The AFC North is widely seen as one of, if not the toughest, divisions in the National Football League. The Steelers, Bengals, Ravens, and Browns have all boasted talented teams over the last decade. That even dates back to the early 2000s when the Steelers were winning Super Bowls while the Ravens had Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and company leading a vaunted defense and the Bengals boasted an aerial attack featuring Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Heading into the 2023 season, many media outlets, including Pro Football Focus, see the AFC North as the league’s toughest division. CBS Sports writer Cody Benjamin recently published a piece ranking the most vulnerable division winners in 2023, naming the Cincinnati Bengals as the third-most vulnerable division champion with the three others teams, including the Steelers, a threat to claim the crown in 2023.
“Betting against Joe Burrow atop the North feels a touch foolish, but the fact is this division should be tough from top to bottom,” Benjamin wrote. “The second-place Ravens managed 10 wins even with Lamar Jackson sidelined down the stretch, and now Jackson should be motivated — and slightly better suited, with a deeper receiving corps — to live up to his new contract. The Browns are also poised to air it out more, with Deshaun Watson under pressure to deliver after a poor Cleveland debut. And the Steelers might be the friskiest of them all, pairing Mike Tomlin’s perpetually tough ‘D’ with an improved setup for Kenny Pickett.”
The AFC North features three teams with Pro Bowl QBs and then the Steelers, who are relying on second year QB Kenny Pickett to make a notable leap in 2023. It’s interesting how Benjamin used the choice word “frisky” to describe Pittsburgh and its involvement in the AFC North. However, with the definition of frisky being energetic, active, and lively, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the choice of word by Benjamin seems to make some sense.
The Steelers tapped into a newfound energy down the stretch of the 2022 season, going 7-2 during that span when they looked like a defeated team destined for a top five draft pick. The front office basically overturned the roster this offseason, signing a slew of free agents to fill numerous holes while using trades and the NFL Draft to build this roster in a similar model as current title contenders like the Philadelphia Eagles.
This Pittsburgh Steelers team has a much-improved roster from the one that we saw on the field several months ago. They virtually have improved in nearly every area and appear set to make some noise in the AFC North. While the Bengals should be considered the favorite to claim the division crown again this coming season, Pittsburgh is a team that shouldn’t be slept on. Should Pickett take a noticeable step forward in his second season, expect this team to make in into the playoffs as a wild card and better challenge Cincinnati and the rest of the AFC North for the division title.