The Ohio teams of the AFC North feature the up-and-coming Browns and the surprising new perennial contenders, the Bengals.
NO MORE BUMBLING BENGALS
At age 54, Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals is the old man of the AFC North head coaches. Lewis was hired by the Bengals in 2003. He replaced current Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau after the worst season in Bengals history, which is saying something given Cincinnati’s miserable past.
Since taking over, Lewis is just below (.500) with a 79-80-1 regular season record. Yet as of late, Lewis has transformed the Bengals from undisciplined losers into a talented and dangerous team.
In the past 20 years, the Bengals have made the playoffs a total of four times — all with Lewis. In 2009 he led the Bengals to their very first AFC North title, and he has managed to keep them near the top of the division since. Lewis and Ravens coach John Harbaugh have represented the AFC North in three of the last four playoffs.
Unfortunately, Lewis and the Bengals are winless in the playoffs while Harbaugh and the Ravens just got back from their trip to the White House. Still, with almost 95 percent of his starting roster returning, plus the addition of former Steelers great James Harrison, Lewis has the Bengals looking for their first postseason victory and more.
NEW BEGINNINGS IN CLEVELAND
While the Bengals were status quo this offseason, the Cleveland Browns were all about change. The Browns replaced their entire coaching staff and most of the front office. They brought back former Browns assistant coach and Toledo native Rob Chudzinski to lead them back to greatness.
The hire of Chudzinski must have been music to starting running back Trent Richardson’s ears (and those of his fantasy owners). Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator with Carolina from 2011-2012, when the Panthers were ranked first and third in rushing touchdowns.
A running offense also fits nicely with Cleveland’s new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner. Turner will need to plan an offense that works with the strengths of second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden. Chudzinski hired Steelers former secondary coach and ex-Cardinal Ray Horton to run the defense. He will try to transition a 4-3 defensive roster into a hybrid 4-3/3-4.
The Browns are certainly not short on talent. Unfortunately, the guy that assembled all that talent, general manager Tom Heckert, was let go and replaced with Mike Lombardi — a guy better known for his time in an NFL Network studio chair than his past front office positions in the NFL, which include a previous stint as Cleveland GM.
With all the changes, “Chud” has his work cut out for him. Take it from the Steelers. Even with an Pro Bowl QB under center, it’s not easy acclimating an entire offensive unit to a new scheme. And it’s even harder to transition from a division’s worst to first, especially in the AFC North.