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Around the AFC North: Biggest Training Camp Questions

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh Steelers: Does Big Ben's return mean a return to the playoffs?

While the Ravens have won back to-back division titles, the archrival Steelers have missed the playoffs the past two seasons. However, Pittsburgh enters training camp with renewed optimism largely due to the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He's back after a season-ending elbow injury that required surgery and forced Roethlisberger to miss almost the entire 2019 season.

Does Roethlisberger's return mean bounce back seasons for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner? That was a question posed by ESPN during its training camp roundup, and it's hard to argue that Roethlisberger isn't one of the most important players in the AFC North.

Smith-Schuster had his best season in 2018 (111 catches, 1,426 yards, seven touchdowns) when Roethlisberger was healthy. The Steelers also believe their running game will be rejuvenated, led by Conner and rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. from Maryland. With Roethlisberger back under center, teams must respect Pittsburgh's passing game more, which will create more operating room for Conner and McFarland.

Since Head Coach Mike Tomlin took over in 2007, Pittsburgh has never missed the playoffs three straight seasons. NFL Network analyst Peter Schrager calls the Steelers a team to watch in 2020, and his eyes are on Roethlisberger as Pittsburgh opens camp.

"Everybody is writing off this team and saying it's going to be the Ravens season again in the AFC North," Schrager said. "(The Steelers) haven't been in the playoffs the past couple of years. That doesn't seem right. I think they go back and I think Ben might be better than we expect."

Cincinnati Bengals: How quick will No. 1 pick Joe Burrow get up to speed?

Joe Burrow is the Bengals' new franchise quarterback, beginning his rookie campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many demands will be thrown at Burrow during his first training camp, and how quickly he adapts will determine whether he's ready to start and play well Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The question of how long it will take Burrow to become acclimated is huge. If Burrow has a strong rookie season, Cincinnati could make a major improvement over last year's 2-14 season. The new-look Bengals begin training camp with three key offensive pieces who didn't play a snap for them last season – Burrow, star wide receiver A.J. Green, who missed 2019 with an ankle injury, and left tackle Jonah Williams, who missed all of 2019.

Green can't wait to play with Burrow and is eager to begin building chemistry during camp.

"I've seen Joe's body of work," Green said via the Bengals’ team website. "I've watched him the last two years in the SEC. He beat up my (Georgia) Bulldogs a couple of times. He's one of the best. You have to respect his grind and his process the way he goes about his business each day."

Cleveland Browns: Can Head Coach Kevin Stefanski unlock the offense?

Cleveland has one of the league's most talented offenses on paper, featuring quarterback Baker Mayfield, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and new tight end Austin Hooper.

Getting that talent to gel during training camp will be a major a goal for new Head Coach Kevin Stefanski. As the former offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, Stefanski ran a balanced offense and is expected to use Chubb and Hunt's talents to set up the passing game. That should take pressure off Mayfield, who needs to have a bounce back season in his third year.

The Browns rarely clicked on all cylinders last season and never recovered from a 2-6 start. Stefanski will try to use training camp as a springboard toward starting the season on the right foot.

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