- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's that popular time of year again when football analysts from around the country make NFL predictions.
Last week, frequent AFC North blog contributor Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. raised some eyebrows when he predicted the Baltimore Ravens would finish third in the division during our podcast to preview the 2010 season. The Ravens are considered Super Bowl contenders in the AFC. But Williamson believes the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, in that order, will finish ahead of Baltimore.
The AFC North blog checked in with Williamson this week to get an in-depth explanation.
Matt, why third place for the Ravens?
Matt Williamson: Two months ago or a month ago, the Ravens were going to be my Super Bowl pick in the AFC. But there is one big knock to me, and that's their secondary. I just don't trust it, and I think it's something that's easy to exploit. When you look at their pass defense, the general public tends to think Baltimore is a great pass-rushing team, and that really isn't true. The Ravens are middle of the road, and they're not what they used to be in terms of getting to the quarterback. So that obviously puts more stress on the secondary. Their two top corners are coming off ACL injuries, they lost Domonique Foxworth, who's a very solid player. Ed Reed, I don't know exactly his situation, but to count on him to be [the usual] Ed Reed again seems like a liability. If I'm playing the Ravens the first thing I do -- instead of beating my head against the wall running against Terrence Cody, Kelly Gregg, Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata in the middle -- is come out with three or four wide [receivers] and make them bring their nickel and dime personnel on the field and put their star players on the sideline. It's not a knock on the team. They can still win it all. But I had to pick, and that was the biggest negative of the three teams.
What are your thoughts on the Steelers' quarterback situation and the Bengals' history of inconsistency? Are those concerns?
Williamson: They absolutely are, there's no question about it. But looking at the Steelers' schedule, the worst I can see them without Ben Roethlisberger is being 2-2, and I don't think 3-1 is out of the question. With Roethlisberger, I don't think it's even close that he's the best quarterback in the division. He's only out for four games. That's not insurmountable odds, especially with a stud quarterback. They can tread water for a month and Ben comes in on his white horse and saves the day. With the Bengals, there are some organizations that are hard to trust and they are one of them. I'm also not sold on the quarterback [Carson Palmer] to be the guy he once was. I'm not saying he isn't, but I'm just not sure that he is.
It's hard to get three playoff teams from the same division. Therefore, will the Ravens make the postseason in 2010?
Williamson: I would say no. If they do come in third, they're probably beating each other up. The AFC East looks the same way to me. They probably have three playoff-caliber teams but I don't see three getting in. I feel the same way about the AFC North. I tend to think there will be two from each division.