The AFC North wasn’t exactly one of the best divisions in the league last season, even if it did end up including the team with the best overall record after the Baltimore Ravens finished the year with a franchise-best 14-2. However, only one team—the Ravens, of course—made it to the postseason, and they lost their first game. So no playoff wins for the North in 2019.
How about 2020? It may be too soon to predict a turnaround that leads to a postseason appearance for the Cincinnati Bengals with a rookie Joe Burrow, but it’s more than conceivable to envision this division sending three teams to the postseason, something they’ve done a couple of times in recent years, in 2011 and in 2014.
Outside of Ben Roethlisberger for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the division is now populated by teams with talented young quarterbacks, with Lamar Jackson having already had great success for the Ravens. While Baker Mayfield has shown promise for the Browns, 2020 is setting up to be a big year to prove himself. And Burrow, of course, is just coming into the league. But he has that kind of talent.
Just in time for the rise of the Steelers’ defense, now boasting talent at all three levels. Pittsburgh sent a defender from each level to the first-team All-Pro team last season, with Cameron Heyward representing the defensive line, T.J. Watt the linebackers, and Minkah Fitzpatrick the secondary.
The latter was interviewed by the local media yesterday to talk about a variety of topics. At one point during the conversation, he was asked about what their rivals have done lately. “There’s a lot of talent in our division”, he said. “It’s competitive, probably one of the toughest divisions in the league”.
“It’s something that we look forward to as professional athletes, as competitors”, he added. “I think it’s definitely gonna raise our games, it’s gonna raise our opponents’ game. It’s fun playing against those guys and against guys like Lamar, Baker, and soon, Joe Burrow. But we’ve got to step up to the plate and make sure we’re on our A+++ game and continue to execute and play the way we play”.
The Steelers traded for Fitzpatrick between the second and third games of the season, and he had a transformative effect on their defense. While he wasn’t the only one contributing to their great success by any means, his solidifying the free safety position allowed the entire unit to stabilize.
He and the rest of the defense had enough time over the course of the year to gain steam, and confidence, so they head into the 2020 season full of self-assurance and the belief that they can continue to do great things, to dominate opposing offenses, and to be the leading factor in the Steelers’ winning ways. The stockpiling of talent within the division only fuels their drive to prove themselves.