The 2021 season was an interesting one for the AFC North. The Cincinnati Bengals, who had won six games over the last two seasons, came away with a divisional crown and went on to play in Super Bowl 56. The Pittsburgh Steelers went 9-7-1 and snuck into the AFC playoffs as the No. 7 seed. The Baltimore Ravens suffered from too many injuries to overcome and tied the Cleveland Browns with an 8-9 record and both missed out on the playoffs.
Free agency will produce considerably player movement as always, some teams will look largely the same. The published divisional odds from DraftKings Sportsbook provide a deeper look into the perceived hierarchy of each division and how much upside certain teams have within them.
It came down to the very end for the Bengals in the Super Bowl, but they weren’t able to hold off Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams. Last year, there was a huge discussion on who the team should take with the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft between an offensive lineman or wide receiver. The team went with Ja’Marr Chase who ended up winning the AFC Rookie of the Year.
The Bengals are still in need of bolstering their offensive line especially with RT Riley Reiff hitting free agency. They could certainly use some help on the defensive with their line, but they will likely be in the market for some help at cornerback. Despite Eli Apple’s promise of improvement, they would be smart to look into some options at replacing him or at least providing more depth.
The Ravens got an unfortunate look at what their offense looks like without Lamar Jackson as he missed their final five games which all resulted in losses. They should have their dynamic running back room healthy again so they should be able to get back on track with their ground and pound offensive scheme they like to employ.
For free agency, they should be in the market for another wide receiver. Sammy Watkins is a free agent, but with their offensive scheme, they won’t ever utilize their WR2 as much as they should. They need to be in the market for a reliable pass-catcher that can help hit slants to pick up short yardage to extend their drives and that could be another reliable outlet for Jackson. Otherwise, they will need to look for options on the interior of their defensive line with Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams both being unrestricted free agents.
The Browns have an interesting decision to make with quarterback Baker Mayfield. At the time of this writing, he will be heading into the final year of his rookie deal without an extension. The Browns have some defensive pieces that will need replacing, but other than deciding about Mayfield, they need better depth on offense.
The success of Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after he left the Browns put into question how the team uses wide receivers. Unfortunately for them, Jarvis Landry isn’t going to cut it as their WR1 so they need to be in the market to nab a high-profile pass catcher either in the draft or through free agency.
With the worst odds in the division, the Steelers' current state is represented with their odds. Their veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger retired and their current starting quarterback, if the season started at the time of this writing, would be Mason Rudolph. That sensation you felt reading that was Steelers fans everywhere going “Ew”. Whether with the 20th pick in the draft or from bringing in a stop-gap free agent, the Steelers need to find someone better than Rudolph if they want any chance of winning the division.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington being free agents, they also need to look at adding another reliable pass-catcher to complement Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. They will continue to be in the market for offensive line help and their tertiary need would be shoring up the defensive line if veteran Stephon Tuitt is unable to return to the roster.
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