Best and worst case scenarios for every team in AFC North
Fans can all agree that the AFC North is one of the best divisions in football, filled with teams that all have playoff potential.
A downside of playing in such a difficult division is that no matter how talented your team may be, the division will always be up for grabs. Many experts had the Cincinnati Bengals finishing last in the AFC North last season — they ended up going to the Super Bowl. Similarly, experts were all-in on the Baltimore Ravens in 2021, but they were the ones who ended up last in the division.
A wide range of variables plays into what a team’s record will be at the end of the season. It’s impossible to predict injuries, but it is possible to point out a team’s ceiling and floor.
Here are the best and worst case scenarios for every AFC North team in 2022.
Best case scenario: The team stays healthy, leading to a playoff berth.
Injuries largely played a role in the Ravens last-place finish in the AFC North last season. Among the players returning to action are starters J.K. Dobbins, Ronnie Stanley, and Marcus Peters, all expected to be ready by Week 1.
A team going from worst to first is a very common NFL trend, and many experts are picking the Ravens to be that team this season.
Worst case scenario: Lamar Jackson sits out.
Lamar Jackson has yet to sign a long-term extension, and time is starting to run out. Per reports, Jackson turned down a contract worth more than the extension Kyler Murray signed a few weeks ago. Personally, if I were Lamar Jackson, I wouldn’t take a penny less than what Deshaun Watson received.
Tyler Huntley is the perfect backup for the Ravens’ offensive scheme, but there is no replacing the unique talent that Lamar Jackson possesses.
Best case scenario: Jacoby Brissett keeps the team afloat and Watson returns to take the team to the playoffs.
Cleveland Browns fans have been through the wringer this offseason. Whether fans support the Deshaun Watson signing or not, they want to see their team succeed. Watson is set to return in Week 13, likely leaving Jacoby Brissett under center until that time.
Brissett has won games in the NFL before. Many fans aren’t expecting him to step in and win every game he plays, but they are hoping he will put them in a position to make a postseason run when Watson returns.
Worst case scenario: The team is out of playoff contention by the time Watson returns in Week 13.
This whole situation is really just a double-edged sword. Brissett will do enough for this team to make a run, or it will be a lost season. There is no in-between. The 11-game suspension leaves Watson available for just seven games this season, and during that final stretch, the Browns will face all three of their fellow AFC North members.
The Browns must capitalize on their weak schedule to start the year and get ahead of the rough patch midway through the season.
Best case scenario: Mike Tomlin continues his streak of finishing .500 or better.
Mike Tomlin is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the NFL. What Tomlin has accomplished in Pittsburgh should never be downplayed, no matter how much opposing teams may dislike the Steelers. However, Tomlin is facing his toughest test yet in 2022.
Steelers’ T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Najee Harris are all cornerstone pieces for a franchise. Outside of those guys, though, this roster doesn’t intimidate many teams. If Mike Tomlin can lead his team to the playoffs, it will be his most impressive season yet.
Worst case scenario: Kenny Pickett is rushed onto the field in a losing situation.
The Steelers have one of the most challenging schedules in the NFL this season. After using their first-round pick on Kenny Pickett in April, many Steelers fans want to see the Pittsburgh product on the field sooner rather than later.
Although there are reports that Pickett might win the Week 1 job, I don’t see any scenario in which Pittsburgh trots Pickett out onto the field against Cincinnati to start the season. Mitchell Trubisky has looked perfectly average in the preseason, which will likely be enough to hold onto the starting job.
Even if Trubisky and the Steelers struggle early, they need to make sure they don’t throw Pickett out there before he is ready.
Best case scenario: Cincinnati wins Super Bowl LVII.
The Bengals left fans with one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history last year. Many believe the team was a defensive holding call away from winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history. With expectations sky high entering this season, there is only one way to take a step up from last year: winning a Super Bowl title.
Worst case scenario: Injuries derail the season.
The Cincinnati Bengals were extremely fortunate last season pertaining to injuries despite some health issues in the offensive line down the stretch. Key players staying healthy was a huge reason why Cincinnati was poised to make a run in 2021. Will that be the same this season?
Tight end, offensive line, and cornerback are position groups that some fans are worried about, not to mention the amount of pain a Joe Burrow injury would bring to this team. The Bengals invested in some key free agents this offseason, and fingers crossed everyone can stay healthy in 2022.