Change has been the theme of the offseason in the AFC North. Here is the key to the 2019 season for each of Cincinnati’s division rivals.
For the Bengals, the burning question for 2019 is simple. Have the players or the scheme been the problem for the last three years? Cincinnati has not brought in a lot of new faces on the field, but the team has almost nothing but new faces on the sideline. Thus, fans should be praying scheme was the issue. If not, it will be another long year.
Doing well within the divison is key in to regards the fate of any NFL team. With the regular season about six weeks away, here are the swing questions for the Bengals most familiar foes.
Baltimore Ravens: Can Lamar Jackson Learn to Throw at an NFL Level?
What happens in Baltimore this year will be fascinating. It will be the closest we will ever get to seeing what would have happened had the Broncos stuck with Tim Tebow. The spark Lamar Jackson gave this team last year as a rookie is undeniable. The same can be said of his natural athleticism. Much like last year when Jackson was the signal caller, we know Baltimore will run the ball and play defense well.
However, if Jackson cannot raise last year’s 58.2 completion percentage significantly, the offense will get bottled up, much like it did for three quarters in the playoffs against the Chargers. Accuracy is a tough thing to improve at this level. With the defending division champs in such a boom or bust scenario, anything could happen in the AFC North this year.
Cleveland Browns: Can They Walk the Walk?
For a team that only beat one playoff team and didn’t even have a winning record last year, the Browns sure are talking a lot this offseason. They have reacted to Colin Cowherd’s criticism and continued burying former head coach Hue Jackson. They have enough talent to take over this divison. However, they also have a lot of strong personalities and a first time head coach in Freddie Kitchens. Things could go sideways in a hurry with a bad start.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Does the Rest of the Divison Believe?
The Steelers lost Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Yet, they still have a future Hall of Fame quarterback and a borderline Hall of Fame head coach. They should always be the favorites in this divison. That is even more true this year with so many questions surrounding the other teams.
For the Bengals specifically, a big part of Zac Taylor’s job will be dealing with the Steelers. Pittsburgh is 31-9 against Cincinnati since 2000. That kind of dominance involves more than just Xs and Os football. That is a mental edge. That is one team often being defeated before they ever take the field.
Even with the Ravens as defending champs, this is also true to a lesser extent for the rest of the divison as well. The Ben Roethlisberger led Steelers are 59-19 in his career against the AFC North including playoff games. The good news for all those teams is that on paper, the talent gap between the Steelers and everybody else is now non existent.