Way too early AFC North rankings
1. Cincinnati Bengals
This should be a surprise to no one. They’re the reigning AFC Champs for a reason. Joe Burrow showed what he can do for this Bengals franchise and last year was not a fluke.
There are so many strong points on this team. The offensive threats of Ja’Maar Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon give Joe Shiesty plenty of options.
The weak spot on offense is as plain as day, though. It’s the offensive line. A good fix would be to try and snatch Orlando Brown Jr. from the Chiefs. Brown is the 10th rated free agent by PFF and had an impressive season with Kansas City, it’s likely he re-signs with KC but it’s worth a shot to try.
Another option on the offensive line is Bucs’ center Ryan Jensen. Jensen has plenty of experience, and the right amount of money could persuade him to join the exciting young team that is the Bengals.
On defense for the Bengals it’s all about the pass offense in general. Their secondary was rated 11th best by PFF in their final rankings and it’s on management to make sure it improves.
Safety Jessie Bates III is a free-agent right now and MUST be re-signed if the Bengals expect to have similar success on that side of the ball. His skill was huge for Cincy in 2021 and he’s easily the best player on that defense.
The Bengals could also use a new cornerback as Eli Apple has become a meme throughout the NFL world. A few of the best options out there in free agency are Carlton Davis, Stephon Gilmore and Darious Williams.
2. Baltimore Ravens
To say it was a disappointing 2021 season for the Baltimore Ravens would be a huge understatement. They had their three season playoff streak snapped and finished on a six game losing streak and were statistically last in the AFC North.
The good news for the Ravens is that that year was a fluke. This is an incredibly talented team when they’re firing on all cylinders and Lamar Jackson doubters will be proven wrong this year.
The Ravens finished 6th best in total yards and yards per game in 2021 and were 3rd best in both rushing yards and rushing yards per game. It’d behoove Baltimore to pick up a wideout this offseason as the pass yard numbers were low, however.
The defense which is normally an overall strong suit was Baltimore was excellent as they were first in both rushing yards and rushing yards per game against but really struggled to defend through the air, finishing last in passing yards and passing yards per game.
The Ravens’ only significant free agent is Calais Campbell who is now 35 years old. Baltimore has a much better team than their 2021 numbers indicate, but if they want to reclaim the AFC North crown and get back to the postseason, they’ll need to add a skilled wideout for Jackson and significantly bolster their secondary.
3. Cleveland Browns
The Browns are a tentative third out of four on this ranking. A season that began with a lot of promise quickly collapsed due to injury and COVID What’s normally a consistent and reliable defense, was ranked 19th by PFF in the final week of 2021’s regular season.
Cleveland thankfully re-signed guard Wyatt Teller and have the always dangerous Myles Garrett who had an exceptional 2021 season. Jadaveon Clowney’s future with the team is currently up in the air, but other than that it should be a similar squad in 2022 on defense.
The Browns’ defensive numbers show a much better team than their 8-9 record would indicate, so it’s incumbent to go out in 2022 and put the tribulations of last season behind them.
On offense there’s good talent from Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Jarvis Landry and Donovan Peoples-Jones, but the loss of OBJ was definitely a blow for this team’s future.
It was a really tough season for quarterback Baker Mayfield who was near the bottom or middle for most offensive categories and really underperformed compared to his 2020 performance. The Browns’ success will depend on key players on both sides of the ball’s ability to stay on the field.
This team has good potential and didn’t even play that poorly in 2021, but were just too inconsistent to mount wins together later in the season. Consistency will be key for the 2022 Browns.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Big Ben era has ended and it seems as of now that the Mason Rudolph era will take full effect at least for 2022. The giant question mark at quarterback for the Steelers is what has them at the bottom of this ranking.
They’re rumored to be currently making a push for Aaron Rodgers, but this is unlikely to happen. The Steelers no doubt have a talented team and a solid defense. Despite it’s falloff in 2021, the defense is headlined by guys like 2021 DPOY T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cameron Heyward.
Pittsburgh has a lot of potential and talent in its skill positions like Najee Harris, Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson but JuJu Smith-Schuster is currently a free agent and the Steelers would be wise to either re-sign him or sign another wideout such as former Cowboy Michael Gallup.
Until the Steelers have a quarterback rostered who’s better than Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins, though, it’s going to be tough to win football games in 2022.