'Madden 10' analysis

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

ESPN.com released all of the 'Madden 10' ratings for the AFC North this week, and they are noticeably harsh this year, most likely in an effort to make the game more challenging.

Here is a recap:

Baltimore Ravens

The good news: With five players with 90-plus speed, the Ravens finally have speed in their secondary. In prior years, trying to use Chris McAlister and Dawan Landry together was difficult against teams which liked to throw deep. Landry (78 speed) is still at safety and Ravens users may want to insert a faster replacement.

The bad news: After completing 60 percent of his passes last season, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco got a raw deal with a 75 accuracy rating. That is almost unusable in "Madden." In fact the entire offense seems a bit off. The offensive line, in particular, looks significantly worse than real life.

Overall: If you're really good at winning games 10-7, the Ravens are the team for you. Otherwise, the offense might make the Ravens a team to avoid this year. It seems "Madden 10" shorted a team that's coming off an AFC title game. Baltimore's poorly-rated offensive line is particularly worrisome, because running the football with the three-headed monster is a major part of what the Ravens do well.

Cincinnati Bengals

The good news: The rookie class is pretty strong. Rey Maualuga (79 overall) is the top-rated linebacker on the team. He's ahead of Keith Rivers (78 overall), which is baffling, but both players lead a young defense. Andre Smith (81 overall) came out pretty well, and defensive end Michael Johnson (86 speed, 92 acceleration) and tight end Chase Coffman (85 catch) both have skills that you can use.

The bad news: The offensive line is horrible and in total flux. Smith has the highest overall rating and he's playing the wrong position at left tackle. No one else is rated above 78, they're all slow and have limited run-blocking ability. Add in the fact that Cedric Benson and the running backs have no skill in the video game, and the Bengals look very one-dimensional.

Overall: The Bengals used to be an effective Madden team several years ago when their offensive line was solid. But with no o-line and no running game, Cincinnati is a shell of its former "Madden" self. If you enjoy using rookies for kicks, though, the Bengals could be a lot of fun.

Cleveland Browns

The good news: I was surprised with the amount of highly-rated players on Cleveland's roster. Players like receiver Braylon Edwards (86 overall), tailback Jamal Lewis (85 overall), guard Eric Steinbach (91 overall) and Corey Williams (81 overall) all struggled last season but hold solid ratings. Plus defensive tackle Shaun Rogers (92 overall) and linebackers D'Qwell Jackson (86 overall) look like absolute studs in this year's game. Add in rookies such as center Alex Mack (79 overall) and receiver Brian Robiskie (73 overall), and the Browns are deeper than you think.

The bad news: The Browns have some major deficiencies in key areas, such as quarterback and in the secondary. Brady Quinn (71 overall) and Derek Anderson (70 overall) will both be extremely difficult to use in this game. How a rookie like Robiskie is rated higher than both quarterbacks is beyond me. But similar to real life, it will up to the player to determine if Quinn's accuracy or Anderson's arm strength is more important, because you're not going to have both. The secondary group is very slow, as well, and with the amount of people who like to air it out in Madden that could be problematic.

Overall: "Madden" was generous to the Browns coming off a 4-12 season. The rookies received good ratings and the star players were rated highly, despite playing on a bad team. Cleveland certainly looks usable, especially if you can solve the quarterback dilemma.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The good news: The defense looks unstoppable. An amazing five players have overall ratings of 91 or higher. Good luck driving down the field against this group.

The bad news: Not much bad here. Even tailback Willie Parker has (95 speed, 95 acceleration) great ratings despite coming off a down year. William Gay (63 overall) could have been rated higher, but he's unproven so that might be nitpicking.

Overall: Where I'm from, a team like Pittsburgh is off limits. The defending Super Bowl champions usually own extremely high ratings to where it's not even fun playing with or against them. You won't find the Steelers getting much run in the Walker household this year.

By the way, I'm thinking of opening an AFC North blog "Madden" challenge this summer. But I'm on the road a lot in August during training camps, so it could be tough.

Stay tuned.