Cincinnati Bengals: Sizing up AFC North rivals heading into 2020

The Cincinnati Bengals face a tough task of competing in a loaded AFC North in 2020. Here, we look at the biggest question facing each division rival.

In short, the 2020 Cincinnati Bengals season will be about what level Joe Burrow can play at as a rookie and how much Zac Taylor can improve in year two as head coach. Regardless, the first step off the bottom rung of the NFL is to be more competitive within your own division. So, let’s look at the biggest uncertainties surrounding each of Cincinnati’s most common foes.

Pittsburgh Steelers- Does Ben Roethlisberger have anything left?

For the vast majority of last year, Pittsburgh was quarterbacked by Mason Rudolph and/or Devlin Hodges. They missed the playoffs by a game. That means the roster is loaded. Ben Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Famer, but he is also 38 and coming off an injury that required season-ending surgery.

If he has one more good year left in him, the Steelers can take back the AFC North crown and much more. If he does not, 2020 will look a lot like 2019 for Mike Tomlin’s bunch.

Cleveland Browns- Does talent finally lead to results?

For the second straight year, the Browns look really good on paper. New head coach Kevin Stefanski may not be ready to be in the spot he is. Even so, he is endlessly more qualified than Freddie Kitchens ever was. Thus, it is harder to envision complete disaster in Cleveland this year, but they are the Browns. Until the question above is answered with a yes, it is the only one that really matters for the franchise.

Secondarily, if the team underperforms and Baker Mayfield plays poorly again, the former number one overall pick could be done as Cleveland’s quarterback. The regime that drafted him is gone.

Baltimore Ravens- Was the playoff loss to the Titans a blueprint?

Lamar Jackson won the MVP last year and the Ravens averaged over 33 points per game. Baltimore is always at least serviceable on defense too. This may be the best roster in football. However, they fell behind early in a playoff game for the second straight year. Despite a decent looking stat line, Jackson failed to show the ability to lead his team back from behind.

If he does not improve in the specific situation above, there will always be a ceiling on this team. If he does improve even further, it may not be a question of if the Ravens can win a Super Bowl in 2020 and beyond, but rather how many.

Conclusion

No matter how you slice it, building a winner from the ground up in the AFC North is a daunting task for the Bengals. They have added a lot of new talent and there is reason for optimism. Realistically though, 2020 is the first year of a longer process in Cincinnati, not a year to actually be a contender.

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