• Mon. Feb 26th, 2024

AFC North Predictions for 2022

by Tim Lazenby

 

Heading toward 2022 faster than we all think, each team in the NFL has the chance to repeat greatness or correct disaster.  Whether you finished dead last or won the Lombardi Trophy, each team begins anew with an unscathed record.  As we look at the AFC North, it is a division ripe with rivalry and storylines.  Let’s attempt to figure out how each team will do for the upcoming season.

 

Baltimore Ravens

Record in 2021: 8-9-0  

Predicted Record in 2022: 9-8-0

 

Strengths and Weaknesses

Last season the Baltimore Ravens were decimated with injuries.  Looking ahead, a healthy, albeit unhappy, Lamar Jackson is crucial to the team’s success.  Arguably the best tight end in the league on your team doesn’t hurt, and let’s not forget about promising JK Dobbins coming back from injury himself.  The worry is that even though there are high hopes for Rashod Bateman, the receiving group is among the least tested in the entire NFL.  

 

Situation to watch

All eyes are on Kyle Hamilton when it comes to draftees from the Ravens this off season, and why not?  He fell so far, the value was insane.  But I’m even more interested in fellow first round pick, Tyler Linderbaum.  With Bradley Bozeman leaving for Carolina, Eric DeCosta drafted just what the doctor ordered.  The only thing holding Linderbaum back is his size but thankfully, putting on weight is a lot easier than putting on talent.

 

Conclusion

If I’m being honest here, I don’t see how the Ravens only get 9 wins if the team stays healthy, but I have to stand by my assessment.  I see some key losses early on and a bad stretch to end the season.  Until they can do better against their own division, it’s not going to look pretty.  That being said, I can still see them in the playoffs.


 

Cincinnati Bengals

Record in 2021: 10-7-0  

Predicted Record in 2022: 12-5-0

Strengths and Weaknesses

I can still hear, “WHO DEY” in my sleep.  Talk about fans coming out of the woodwork.  When it comes to offenses, there aren’t many higher powered than the Bengals.  Once Burrow and Chase reunited, they didn’t look back.  But I can’t remember such a bad offensive line carrying their team so far as they did for the Bengals last season.  And even though it’s vastly improved, you wonder if it’s enough.

 

Situation to watch

As I mentioned before in the glaring weakness for the Bengals, the offensive line needs to improve drastically for further success.  While Joe Burrow is fantastic, he’s not a magician.  Getting sacked 70 times last season had to take a toll.  And while the Cinderella run was awe inspiring, if this situation is not corrected, there will be no ball next time; just disappointed mice and a smashed pumpkin.

 

Conclusion

My prediction for this team is quite believable considering what they accomplished last season.  The offensive talent is brimming over the edge, but let’s not forget about the unheralded defense, with the secondary in particular.  While fans are probably still jeering poor Eli Apple, players like Chidobie Awuzie and Mike Hilton are at the top of their game.  I have no doubt that the Bengals take the AFC North again, only this time it will be with more authority.


 

Cleveland Browns

Record in 2021: 8-9-0  

Predicted Record in 2022: 8-9-0

Strengths and Weaknesses

When it comes to the Cleveland Browns, the running game led by Nick Chubb is among the best in the NFL.  Possibly the best pure runner in the league, when paired with a healthy Kareem Hunt, it can be mesmerizing.  The highly polarizing arrival of Deshaun Watson will bring a new era, but it comes with its own drama.  Changing the team’s identity is not a task easily performed.

 

Situation to watch

The first fully healthy season from Myles Garrett since 2018 did not disappoint.  While names like TJ Watt, Aaron Donald and Micah Parsons are spoken of so often as elite defenders, (and rightfully so), so many forget to mention Garrett.  He needs to receive more praise for what he does each season.  On a side note, I’d also love to see a full season from Denzel Ward and Jadeveon Clowney.

 

Conclusion

I can’t wait for the day when I don’t see a drama headline about either Deshaun Watson or Baker Mayfield when it comes to Cleveland.  I see this team underachieving, not due to a lack of talent, but due to the noise.  If they can settle down and just play football, they have the tools to contend for the division, but it doesn’t seem likely for 2022.  Another year, it seems, of middling progress before they find their footing awaits.


 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Record in 2021: 9-7-1  

Predicted Record in 2022: 11-6-0

Strengths and Weaknesses

When it comes to the strengths of the Steelers, Najee Harris leads the charge and don’t forget about underrated Diontae Johnson at receiver.  But as we all know, the quarterback situation is quite uncertain.  It’s coming down to last chance Mitchell Trubisky or fresh from the draft Kenny Pickett.  While neither are expected to be Big Ben, it’s worrisome in these uncharted waters.

 

Situation to watch

Obviously, as we just discussed, the situation to watch is the quest to find the heir apparent for Roethlisberger.  And even if it is decided eventually, I can’t see it being right away.  Yinzers will have to hold their breath as they eagerly await the captain to steer this ship.  After all, the last time Big Ben wasn’t the starter it was Tommy Maddox leading the charge.  It just feels strange to see anyone else, but we must press on.

 

Conclusion

Much like the Ravens, my prediction for the Steelers surprises even me.  In my heart of hearts, there has to be regression, but based on my calculations, it’s actually looking upward for Steel Town.  In order for this to happen, there can’t be any wasted time.  The defense must carry the team until the starting quarterback emerges.