The draft is over and this is the time to make predictions. Some teams may be stronger after a few more free agent signings but this is the expectation for the AFC North at this time.
1. Cincinnati Bengals 12-5: It’ll be interesting to see how the defense will play after a solid season last year. Typically, the Bengals are an offensive team that instills fear into opposing defenses. Quarterback Joe Burrow, Wide Receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Wide Receiver Tee Higgins, Wide Receiver Tyler Boyd and Running Back Joe Mixon are the main weapons in what will be the number one offense in the NFL. The Bengals also have a better offensive line so this team will have the best scoring offense in the NFL. The main challenge will be playing against their division rivals. The AFC North was the most competitive division last year and that won’t change. The Bengals were 13th in total offense last season but with better team chemistry, this will likely be the top offense in the entire NFL.
2. Cleveland Browns 11-6: There are high expectations for the Browns but this time the expectations are high for a reason. Quarterback DeShaun Watson, despite the off-the-field legal issues, gives this team the edge it hasn’t had since returning to the league in 1999. Watson likely won’t face a suspension until next season for any violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Even though Watson may be found not guilty in all of his civil cases which is a possibility, the issue is the NFL policy not so much the outcome of the cases although they will be a factor in any suspension. Although he could face a suspension this year, the NFL’s Player Union will likely get involved and have a suspension reduced to four to five games. Watson will play this season. The Browns also have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL and can win four to five games without Watson if necessary. The running back duo if Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will be the best in the league if Chubb avoids injuries. The Browns still have the best offensive line and a new dynamic receiver in Amari Cooper. The Browns have a lot of new players so chemistry will be an issue early on. Cleveland needs to find its offensive and defensive identities early. It’ll be interesting to see how the defense performs without Defensive End JaDaveon Clowney unless he signs a new deal with Cleveland. Even so, the defensive line with Myles Garrett, Rookie Defensive Tackle Perrion Winfrey, and rookie Defensive End Alex Wright will be very interesting.
3. Baltimore Ravens: 10-7- The Baltimore Ravens consistently have one of the top five defenses in the NFL. It’s intriguing to watch old-school football at its best and the Ravens always provide a nice window into the past. The era of top-level defense accompanied by a great running game is a bygone era. The NFL is all about the passing game now. This team could be as good as the first or second-place team if Lamar Jackson plays consistently well. Last season it was the total opposite as the offense was the sixth-best in the NFL and the defense took several steps backward. This is a running team and can pass effectively at teams, especially with Tight End Mark Andrews leading the entire receiving corps.
Expect the defense to step it up in the 2022 season as there is no way the Ravens’ defense will struggle for two consecutive years.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-8- It’s usually a bad idea to count the Pittsburgh Steelers out so it’s best to avoid that mistake. The AFC North looks to accomplish this first achievement in NFL history: have an entire division make the NFL playoffs. Although the AFC West could accomplish that too, it’s better to count on the AFC North this year. This team is like the Ravens with the juggernaut defense. The offense may not be too consistent this year which is a concern. However, this team will have a winning record by holding opponents to less than 17 points in most games. The development of running back Najee Harris will also be a key.