There is still a lot of things that will need to be--and will be--settled when training camp is in full swing in the first part of August.
But until then, the speculation surrounded certain teams will continue to spread around the league. Here are the early favorites, darkhorses, storylines, etc. that litter the AFC North division.
Favorite: Baltimore Ravens
With another year under young Joe Flacco's belt, plus the addition of a couple play-making receivers (YAC pro Anquan Boldin and deap threat Donte' Stallworth), Baltimore's offense seems to be exactly where head coach Jim Harbaugh wants it to be. Ray Rice will get his fair share of carries and continue to be a threat out of the backfield as well. The biggest question mark surrounding this team is, believe it or not, on defense.
There's a rather large possibility that All-Pro free safety Ed Reed will miss the first six weeks, maybe even more. With that said, Baltimore's secondary will surely be lacking. The affect of the gaping hole in the lineup could be equivalent to the Polamalu injury of last year (in Pittsburgh). However, the Ray Lewis-led front seven will be intact and the Reed injury may not be all that bad considering the improvements made on the other side of the ball.
Darkhorse: Cleveland Browns
Mike Holmgren has completely rebuilt the Browns this offseason. Getting rid of quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn and signing veteran Jake Delhomme, who was in dire need of a change in scenery. If the offensive line can keep Delhomme off his back, Cleveland's offense may have a shot at scoring some points as long as he limits the turnovers. Young Cleveland wideouts such as Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie will get their chance to shine with a proven quarterback under center.
It will be interesting to see how Jerome Harrison adapts to being the new No. 1 running back, although he will receive help from James Davis and rookie Montario Hardesty.
On defense, Cleveland boosted its secondary by drafting cornerback Joe Haden in the first round. Cleveland will hopefully be able to improve on the overall defense, which was ranked 29th against the pass, and 28th against the run (31st overall in yards allowed; 22nd in points allowed). If they can get a healthy Shaun Rogers (NT) and D'Qwell Jackson (ILB) back in the lineup, that would help plug running lanes and hopefully open up the pass a bit more.
Offensive MVP: Ray Rice
Defensive MVP: Troy Polamalu
Best Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (despite 4-6 game suspension)
Best Running Back: Ray Rice
Best Receiver: Anquan Boldin
Best Tight End: Heath Miller
Best Offensive Lineman: Joe Thomas
Best Defensive Lineman: Haloti Ngata
Best Linebacker: Ray Lewis
Best Defensive Back: Troy Polamalu
Best Special Teamer: Josh Cribbs
Best Head Coach: Mike Tomlin
Rookie of the Year: Montario Hardesty
Comeback Player of the Year: Troy Polamalu
Steelers...Big Ben's 4-6 game suspension is the only thing holding Pittsburgh back this season. Dennis Dixon isn't quite the same player as Ben, and may struggle a bit early on. The loss of Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes may end up being devastating if Mike Wallace doesn't live up to his expectations. Troy Polamalu's return is the headline on the other side of the ball and may turn this team around. The reason for Pittsburgh's 9-7 record last year is because of the loss of Polamalu in the secondary. Once Roethlisberger returns, Pittsburgh should turn things around for the good.
Bengals...A healthy Carson Palmer will be a huge plus, but I have my doubts about the offense as a whole. Ochocinco has certainly seen better days and seems to be focused on other, non-football activities (such as his MTV show). Cedric Benson, the big surprise of last year, has run in to more off-field troubles this offseason and his days may be numbered. With this offense in a wreck, I would have to say that Cincinnati may find themselves in third, maybe even last place behind the rebuilding Browns.