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by Joe Liptak for Wizard Race & Sports

Cincinnati Bengals – predicted 1st in the AFC North

The Bengals are coming off a phenomenal season after reaching the Super Bowl with Joe Burrow after he made a huge second-year leap despite coming off a torn ACL. They also struck gold when drafting former LSU teammate of Joe Burrow, wide receiver Ja’marr Chase. He notched a franchise-record 1,455 receiving yards in just his rookie season. The Bengals’ receiving room is looking outstanding with the breakout of Chase, and it just keeps getting better. Behind him is 6’4” jump ball maestro, Tee Higgins. Higgins is often viewed as the best WR2 in the entire league, meaning he would be the best receiver on most other teams.

Burrow has so many weapons that it is hard to keep track, and it does not stop there. Standing next to him in the backfield again will be Joe Mixon, 3-time 1,000 yard rusher. Last year he scored a total of 16 touchdowns. In the 2021 season, the one thing holding this Bengals team back was their offensive line, but that seems to have changed this offseason. They signed three linemen and two tight ends. This offensive line has taken a leap since last year after signing three well-established veterans in Hayden Hurst (tight end), Alex Cappa (guard) and La’el Collins (tackle). This Bengals offense has really rounded out this offseason and they will no doubt be a fun team to watch.

To pair with that star-studded offense the Bengals also have a solid defense that ranked at number 17 at the end of last year, according to Football Outsiders. This year they did not make many changes to the defense so they should be just as good. The defensive standouts from last year are guys like Logan Wilson, who is a young linebacker, and Jessie Bates, 5-year veteran. Overall, this team has the ability to make another appearance in the Super Bowl but it is important for their players to stay healthy and for Joe Burrow to stay consistent. I picture this team winning the AFC North by more than a few games.

Don’t miss Wizard Race & Sports coverage of the NFL this year with lead handicapper Dr. Alan back for another profitable season!

Cleveland Browns – predicted 2nd in the 2022 AFC North Preseason Breakdown

This Browns association decided to take a shot in the dark after going all in on quarterback, Deshaun Watson. He faced sexual harassment allegations and was given a six-game suspension. Luckily for the Browns, their first six games are not the toughest of opponents. So, if the Browns backup quarterback, who will likely be Jacoby Brissett, can keep the Browns offense afloat for the start of the season then they will be set up nicely for the end of the year.

To take some load off Brissett the Browns have 3-time Pro Bowler, Nick Chubb, and Kareem Hunt, who is a well-established veteran. There is some bad news for Browns fans that Hunt wants out of Cleveland, but the Browns refused to trade him. This means that the locker room chemistry may not be where it should.

On the bright side, the Browns also have newly acquired Amari Cooper, who is a 4-time Pro Bowler. He has put up over 1,000 yards four times in his eight-year career. Defensively the Browns have always been a very solid team, and last year they ranked at number 13, according to Football Outsiders. This is led by none other than Myles Garrett, and he is surrounded by many veterans who have been playing in the Browns defensive scheme for years. This Browns defense looks rather similar to last year which hopefully means good things. Younger players will have more experience with the coaching staff and older players will know their rolls well. I picture this team struggling off the field with player relations but having a relatively successful season and coming in second in the division.

Pittsburg Steelers

The Steelers are a very grit and grind team who like receivers that get their hands dirty. So, for their second round pick they went out and got just that, George Pickens out of Georgia. Pickens has been great in training camp leading up to the season and he will be surrounded by other great receiver talents. The two biggest names are Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. Both of these guys have been playing in the Steelers scheme for a while so they should do well in mentoring Pickens.

Now that Ben Roethlisberger has retired, the Steelers had to make a change at the quarterback position, and they landed on former Bears starting quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky. Behind him, fighting for the start will be 20th overall pick, Kenny Pickett. The Steelers have a few options at quarterback, but that is not typically a good thing. Aside from that, the Steelers have a very solid run-game in second-year running back Najee Harris. Harris ran for 1,200 yards this last season and should be looking to progress even further this season. Harris put up crazy numbers while having one of the worst offensive lines in the league. In 2021 the Steelers ranked as the 26th worst offensive line in the league, according to PFF. Comparatively, the roster does not get much better on the other side of the ball.

Defensively they ended last year ranked at number 24, per Football Outsiders. However, they do have a few standouts like former Defensive Player of the Year, TJ Watt, 12-year veteran Cameron Heyward, and 2-time All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. If this defense can stay healthy, they can easily become a top 16 defense. Much of the Steelers’ season relies on solid quarterback play from whoever they decide to start, and a healthy defense. This team has the potential to come in second in the division or lose out and fall to the bottom of the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have an offense built around their star quarterback Lamar Jackson, but since his 2019 MVP season, the offense has been lackluster. They are a run-heavy offense behind a bottom half offensive line and a lack of talent at the running back position, besides their RB1 J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins and Jackson make a good pair in the backfield, but the Ravens offense does not have much else to offer. This offseason the Ravens lost their best wide receiver in Marquise Brown, and they do not have much depth at the position. Their best, and most experienced wide receiver will be third year player, Devin Duvernay. Defensively the Ravens are a solid team. Last year they finished the season as the 19th best defense in the league, according to Football Outsiders. This Ravens defense has good potential because of their veterans like cornerback, Marlon Humphrey, defensive tackles Calais Campbell and Michael Pierce. Not only do they have older guys who can lead the way, but they also have some young guys who can make a name for themselves. Some young players to look out for: Patrick Queen, Kyle Hamilton, and David Ojabo. The Ravens’ defense is particularly strong in the passing game, where they have many experienced veterans. I think the Ravens will end this year at a higher defensive rank than 19. This is necessary for the Ravens to be successful because they do lack talent on the offensive side of the ball. Overall, this team has a lot of talent on the defensive end, so the defense must carry a large workload to have a good season. I picture this team finishing in the bottom half of the division.

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