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Around the AFC North: Joe Burrow Resents Underdog Label As Bengals Head to AFC Championship

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) walks off the field after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. The Bengals won 19-16.

Cincinnati Bengals: Being Underdogs Against Chiefs Will Fuel Bengals

After two playoff victories, the confident Bengals don't view themselves as underdogs heading into Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs have won back-to-back conference championships and will host the game at Arrowhead Stadium, making them the clear favorites among media and oddsmakers. They're coming off an unreal 42-36 comeback win over the Buffalo Bills.

However, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow doesn't want to hear it. He still doesn't think the Bengals are getting enough respect, and he expressed those feelings after Cincinnati knocked off the Tennessee Titans, 19-16, on Saturday.

"I'm tired of the underdog narrative," Burrow said via Kelsey Conway of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We're a really, really good team. We're here to make noise."

Who can blame Burrow for believing? In his second NFL season, he's led the Bengals from being the NFL's worst team (2-14) in 2019 to one victory away from a Super Bowl. Burrow's impact on Cincinnati's franchise has been historic. The Bengals hadn't won a playoff game in 31 years until this current postseason run.

"Joe Burrow has led the greatest two-year turnaround in the history of the NFL in Cincinnati," ESPN "Get Up" analyst Dan Orlovsky said. "What he has done for an organization. People were saying, 'Don't go there, you can't win there, they don't spend any money.' They're in the AFC Championship Game."

The Bengals have already beaten Kansas City once this season and it wasn't that long ago – a 34-31 victory over the Chiefs on Jan. 2 in Cincinnati. Burrow threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns and rallied Cincinnati from a 28-14 deficit, while Ja'Marr Chase caught 11 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns.

Just like the Bengals will be challenged to stop Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City's potent offense, the Chiefs will have their hands full facing Burrow, Chase and the Bengals' offense. Burrow has already proven he won't be intimidated by the road atmosphere or facing a potent pass rush. He was sacked nine times by the Titans on Saturday, yet completed 28 of 37 passes for 348 yards.

"Joe Burrow essentially did the impossible," Orlovsky said. "For years, we've had people go on television say, 'Any quarterback, even the greatest of all time Tom Brady, is a lesser player when you hit him.' Joe Burrow wasn't."

Pittsburgh Steelers: Search for New Defensive Coordinator Has Begun

The Ravens aren't the only AFC North team changing defensive coordinators.

One day after the Ravens and Wink Martindale parted ways, Keith Butler announced his retirement as Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator over the weekend after holding the job for seven seasons.

The Steelers have already put in a request to interview New York Giants Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

Former Ravens (2011-13) secondary coach Teryl Austin, who is Pittsburgh's senior defensive assistant/secondary coach, is also a potential candidate to take over as coordinator. Austin has been a defensive coordinator previously with the Detroit Lions and Bengals.

Pittsburgh has led the NFL in sacks every season since 2017, but the Steelers finished last against the run in 2021, allowing 2,843 rushing yards and 5.0 yards per carry.

Cleveland Browns: Decision Looms on David Njoku's Future

Tight end David Njoku led the Browns with four touchdown catches in 2021, but he's a pending free agent.

The Browns used more three-tight end formations than any team in the NFL, and Njoku was part of a rotation that included Austin Hooper (38 catches, 345 yards, three touchdowns) and Harrison Bryant (21 catches, 233 yards, three touchdowns). Njoku finished with 36 catches for 475 yards.

It remains to be seen if the Browns will re-sign Njoku, part with another tight end, or keep all three. Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski sounded high on Njoku when asked about him earlier this month.

"David is a guy over the course of the last couple of seasons who has shown great growth as a player and as a person," Stefanski said via Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon-Journal. "The way he is playing on the field and the things that we are asking him to do, I think he is doing a really nice job. I think the tape speaks for itself. He has grown as a professional. He is still a young man, so he is continuing to grow as a person. I am really pleased with where he is."

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