Are the Bengals ready for the AFC North?

Jan 1, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The Bengals are getting ready for the season with hungry rookies and fired up vets. But, are they ready for the AFC North?

The 2017 season has to be a turnaround for the Bengals. This isn’t your average go 8-8 and look at the bright side type of year. Marvin Lewis is on a short leash–seemingly–and fans are hyped about the young prospects that will be wearing stripes. But, it may not be the easy cakewalk that many faithful think it will be. Yes, you can take it to the bank. The Bengals will definitely be a competitive bunch. But, they aren’t the only team with designs on conquering the AFC North.

The AFC North (formerly known as the AFC Central Division) has always been a fierce and combative group of teams. If the Bengals can manage to claw their way to the top of the heap, it’s usually a well-deserved crown. Since the beginning of the Dalton-Green era in Cincinnati (2011), the Bengals have won the North twice. In fact, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have also taken the crown twice in those six years.

So where does that put the Bengals, in terms of taking the crown back? Each of the AFC North rivals had decent drafts. But, does that mean they’re prepared to do more than Cincinnati can manage?

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have their speedster back. After a year on the shelf, Martavis Bryant returns to action. That may garner a ho-hum reaction from Bengals fans but it’s a bigger issue than it seems. His return means that Antonio Brown will have a weapon on the opposite side of the field again.

Usually, the Bengals have no problems covering the Steelers’ receivers. But, the secondary will have to step up. If Marvin Lewis gets the memo, it’s time to turn William Jackson III loose. There’s no guarantee that Adam Jones will be available for the first four weeks of the season. 

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The Steelers host Cincinnati in Week 7. Hopefully, Jones will be back. But, chances are, he’ll be getting himself into shape. Jackson could use the experiences against Baltimore and Cleveland to get his feet wet.

Then there’s that other guy who has a brother in Houston. Oh, yeah. T.J. Watt could be a menace to the Bengals O-Line. The former Wisconsin tight end has raw athleticism that could put him in a class with J.J. Watt and the ageless James Harrison.

Answer: The Cincy defense has to play fired up to stop the Steelers’ offense. Yes, they have one of the best. But, fired up doesn’t mean uncontrolled. Both games have to be played with discipline. Simply put, the O-Line will be under a microscope. It’s a split (1-1)

Baltimore Ravens

Honestly, the Stripes have owned the Ravens over the past few battles. From the outset of Dalton-Green, Cincinnati leads the series 7-6. Since the inception of the rivalry, the teams are tied with 21 wins each. Going back to 2013, the Bengals are 6-2 against Baltimore. For a rivalry, that’s a quick turnaround.

Once more, the Bengals’ O-Line will need to be aware of the situation. The Ravens are high on a Tyus Bowser. Pairing him with Terrell Suggs would be a duo that could give Cincinnati fits. The young linebacker has the talent to become a starter in year one.

Answer: The Bengals open the 2017 campaign against the Purple Pain. B-more will be looking for a revenge win. The Week 17 game was looked upon as another domination of the Ravens. Some analysts and fans feel that Baltimore had nothing to play for and was flat. If the Bengals can set a tone for the season by trouncing the Ravens, Game 2 could be interesting. But, the Bengals should have no problem making them kiss the baby. Bengals go (2-0)

Cleveland Browns

Let’s not make fun of a team in rebuild mode. In fact, with the way Cleveland handled the draft, this could be the surprise team of the year. Hue Jackson should have enough toys to make some noise in the North. The restocked and rejuvenated Browns were swept by the Bengals last year. But, this could turn into a competitive rivalry again.

The Brownies picked up Jabrill Peppers, Myles Garrett and DeShone Kizer. They’ve gotten even younger than the Bengals and they were youthful last season. Running back Isaiah Crowell Is high on the draft class. He thinks the Browns will compete and surprise people.

"“I feel very good about it,” Crowell said. “I feel like we’re building something special. A lot of people are underestimating us, but I feel like we’re going to shock the world.”"

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Answer: The Browns are young and hungry. But, the Bengals are ravenous for a postseason bid. This in-state rivalry should be intense and fun to watch. Cleveland will be learning how to win under Hue. Logic says Cincinnati will sweep the series. But, common sense has me leaning towards the Browns looking better and tired of being labeled losers. Regretfully, the Bengals will have some trouble with the new-look Browns. Cincy  goes (1-1)