Thursday, June 30, 2011
Best of NFL: AFC North teams
By James Walker
As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the AFC North:
The Ravens and Steelers have the best rivalry in the division and one of the best in the NFL.
Best rivalry: The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are finally getting their due following a series of classic games the past three years. The rivalry recently included a pair of great playoff matchups following the 2008 and 2010 seasons -- both won by Pittsburgh. The Steelers have had the upper hand in this rivalry recently. Pittsburgh starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn't lost to the Ravens since 2006. But that hasn't stopped both teams from trash-talking this offseason. The Steelers and Ravens will play in Baltimore in Week 1.
Best QB controversy: Few teams have a bigger quarterback controversy on their hands than the Cincinnati Bengals. Franchise player Carson Palmer refuses to play for the team and says he wants to be traded or will retire. On the other end, Bengals owner Mike Brown is calling Palmer's bluff and insists he won't trade the quarterback. This has been a major-league stare-down this offseason, and so far neither side has blinked. I don't expect either to back down any time soon. But we will have a lot more clarity on the situation once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
Best team facility: "The Castle" in Owings Mills, Md., is impressive. It's the best team facility in the division and one of the best in the league. The Ravens have beautiful outdoor practice fields and a huge fieldhouse that is top notch. The team spared no expense. Pittsburgh's complex is second and the Cleveland Browns' training facility in Berea, Ohio, is third. Last is the Bengals, who practice at their stadium and are behind the times compared with most NFL teams. Cincinnati doesn't havean indoor practice facility, which has been a point of contention between ownership and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
Best tailgating: Although I don't tailgate, I do walk and drive by all the AFC North tailgates multiple times during the season. From the looks of it, I would rate Baltimore as the best pregame tailgate. The atmosphere is always energetic and the food smells great. I would be lying if I didn't say I thought about stopping by a few times and grabbing a bite to eat before the game.
Best fan base: Steeler Nation is everywhere and is one of the top fan bases in the country in any sport. They pack Heinz Field every week during football season, and there's a long waiting list for tickets. Steelers fans also travel extremely well and often take over opposing stadiums. The team has rewarded these loyal fans with an NFL-high six Super Bowl championships. It's a two-way lovefest between the team and its fan base that few pro teams can match.