The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.
This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others.
Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor is heading into free agency, as is Trai Turner.
These are the sorts of topics 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 team to beat in the AFC North in 2022?
Every single other team in the AFC North has won at least one game in the postseason since the Pittsburgh Steelers won their last, all the way back in 2016. The Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns both each won one game in the Wild Card Round in 2020. The Cincinnati Bengals won three games this past season en route to the Super Bowl, but came up short, and neither the Browns nor Ravens joined them in the postseason this time around.
But are they the team to beat, in a practical sense, when it comes to the AFC North in 2022? Are they the team that the Steelers should be most concerned about as their biggest obstacle to winning the division?
It doesn’t help that Cincinnati has beaten them head-on in their last three meetings, their longest winning streak against the Steelers since the last time they won a playoff game a few decades ago. The Ravens, meanwhile, are a team that they have continued to beat even if they are ostensibly, when healthy, still the most talented team in the North.
As for the Browns, their 2021 season must be judged from the perspective of the fact that Baker Mayfield was injured almost all season, and his performance clearly suffered for it. While he can easily be argued to be the third-worst starter in the division, he is capable of much better play than what they got out of him last year, and they are still a run-first offense with a defense that has grown a lot in the past year.
The AFC North overall didn’t fare all that well in 2021 (even the Bengals had the worst record for a division-winner, and tied for the third-worst of all playoff teams), but there is still a lot of talent, and prospects of improvement. Which of them stands the best chance, right now, based on what we can reasonably project, to be the team to beat next season?