1. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are still the best team in the division. For starters, their offense is a top three unit in the league. They are led by a top three quarterback in Joe Burrow throwing to a top two receiver in Ja’Marr Chase, as well as arguably the best No. 2 receiver in football, Tee Higgins. The Bengals just need to figure out their offensive line. To their credit, they’ve tried. Last year, they signed La’el Collins. This year, they brought in Orlando Brown. If Burrow has consistent time in the pocket, opponents may as well put their heads between their legs and kiss their butts goodbye because they are going to get sauteed, carved, and cooked.
Defensively, the unit is quietly stacked. D.J. Reader is one of the best interior defensive linemen in football. Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard are a very good pass rushing duo, and Germaine Pratt rounds out a very good front seven in Cincinnati. The secondary will have question marks. They lost both Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell in free agency, but they drafted Dax Hill in the first round of the NFL Draft last year in preparation for such an event. Former Rams safety Nick Scott will also be in the rotation. Cam Taylor-Britt was a pleasant surprise last season, making his mark when Chidobe Awuzie was on the shelf. Mike Hilton is still one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league, as well.
We’ll see how many games, if any, Burrow misses with the calf injury. If he is a full go, though, the Bengals are still the most complete team in the division.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have a very complete, and, deep roster. The offensive line got better with the addition of Isaac Seumalo at left guard, and first-round pick Broderick Jones is coming along and looking like he’ll be starting soon. The Steelers quietly have one of the deepest skill position groups, as well. The top four receivers will all be great in their roles. Diontae Johnson is the natural separator who will get the majority of targets. George Pickens is the downfield threat who turns 50-50 balls into 70-30 balls. Allen Robinson will play the big slot role, and Calvin Austin is the gadget guy who can burn anyone with his speed.
The tight ends will be fun, too, with Pat Freiermuth and Darnell Washington, and Connor Heyward will do a little of everything from tight end to fullback. I’d also like to see Jaylen Warren get more touches this season alongside Najee Harris. If all goes well, Pittsburgh will have a fantastic running back duo.
We know about the usual suspects on defense. T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Minkah Fitzpatrick will all be up to their usual shenanigans and disrupting plays, but the Steelers got better on that side of the ball. I love the addition of Patrick Peterson at cornerback and all three of their new off-ball linebackers. They recognized that room needed an overhaul, and they got one by bringing in Elandon Roberts, Cole Holcomb, and Kwon Alexander, who have all looked fantastic through camp and preseason.
If Kenny Pickett takes a step forward, and everyone else lives up to their respective potentials, the Steelers will be a playoff team.
3. Cleveland Browns
This may come as a shock, but the Browns have a higher ceiling than the Ravens. While it all comes down to the play of Deshaun Watson, if he looks like 2020 Deshaun Watson, the Browns will be a force. Nick Chubb is one of the three best running backs in football, the offensive line is good across the board, and the weapons at Watson’s disposal got better. Adding Elijah Moore to compliment Amari Cooper was a great trade for the Browns. Cedric Tillman has also looked good throughout camp and preseason, as has David Njoku.
We all know how good Myles Garrett is, as is Dalvin Tomlinson in the middle of the defensive line. I would like to see a little more from their secondary, though. Denzel Ward needs to stay healthy, Greg Newsome has to prove a lot this season, but I do like adding Juan Thornhill at safety.
As previously stated, this all depends on how well Watson plays. However, the roster is very solid from top to bottom.
4. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are very well-coached and their floor will be raised because of John Harbaugh, but this roster is vastly overrated. For starters, all of their top offensive talent can’t be relied upon to stay healthy for an entire season. Lamar Jackson has missed the tail end of the last two seasons, Rashod Bateman can’t seem to stay healthy, Odell Beckham Jr. sure isn’t a lock to play in all 17 games, Mark Andrews has had injury problems- it is all way too much to worry about with the Ravens. Plus, they have consistently been one of the most injured teams in the league over the last two years.
The defense is very thin, as well. Roquan Smith is very good, but who else in that front seven is scaring offensive coordinators? Marlon Humphrey is awesome, but he’s hurt, as his Rock Ya-Sin, who isn’t exactly who you want to have as your other starting cornerback in the first place. I struggle to be confident in the Ravens. Lamar is great, and I love the addition of Zay Flowers, but how will the new offense look under Todd Monken, and will everyone remain healthy? There are just too many ifs in Baltimore.