
With an aging roster and minimal cap space, the next few offseasons won't be easy for the Steelers. They'll have to build through the draft and make wise cuts if they wish to stay competitive through it all and leave enough room to re-sign their best young pieces. While building up the offense—particularly the offensive line—seemed crucial not too long ago, the Steelers' focus may very soon turn to the defense, while allowing the great improvisational Roethlisberger and his young receivers shoulder the load on offense. If there is room to upgrade on that side of the ball it should continue up front to prevent Ben from getting banged around which has limited his effectiveness on more than one occasion. Further, if Wallace is stolen from them because of their salary cap restrictions, receiver may become a higher priority, though they've done a great job finding gems in the middle and late rounds as of recent. On defense, the Steelers have always been reliant on their front seven, a unit which is beginning to show signs of age. They've bought one more year with Casey Hampton, but soon enough, the well is going to dry up on the great nose tackle's career. Likewise, at outside linebacker, James Harrison is still near the top of his game, but the Steelers have a history of saving money at outside linebacker by releasing players on the verge of decline and finding younger alternatives. The same can be said inside where depth may also be pursued. If they break the trend and look to fill a more immediate need, cornerback would be a logical place to begin.

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