1. Baltimore Ravens
Head coach: Brian Billick, 8th year
2006 record: 13-3 (1st in AFC North); lost in divisional game to Indianapolis Colts
Schein's projected record 11-5
The defense is still the strength in Baltimore. (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
Ozzie Newsome and company have put together one of the most balanced and potentially dominant teams. Forget Steve McNair's age. Focus on the fact that he's finally comfortable in his second year as a Raven. Todd Heap is healthy and we believe Demetrius Williams is going to blossom into McNair's favorite deep threat. Willis McGahee is the ideal Brian Billick running back and will thrive with a change of scenery. Don't worry about Jon Ogden not playing in the preseason. He's ready. And so is the dominant Baltimore defense. Ed Reed is the game's best safety. Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott change games. Haloti Ngata is about to become a star defensive tackle.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
Head coach: Marvin Lewis, 5th year
2006 record: 8-8 (tied 2nd in AFC North)
Schein's projected record 10-6 (wild card)
Any team led by Carson Palmer is a legit Super Bowl threat. But how much help will he have? Levi Jones and Willie Anderson have been hurt throughout the summer. Chris Henry's suspension takes away the best No. 3 receiver in the game. But Palmer still has stars Chad Johnson (will score double digit touchdowns), T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Rudi Johnson at his disposal. The Cincy defensive line is underrated. The productivity of the back seven on defense and the ability to stop the run and create turnovers could determine whether or not this team wins eight or 11 games.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Head coach: Mike Tomlin, 1st year
2006 record: 8-8 (tied for 2nd in AFC North)
Schein's projected record 9-7
I love Mike Tomlin. The Steelers training camp and preseason games were predictably filled with great intensity. Get to know the names of young guns Anthony Smith, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley on defense. Very few dominate games like safety Troy Polamalu. Expect Ben Roethlisberger to bounce back, but I think the August reports about the team transforming into a pass-first offense are wrong. Willie Parker is still the biggest weapon on Tomlin's offense.
4. Cleveland Browns
Head coach: Romeo Crennel, 3rd year
2006 record: 4-12 (last in AFC North)
Schein's projected record 3-13
Don't fire Romeo Crennel or Phil Savage. The fruits of their labor will ripen come 2008 with Joe Thomas, Brady Quinn (not ready yet folks) and Eric Wright. But it's going to be a long season in Cleveland. I mean 'on the clock' long. Oops, that would be Dallas, which owns the Browns 2008 first rounder, with the top overall pick.