3. AFC North
The Ravens defense has regressed significantly in recent years with the departure of Calais Campbell, and highly anticipated draftees Odafe Oweh and Patrick Queen not developing as quickly as the Baltimore front office would probably have preferred. The Ravens were supposed to have the best secondary in the game last year between Kyle Hamilton, Marcus Peters, Marcus Williams, and Marlon Humphrey.
Hamilton was good as a rookie, but after Peters remains unsigned as a free agent, this great group takes a slight dip. The secondary is the strength of Baltimore, but if younger players do not step up in the front seven, this group might keep regressing.
The Bengals have a great defensive line, being bolstered by a young secondary that they have acquired in the past two drafts. Their linebacking core is extremely sound as well, continuing to double down on defense, getting younger and cheaper.
Edges Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson have been particularly apt at pulling down Mahomes the past two seasons. While consistent pass rush behind these two players has been an area of concern, the Cincinnati front office invested their first-round pick into Clemson product Myles Murphy.
The Browns are home to franchise-changing players Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, with Greg Newsome II also being a stand-out player. The loss of Greedy Williams in free agency does soften this defense, but they are nonetheless a more than stable unit.
Their linebacking core could use some work, with general depth on the defensive line aside from Garrett being a weakness. The Browns are looking to have a bounceback season with Ward and Garrett no doubt being the driving force on defense in 2023.
Pittsburgh dragged themselves to a 9-8 record after starting the season 3-7. The odds seemed near impossible, but Mike Tomlin has still never coached a losing record in the Steel City. A large part of this is due to a consistently good defense for the yellow and black.
T.J. Watt was the 2021 defensive player of the year after matching the single-season sack record. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cameron Heyward are still anchors of the defense, combining for 18 turnovers this past season.
The acquisition of Patrick Peterson in free agency is a slight downgrade to Cameron Sutton who left for Detroit in free agency. However, AFC North veteran, Larry Ogunjobi, joined Pittsburgh as a free agent, helping their defensive line as a Day 1 starter.
The linebacking core could also use some work. Pittsburgh and Cleveland have relied on a superstar edge and a ballhawk in the secondary whereas the Bengals and Ravens have utilized quietly consistent players of pro-bowl caliber.