With the AFC West, AFC South, AFC East, NFC West, NFC South, and NFC North covered, we only have two divisions left. I’ve decided to lay off the haterade as I get into the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the AFC North.
The Curse of 370 is not much of a secret at this point. For those unaware, running backs that carry the ball more than 370 times in one season almost always struggle to stay healthy the following season. The logic here is pretty solid. NFL coaches seem to have caught on that giving the ball to your running back that often will wear them down more quickly. In 2010, no running backs reached even 340 carries in the regular season. But there is still one running back I worry about, Rashard Mendenhall.
Before I get mobbed by Steeler fans, let’s look at the facts. Mendenhall carried the ball 324 times in the regular season last year. In the Steelers Super Bowl run, he carried the ball another 61 times, giving him a total of 385 carries for the year. In the past two seasons, the only comparison is Thomas Jones’ 2009 season. Obviously, the situation was a little different as Jones was 31-years old in that season and Mendenhall was only 23-years old last season. But just looking at the numbers, Jones carried the ball 331 times for the Jets in the regular season and then 45 more times in the playoffs. Jones’ 376 carries is just short of what Mendenhall finished last season with. Jones didn’t have an issue with injuries last year, but he did see his production drop as he went from averaging 4.2 yards per carry with the Jets in 2009 to averaging 3.7 yards per carry with the Chiefs in 2010.
I’m not saying that Mendenhall is going to get hurt or have a poor season. However, if I had to pick one running back that I thought would regress from last season, Mendenhall would be my choice. The Steelers offensive line is still a mess and the team could be forced to rely heavily on Mendenhall again if something were to happen to Roethlisberger. Let’s not forget that the Steelers allowed 52 sacks last year, second only to the Bears.
Still, I could see the Steelers winning the division if they can get a full season out of both Roethlisberger and Mendenhall. I don’t think that will happen, but they will still finish at 13-3. That won’t be good enough for the AFC North though, as the Ravens will finish 14-2, grab the top spot in the AFC and find themselves in the Super Bowl this year. That’s right, I have the Baltimore Ravens winning the AFC. The Cleveland Browns will finish at 5-11 and the Cincinnati Bengals will take last place at 2-14.