Dust off your dawg mask, practice your Ray Lewis dance, grab some skyline chili and start swinging those terrible towels! It is the time of year we have all been waiting for! The start of the NFL regular season! Who will reign King of The AFC North! Will the Bengals and Joe Burrow continue the magic? Will Lamar Jackson make or break his upcoming contract? Should Kenny Pickett be starting at quarterback? In Jacoby we trust until week 11? These are just a few storylines that fans are eagerly awaiting to see play out this 2022 season.
Bengals Have a Target on Their Back
Last season ended with an unforeseen Super Bowl appearance by the underdog Cincinnati Bengals. Joe Burrow and his offense pulled together a series of playoff wins that had not happened for Cincinnati since 1988. The 2021 season has revived the Bengals fan base from the depths of disappointing seasons past. This is the first time in many years the Bengals have a target on their back for the top spot of the division.
During the off-season the Bengals finally addressed the elephant in the room, the offensive line. They signed RT La’el Collins from Dallas, RG Alex Cappa from Tampa Bay, C Ted Karras from New England and drafted LG Cordell Volson. Less sacks on Joe Burrow would reduce the wear and tear and give him more time in the pocket. Bleacher Reports, Tyler Conway’s article reveals that Burrow was sacked 70 times last season which is third-most in NFL history. Burrow will have more time to connect with one of the best wide receiver trios in the league, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The three dynamic receivers together hauled in an impressive 3,374 regular season yards with 24 touchdowns.
The acquisition of the veterans on the offensive line should improve Joe Mixon’s already exceptional run game. Mixon, who ranked third in the league (via PFF) for rushing yards, carried the ball 292 times for 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also showed versatility with 42 receptions and scored 3 receiving touchdowns. Mixon should have one of his best seasons to come with the upgrades around him.
Moving on to the Bengals stout defense, the band is all back! The defense was solid last season and safety Jessie Bates returned to sign the franchise tag. They ranked tenth overall and only allowed 301.3 yards per game which is fourth-best in the league. Since the Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a Super Bowl appearance, they are the team to beat in this division until proven otherwise! The Bengals will reign king!
Browns 2022 Lost Season
The playoff run in 2020 raised expectations for Cleveland coming into the 2021 season. In Browns fashion, the 2021 they ended up a disappointing 8-9, deflating all the hype that surrounded the team. The off-season brought the departure of Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers and the Deshaun Watson circus came to town. These events feel like they are derailing the teams focus and minimizing the other players who have been putting in the work. This also is putting the morals of leadership in question to the Browns fanbase.
Cleveland in theory, upgraded the quarterback position by signing a monster deal with Deshaun Watson. Watson is considered one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. The suspension until week eleven, will make it 700 days since Watson’s last regular season game. The Browns also picked up quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett, Josh Dobbs, Kellen Mond, and Josh Rosen. Jacoby Brissett who is a seasoned player, was named starter for Week one against the Carolina Panthers.
The running backs are the bread and butter of this offense. This year in the draft they added Jerome Ford from the University of Cincinnati who has versatility in the run and pass game. On the depth chart he sits behind one of the most talented groups of running backs, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and D’Ernest Johnson. This season the running backs will have an uphill battle against defenses who are likely to stack the box to see if Brissett has what it takes to beat them in the air.
The Browns defense was the shinning spot for Browns fans, finishing fifth in the league for total defense. According to clevelandbrowns.com, Cleveland was one of three teams in 2021 to finish in the top twelve of total defense, run defense and pass defense. Myles Garrett set the Browns single-season franchise record with 16 sacks and Jadeveon Clowney had a 9-sack season. The defensive ends are extraordinary, and the secondary has improved adding potential to be an elite group.
Between the lack of decent wide receiver play and Brissett not being a proven winner, the Browns are probably headed for another mediocre season. The safe bet is they will go 9-8 and will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. The Browns are trying to survive until Watson is available in week 11 but he will have about two years of rust. I think the 2023 season will be the Browns chance of winning the AFC North so until then sit back and watch who will reign King of the North. It feels like a lost season for the Browns to start the 2022 season.
Ravens Need to Pay the Man
Riddled with injuries last season the Baltimore Ravens went 8-9 finishing last in the AFC North. The running backs were wiped out before the season even started and the defense had practice squad players on the field! Then the Miami Dolphins punched the Ravens in the mouth. Miami decided to play a cover 0 scheme that is man-to-man coverage while the rest of the player’s blitz. This single game would expose the weakness of the Ravens for the rest of the season. Baltimore lost six of its next eight games down the stretch and never recovered from the Miami code cracking.
In the offseason Baltimore’s number one wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown requested to be traded and ended up an Arizona Cardinal. The Baltimore Ravens basically ignored the glaring need for wide receiver, leaving Jackson with limited options in the passing game. Baltimore instead signed notable veterans, safety Marcus Williams, defensive tackle Michael Pierce and offensive tackle Morgan Moses.
Jackson, who is clearly the most athletic player in the NFL, has been on twitter writing some cryptic tweets for the Ravens to pay him the top tier money he deserves. Raven’s coach John Harbaugh said to the media that, “Lamar has said he’s focused on the season, he’s under contract and he’s going to have the best season he can have. He’s hopeful to get a new contract and we’re hopeful to get him a new contract.” All I have to say is pay the man! He deserves Dak Prescott and Kyler Murray type of money! It will cost the Ravens more in the long run to treat him like Washington treated Kirk Cousins.
This season feels like it will go one of two ways for the Baltimore Ravens. 1. Lamar Jackson will be playing like a man on fire since he still doesn’t have a new contract and the Ravens will end up dominating. 2. The pressure of winning and getting a big contract with no wide receiver upgrades will cause him to do too much by himself. This could lead to him being injured or just playing terrible. They will either be on the top of the AFC North or fall hard to the bottom again. The Ravens just feel like an unsure pick.
Steelers Mike Tomlin has Never Had a Losing Season Until Now
Last season the Pittsburgh Steelers came to the end of an era. Ben Roethlisberger retired after 18 seasons and two Super Bowl Championships. Roethlisberger had some bumps in the road with his quarterback play being ranked one of the worst in the league last season. The Steelers did end 2022 with a 9-7-1 record and a wild card playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Mason Rudolph seemed to be the front runner to fill the Big Ben void. However, In March the Steelers announce they would be signing quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Following the Turbisky signing the Steelers had the 20th overall pick in the NFL Draft and selected the University of Pittsburgh star Kenny Pickett. Everyone assumes Turbisky will be a bridge quarterback to get Pickett ready to play this season or next. Pickett had an excellent showing in the preseason and people started to wonder if he would win the starting job. This past week, the Steelers named Turbisky the starter for week one against their rivals the Cincinnati Bengals.
Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season, but this season feels like it will be his first. The terrible offensive line play last year was not really addressed in the offseason. They have a solid receiving core, but Turbisky will not have enough time to make the big plays needed to defeat the loaded teams in the AFC North. Rumblings around the league suggest that Turbisky will take a seat as some point mid-season to make way for the Kenny Pickett experiment.
In a division with elite quarterbacks like Burrow, Watson, and Jackson it feels like the Steelers will always finish last. Like bringing a fork to a gun fight! Maybe Kenny Pickett is the secret weapon that can go toe to toe with the quarterbacks of this division. Pickett performed well in preseason but that is against second and third string players and vanilla defenses. Mike Tomlin needs to prepare for a losing season maybe even a last place finish in the AFC North.