With our Faces of the NFL series over the half way mark, it is time to look at the AFC North, a division that is quarterback dominated in a league moving evermore towards being increasingly pass-happy.
Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco
Over the weekend the Ravens exchanged over 7,000 Ray Rice jerseys in response to cutting ties with the player. This shows how much it can hurt when a team gets it wrong and a public backlash ensues over the off-the-field behavior of a player. Since Ray Lewis retired the Ravens have been in flux when it comes to the face of this franchise until Joe Flacco stepped up. Flacco was the MVP in the Ravens 34-31 Super Bowl XLVII win over the 49ers, and afterwards he signed a six-year, $120 million contract extension. Since then, Flacco has been somewhat inconsistent, but is known for having a big arm as well as the ability to win when it is needed. The Ravens were known for their strong D and with it the second face falls to Terrell Suggs, one of the last of the old guard.
Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel
I know it is hard to say that a player is truly the face of a franchise when he is not a starter but that’s the effect Manziel has had since he was drafted 22nd overall this year. Manziel has topped the sales charts and accounts for over 10% of all jerseys sold by the league since he was selected by the Browns. For a franchise that has seen 20 different quarterbacks since their return to the league in 1999, Manziel represents hope for the future and ‘Johnny Football’ has the personality to be the face of this team for the next decade if he can unseat Brian Hoyer and consistently win games. For a team with a dearth of positive seasons since its re-emergence, faces can be few and far between. Offensive tackle Joe Thomas would be next man up having made the Pro Bowl every season since being drafted third overall in 2007.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
What is there to say about Big Ben that isn’t public knowledge? In his first season, he won Rookie of the Year honors and followed that up with the first of his two Super Bowl rings a year later. Having led the Steelers to three AFC Championships, he holds several team records when it comes to passing and completion percentage. Drafted in 2004, Roethlisberger started the third regular season game that year and has been the unquestioned starting quarterback since then. With only two seasons left on his contract, the 32-year-old’s time may be coming to an end if his performance slides. Age is showing in Pittsburgh and it is reflected in the faces of the team. Both Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel are on par with each other when it comes to team notoriety and hair but both are in the twilight of their respective football careers.
Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton
Having just received a large six-year, $115 million contract extension this season, the Bengals future is linked for better or worse with Dalton. Having made the playoffs in all three of his seasons as starting quarterback he has to take the next step and win when it matters most. Selected one spot ahead of Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 draft, expectations are high for Dalton to take the team to the promised land sooner rather than later. Dalton’s favorite target is also the next face of the team, A.J. Green, who was taken fourth overall in the same draft. Green has had consecutive seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving since joining the Bengals and to many he would be the face of the franchise.
Previous Articles in the Series
Thank you for reading. Please take a moment to follow me on Twitter – @deansontoast_.
For the latest in sports injury news, check out our friends at Sports Injury Alert.
Have you tuned into Last Word On Sports Radio? LWOS is pleased to bring you 24/7 sports radio to your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. What are you waiting for?