Around The League: AFC North

Last time, we looked at arguably the worst division in football. Today, we look at, arguably, the best division in football. In one corner, you have a Pittsburgh Steelers team who will always be well-coached no matter who plays QB. In another, you have a Baltimore Ravens team who saw half their team snapped away due to injury like the Avengers. In the third corner, a Cleveland Browns team that will rightfully be without the QB they traded the farm for most of the season. And then in the last corner rests the reigning defending conference champion Cincinnati Bengals, coming off their best year in years and aiming to finish the job they started last year. 

Let’s boogie. 

  1. When does Kenny Pickett start? The Steelers will have a first-round QB to start the season, so in that regard, it is no different than when they had Ben Roethlisberger. Which first-round QB it will be? Well, that’s the question. Mitch Trubisky signed in the offseason and has looked solid if unremarkable. Kenny Pickett, to the surprise of many, has actually looked like he belongs, and that’s without the assortment of weapons he should have when the season begins. Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, and Pat Freirmuth should be all systems go when the season starts, and the Steelers’ defense has added pieces and should return to form this year. While Trubisky should be able to navigate an early season terrain, it might make more sense for the Steelers to see what they have in their young QB sooner rather than later. 
  2. Can the Bengals repeat? The most significant difference from Joe Burrow’s first season to last year can be summed up in two words: Ja’Maar Chase. Sure, the Bengals spent on the defense, and you saw that come together really well, but Chase was the most game-changing rookie WR since Odell Beckham, Jr. He opened things up for Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, and helped cover up A LOT of OL deficiencies. In year two for him, it will be interesting to see how defenses cover him because the Bengals go as he goes. If defenses have figured him out, there is a good chance the Bengals don’t repeat.
  3. Can Jacoby Brissett win enough to have the nasty man’s return matter? Jacoby Brissett is not a good QB, and the Browns would’ve been better off trading for Jimmy Garrapolo to salvage their season. Instead, they chose not to acquire a good QB (or, at least, a QB that could run their offense well enough to where the defense can carry them), and will now try to tread water for 11 games until their franchise QB can make a late-season run. With Nick Chubb, a really good OL, Amari Cooper at WR, and two solid TEs, he won’t have to do much under normal circumstances, but the Browns begin on the road versus Carolina before taking on an improved Jets roster. They then get Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New England, Cincy, and the Chargers over five of the next seven games. The Browns could be 0-9 before Thanksgiving, and then it won’t matter if the QB is coming back because the season will be over.
  4. Who catches Lamar’s improved passes? Before getting hurt, Lamar was showing great strides at QB from the pocket. He was, also, beginning to develop chemistry with Rashod Bateman, who led the Ravens WRs in first downs. This off-season saw the Ravens trade Hollywood Brown, and add Coastal Carolina TE Isaiah Likely and Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar. It is a lot to ask rookie TEs to contribute in year one, which means Bateman and TE Mark Andrews will be asked to carry the Ravens’ passing attack. Whoever emerges after them is in line for heavy-duty targets, and will go a long way towards determining if the Ravens return to the top of the division.
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