The AFC North had three playoff teams last year. With the Steelers' minor re-structuring, the young Bengals improving, and the Browns possibly trading to get the #2 pick in the draft, the division could be wide open. Here's what each team needs to move up in/keep the division.
Inside/Outside Linebacker – Ray Lewis seems to be an ageless wonder, and Jameel McClain is serviceable, but this team is going to need someone to eventually take the reins from Lewis and lead the defense into the future.
Offensive Tackle – There is the possibility of moving Michael Oher from the right side to the left to protect Joe Flacco's blindside, but that transition can sometimes prove difficult. Don't mess up a good thing, keep Oher on the Right Tackle and get a new body to shore up the left.
Guard/Center – Ben Grubbs will be an unrestricted free agent on March 12th and Matt Birk is nearing the end of his career. It might be a great move to draft Peter Konz out of Wisconsin, have him play Guard next to Birk and then move Konz to Center when Birk moves on.
Running Back – Cedric Benson is as good as gone for the Bengals. Cincinnati might want to take a long look at former Raider Michael Bush who is a powerful between the Tackles runner.
Guard – The Bengals have the cap space to go after Carl Nicks in free-agency, but if they can't get Nicks, Cincinnati will be looking at a Guard in the draft as well
Cornerback – Leon hall is good but is coming off a season ending injury and losing Jonathan Joseph last year left a big hole in the secondary that needs to be filled.
#2 Wide Receiver – A.J. Green was as good as advertised and possibly better, but he had no help from the rest of an inconsistent corps of wideouts. There will be good WR options in the second round of the draft if the Bengals can't get a serviceable WR in free-agency.
Wide Receiver – Whoever lines up under center next year for the Browns needs better weapons at receiver. Greg Little is OK as a #2 and Joshua Cribbs can play in the slot, but Cleveland needs a surefire top playmaker.
Outside Linebacker – Chris Gocong is the best option in a VERY weak OLB group. Cleveland needs to get another solid starter and lots of depth if they expect the defense to improve.
Running Back – Peyton Hillis is gone after being average at best when healthy last year. If the Browns can't get a solid runner in free-agency and don't trade for the #2 pick in the draft and Robert Griffin III, they have to take Alabama's Trent Richardson at #4.
Offensive Line – Ben Roethlisberger was under constant assault last year. The Guards are very underwhelming, Marcus Gilbert and Willie Colon can be serviceable at Tackle (when Colon is healthy) and Center Maurkice Pouncy is the only Pro-Bowl caliber player on the line. Aside from starters at Guard, this team needs depth as it has been decimated by injuries the past few years.
Cornerback/Safety – Ike Taylor is the only starting caliber Cornerback on the team and William gay is a good tackler but horrid in coverage. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark can still play at a high level but Pittsburgh needs to get younger at Safety. The Steelers have a lot of bodies in the secondary, and some are held in high regard by the coaching staff, but this unit needs results now.
Defensive Tackle – Chris Hoke has retired and Casey Hampton is getting close, the Steelers have selected D-Linemen in the draft the last few years, but those players are better at DE. This team needs a gap plugger to eventually take over for Hampton.
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS