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2021 South Side Questions: Are Bengals Best Team In AFC North?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Are the Bengals the best team in the AFC North?

The AFC North has two teams sitting atop the standings at 5-2, which is the best record of any team in the AFC. That is after the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens dropped a game in decisive fashion to the 4-2 Cincinnati Bengals yesterday, who are looking for a worst-to-first story to their 2021 season.

While there are a number of factors involved, the LSU connection of quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase that the Bengals have set up for themselves over the course of the past two drafts has been a very dynamic factor in their season so far.

The rookie fifth overall pick caught eight passes for 201 yards against the Ravens and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, including an 82-yard touchdown that was mostly YAC. He now leads the AFC and is second in the NFL in receiving yards as of this writing, with 754 on 35 receptions. He is tied for the AFC lead and tied for fourth in the NFL with six receiving scores.

But it’s not just the defense. Additions such as Trey Hendrickson and D.J. Reader over the past two years have really made a difference on their defense, which ranks in the top 10 in most major categories, including points allowed.

Cincinnati went 6-25-1 in Zac Taylor’s first two seasons as head coach. With their next win, they will tie their win total over the last two years combined. But is this just a good start? Can they actually close things out? And more importantly, can they actually build on and sustain this success over a period of years? That’s a heavy load for a seven-game stretch.

But that’s the impact that A.J. Green had on the franchise in 2011, along with Andy Dalton. And Burrow-Chase is arguably an even stronger combination. And their front office is now actually willing to spend money on free agents.

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