May 3, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin oversees drills during Steelers rookie mincamp and orientation at the UPMC Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Our 2022 AFC North preview shows the division has incredible depth, with four teams all capable of winning the crown outright.
When the weakest team on paper is the one which hasn’t endured in losing season in more than a decade, you know the division is good.
Enter the AFC North, which currently has the ever-enduring Pittsburgh Steelers, the reigning conference champions in the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens, who made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, and the Cleveland Browns who traded for and extended Deshaun Watson, and all that means.
It’s hard not to see Cincinnati as the favorite. The Bengals went 10-7 last year and then authored a Cinderella run through the AFC playoffs, beating the Las Vegas Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs before losing Super Bowl LVI to the Los Angeles Rams.
Cincinnati is returning all its key players and is adding right tackle La’el Collins, and guards Alex Kappa and Ted Karras. The Bengals might also have the league’s most-explosive offense in quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Joe Mixon and receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
However, overlooking Baltimore is the decision of a fool. The Ravens won the AFC North in 2018 and ’19 before earning a Wild Card berth in ’20. Last season, despite being ravaged by injuries, Baltimore began the year 7-2 before season-ending maladies to quarterback Lamar Jackson and corner Marlon Humphrey prompted a 1-7 finish.
This year, Baltimore is healthy once more and loaded defensively, especially in a star-studded secondary with includes corners Marcus Peters and Humphrey, and safeties Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton.
In short, the Ravens will have every chance to take back the North.
Finally, the Browns and Steelers. Both are challengers from somewhat of a distance. Both have huge questions at quarterback, but for far different reasons.
Cleveland has the aforementioned Watson, but how much he plays this year is an unknown. If the Browns have him for most of the year, they’re a player in the division. If not, it’s likely a run at the wild card.
Pittsburgh saw Ben Roethlisberger retire following 18 seasons in the arena, leaving them with the competition of veteran Mitchell Trubisky and rookie Kenny Pickett. While the defense is excellent and the head coach is unquestioned in Mike Tomlin, is there enough talent to challenge Baltimore and Cincinnati?
The AFC North is loaded, but the Bengals and Ravens run the show …perhaps in that order.
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