A Song Of Stripes And Feathers – 2022 AFC North Preview

“Some say the division will end in feathers,

Some say in Stripes.

From what I’ve seen of this division

I hold with those who favor feathers.

But if it had to be based on hype,

I think I know enough of football

To say that for domination stripes

Is also great

And would suffice. “- Cee Griffy

There is always parity in the AFC North but two things have been nearly constant: The Ravens are near the top and the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns bring up the rear. Not this past year, though.

The Ravens had a injury riddled year, seeing them finish last for the first time in seven years. Cleveland seemed to sputter through a season plagued with roster issues. All the while Cincinnati looked like world beaters, riding that wave to the Super Bowl and the Pittsburgh Steelers quietly finished second.

This year will look to be different as the Ravens are healthy, the Browns have a new face at the helm, Cincy is returning their young triumvirate and Pittsburgh is still a sleeping giant.

 

Baltimore Ravens

Record In 2021: 8-9

Key Player: Wide Receiver – Rashod Bateman

Player To Watch: Tight End – Isaiah Likely

I don’t think anyone saw the disappointment of the Ravens 2021-22 season coming. Injuries to their entire offensive backfield, as well as the defense, derailed what looked like a promising roster. Even with that being said, former MVP Lamar Jackson still managed to make the Pro Bowl and looks to do it again in 2022.

The biggest boost for Baltimore is coming into opening day healthy. They not only return their core, which is one of the most talented in the NFL, but they also have added some young talent on the offensive side. Isaiah Likely and Rashod Bateman look to be a great compliment to incumbent #1 Mark Andrews. That coupled with an already prolific run game should see the Ravens overtake their rightful place at the top of the AFC North again. Prediction: 11-6

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Record In 2021: 10-7

Key Player: Wide Receiver – Tee Higgins

Player To Watch: Cornerback – Dax Hill

The Bengals were a healthy surprise last year. They took off and took advantage of a division that was all but wide open. Young signal caller Joe Burrow and rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase exploded, boosting Cincy all the way to the Super Bowl.

This year is going to be more of a challenge as the Bengals are playing against a healthy division, and the league will be prepared for them. Chase will have to face team’s best cover guy week in and week out, meaning Tee Higgins is due for a big season. The most overlooked unit will be the defense for Cincinnati and rookie Dax Hill will be a huge boost to their secondary. If this team plays to their talent level they could easily be a playoff contender. Prediction: 10-7

 

Cleveland Browns

Record In 2021: 8-9

Key Player: Quarterback – Jacoby Brissett

Player To Watch: Wide Receiver – David Bell

There has been so much promise for the Browns franchise since 2018, but it has yet to be realized. After winning a playoff game almost four years ago they have yet to see the same success. They are looking to change that in 2022, as they have acquired former Houston Texan Deshaun Watson to lead the team into the future.

With the aforementioned signal caller being out for 11 games to start the season due to suspension, Jacoby Brissett will be the starter. Brissett has been around the league for a while and won’t lose you games but isn’t much of a game changer, either. It does help to have a young stable of skill players on the roster though. The bright spot in that stable is rookie David Bell out of Purdue. The young receiver looks the part of a starter and could be the stabilizing presence Cleveland needs in the receiver room. With all that being said, I don’t think this will be the  Browns year to be the contender their roster says they are. Prediction: 7-10

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Record In 2021: 9-7-1

Key Player: Running Back – Najee Harris

Player To Watch: Wide Receiver – George Pickens

The Steelers committed to a final season with Pittsburgh legend Ben Roethlisberger and are now in a presumable rebuild. Mike Tomlin has done more with less and now stares down the barrel of what could be his most challenging season yet. With a rookie and a journeyman vet as the top two signal callers, a rookie receiver as the likely top target and a very young defense, what is to be expected of the Steelers in 2022?

The offense may be the most surprising unit for Pittsburgh. Running back Najee Harris could be the driving force and that bodes well for this young team. It helps to have a talent like George Pickens outside the numbers to keep defense from loading up the box. Coupling him with Chase Claypool will do volumes and Pittsburgh could sneak up on a lot of teams this year. It helps to have a head coach who just knows how to win in Mike Tomlin, too. Prediction: 9-8

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