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TEAM NEEDS: AFC NORTH
published 02/18/13 5:56pm
The Ravens absolutely need to re-sign franchise quarterback Joe Flacco.
Photo: Icon SMI
The Ravens will have a hard time to repeat; Are the Bengals really back on track?; The Steelers have some work to do in the off-season; And the Browns need to get out of the cellar. In the second of eight installements, here are the AFC North division team needs.

BALTIMORE RAVENS
(10-6 record in 2012)
The Ravens were the unexpected Super Bowl champs last season, thanks in part to solid play from quarterback Joe Flacco and, of course, the leadership of the newly-retired Ray Lewis. Still, they have some work to do on their roster if they want to repeat.

Primary need: To retain free agents Flacco and Ed Reed. They're both the key to the success of that franchise now. Flacco was the Super Bowl MVP and has some solid years ahead of him while safety Reed is a perennial Pro Bowler. Those two are a must and the Ravens know it.

Other needs: With Lewis' retirement, the Ravens need help at inside linebacker. They're also looking for help at cornerback with Cary Williams' imminent departure as a free agent. Nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu is also a free agent: if they lose him, they'll definitely need a replacement.

CINCINNATI BENGALS
(10-6 record in 2012)
With a 10-6 record the Bengals enjoyed a strong 2012, mostly thanks to a very balanced approach. Both their offense (led by emerging pass-catch duo of QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green) and their defense (highlighted by step-up rookie LB Vontaze Burfict) were above-average.

Primary need: The Cincy offensive line needs more talent and more depth, so holding onto rising star RT Andre Smith is a key for 2013. Even if Smith returns, the Bengals need to do a better job of protecting Dalton, who was sacked far too often last season. They also need to open more holes for BenJarvus Green-Ellis (who averaged just 3.9 yards / carry) so the O-line is a high priority.

Other needs: There's a chance this team loses several veteran cornerbacks to free agency Terence Newman, Nate Clements and Pacman Jones), among others, so boosting the secondary is important. Meanwhile, adding some power and explosiveness to complement Green-Ellis out of the backfield will be vital to improving the run game and further balancing their attack.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
(8-8 record in 2012)
Are the Steelers getting too old to contend or can they simply tweak a proven lineup of veteran stars to get back to the playoffs? Despite being mostly long in the tooth, the vaunted Pittsburgh defense was again one of the NFL's best in 2012. So what was the problem? A surprisingly sub-par offense that averaged just 21 points per game.

Primary need: A star tailback and some run-blocking offensive linemen would do wonders for the Steelers attack and take pressure off QB Ben Roethlisberger. With that in mind, they may need a replacement for free agent G Ramon Foster. Meanwhile, lead back Rashard Mendenhall was a bust and is set for free agency; he and Pittsburgh's other backs averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.

Other needs: Most of the Steelers' key free agents are actually on the defensive end, so bringing back (or replacing) the likes of NT Casey Hampton, Larry Foote and Will Allen is important. They also must make a decision on aging LB James Harrison and need to decide on whether the still-unproven free agent WR Mike Wallace is in their plans.

CLEVELAND BROWNS
(5-11 record in 2012)

The Browns have new ownership, management and a new head coach in Rob Chudzinski… so how quickly will it mean new results for this long-struggling squad? Obviously not overnight but at least there is some young talent to build with on both sides of the ball in Cleveland.

Primary need: Veteran leadership. Many of the Browns' key players are very young (especially on offense) so adding some wisdom and experience will be important this off-season. That means bringing back pending free agent kicker Phil Dawson and, likely, also means adding a veteran LB to replace FA Scott Fujita. Bringing in a journeyman QB to push and teach Brandon Weeden would help too.

Other needs: If Josh Cribbs walks in free agency the Browns will have a big hole to fill in the return game. Meanwhile, Cleveland can also really use a big, bruising veteran fullback type who can block for lead back Trent Richardson and also take some pressure of the future star.

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