Despite going 9-7 last year and making the playoffs, the Bengals still finished third in the AFC North. But that will happen when you play in the toughest division in the AFC.
At the risk of minor heresy, I was OK with a 3rd place finish for the Bengals this year. We have seen the Bengals leap from 4th to 1st in the division a couple of times, and the increase in difficulty of the schedule (and inflated egos) sent them right back to 4th each time. This lurching is hard on fans. As much as I want success, I want it to build up over a few seasons so that we can be confident that it will last for a while.
So how does the 2012 season look to be shaping up so far? I could dredge up power rankings from various sites, but they are all going to bear a striking resemblance to the finish of the 2011 season. Besides, I am much more interested in what you think.
AFC North teams will be facing the improving AFC West (KC, OAK, SD, DEN) and the tough NFC East (NYG, DAL, WAS, PHI) in addition to themselves and one team each from the AFC East and AFC South. Whoever wins this division will have to earn it every week.
The Ravens won the division behind their signature tough defense. Their offense improved on the strength of Anquan Boldin and break-out rookie Torrey Smith, but it was not nearly as consistent as the defense. They took a couple of hits in free agency (Ben Grubbs and Jerrett Johnson), but they always have a solid core and guys in the pipeline.
The loss of Terrell Suggs, even if only for part of the season, will be felt considering their tough schedule. In addition to the AFC West and NFC East, they draw NE and Houston. Is Flacco good enough to lead them to a repeat as champs?
Despite finishing with the same 12-4 record as Baltimore, the Steelers came in second because of losing twice to the Ravens, including the embarrassing 35-7 season-opening loss in Baltimore. Their unique opponents in 2012 are NYJ and TEN.
Pittsburgh was forced to finally address the O-line after their QB ended the season with a gimpy ankle the really limited his mobility. Going into his 9th season, he is getting to the age where he is not going to avoid or bounce back from injuries so easily. Is this the season where BR sees an injury put him on the sideline for a period of time?
Remember the 2-14 and the 0-16 predictions going into the season? Sports media blowhards were shamed as they watch the “same old Bengals” put together a winning season and make the post-season. They square up against JAX and MIA as unique opponents.
The defense will continue to be the strong side of the ball in 2012. Have the Bengals done enough to address their holes at #2 receiver and guard to improve an offense that really struggled against good defenses? There are lots of guys to choose from at WR, but very few with much NFL experience.
I had to list them, right? The Browns got better through the draft, but the pick of Weeden was a total waste IMO because I do not see him as an upgrade over McCoy. I see yet another year in the cellar for the Brownies.
Now it is your turn. The winner of the AFC North will be the _______________ because…