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NORTH DIVISION

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September 02, 2002|BY NEWSDAY IN PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH BY DIVISION

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Coach: Bill Cowher, 11th season.

Last season's record: 13-3, first in AFC Central. Lost to Patriots in AFC championship game.

Who's in: LB James Farrior (Jets), K Todd Peterson (Chiefs).

Who's out: K Kris Brown, G Roger Duffy, WR Troy Edwards, LB Earl Holmes, WR Bobby Shaw, CB Jason Simmons.

Outlook: Steelers were a surprise team last season, as quarterback Kordell Stewart came into his own. The defense, while not the "Steel Curtain," played in typically smothering fashion, allowing an average of only 230 total yards a game and giving up more than two touchdowns in a game twice. But Jerome Bettis remains a question mark because of his knees and groin problems of years past, and the receiving game is still not complete, in spite of Plaxico Burress' improvement. Even so, the Steelers are better than most.

Parting shot: Give the Steelers the benefit of the doubt, especially with a coach such as Cowher. But there isn't much room for error now that the Browns are legit.

*--* CLEVELAND BROWNS

*--*

Coach: Butch Davis, second season.

Last season's record: 7-9, tied for third in AFC Central.

Who's in: DT Damian Gregory (Dolphins), S Robert Griffith (Vikings), LB Earl Holmes (Steelers), DE Kenard Lang (Redskins), G Barry Stokes (Packers), T Ryan Tucker (Rams).

Who's out: G Jeremy McKinney, OL Roman Oben, TE O.J. Santiago, LB Wali Rainer.

Outlook: Davis brought a sense of respect last season, and the Browns even flirted with the idea of a playoff run midway through the season. The key this season is the continued improvement of Tim Couch and the emergence of rookie running back William Green. If they play as advertised, this could be a special season. And if the Steelers stumble, Cleveland could sneak in as the AFC North divisional winner.

Parting shot: Could the Browns be this season's version of the Patriots?

*--* BALTIMORE RAVENS

*--*

Coach: Brian Billick, fourth season.

Last season's record: 10-6, second in AFC Central. Lost to Steelers in playoffs.

Who's in: QB Jeff Blake (Saints).

Who's out: DT Sam Adams, DE Rob Burnett, QB Randall Cunningham, FB Sam Gash, QB Elvis Grbac, S Corey Harris, WR Qadry Ismail, WR Patrick Johnson, WR Jermaine Lewis, G Leon Searcy, TE Shannon Sharpe, LB Jamie Sharper, DT Tony Siragusa, CB Duane Starks, DT Larry Webster, S Rod Woodson.

Outlook: Just take a look at the "Who's in, Who's out" lists above and you'll know what to expect: not much. Chris Redman takes over at quarterback after Grbac quit the NFL. About the only big-time player left on offense is RB Jamal Lewis, who is coming off a knee injury. Ray Lewis leads a defense ravaged by free agent losses and salary cap cuts.

Parting shot: Two seasons ago, the Ravens were the most dominant team in football. This season, they'll be lucky to win six games.

*--* CINCINNATI BENGALS

*--*

Coach: Dick LeBeau, third season.

Last season's record: 6-10, tied for fifth in AFC Central.

Who's in: CB Jeff Burris (Colts), QB Gus Frerotte (Broncos), DE Eric Ogbogu (Jets), WR Michael Westbrook (Redskins, injured).

Who's out: TE Marco Battaglia, SS Chris Carter, TE Tony McGee, WR Darnay Scott, S Darryl Williams.

Outlook: Corey Dillon is one of the best running backs in the game. Peter Warrick is an emerging receiver. The offensive line isn't bad. But quarterback continues to be a weakness for the Bengals, and the defense is barely above average. What's it all mean? Another dismal season for this dismal franchise.

Parting shot: It's a wonder Bengals fans still bother showing up. They haven't had a team worth rooting for in 13 seasons.

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