Cincinnati Bengals: Pundits Not on Bengals Bandwagon to Repeat As Division Champs
Heading into Week 1, plenty of national pundits have made predictions for the 2022 season and the Bengals may feel disrespected.
Peter King of NBC Sports, John Breech of CBS Sports and Vinnie Iyer of Sporting News have all picked the Ravens to dethrone Cincinnati as AFC North champs. All three have picked the Bengals to finish as a Wild Card playoff team, and none expect Cincinnati to return to the Super Bowl.
"The first-place schedule brings Cincinnati down to earth a bit, but the Bengals will be a threat still," wrote King, who picked the Bengals to finish 10-7 before losing to the Chargers in a Wild Card playoff game.
King says the AFC North will be decided by the Week 17 matchup between the Ravens and Bengals in Cincinnati. The Bengals swept the Ravens last season, but King sees Baltimore getting its revenge.
"The final game of the regular season, for all the marbles in the AFC North, will pit 10-6 Baltimore at 10-6 Cincinnati," King wrote. "There's some drama. Ravens win, cop the second seed in the AFC, send Bengals on the road in the playoffs."
The Bengals got a little more love from The Athletic, with 22 writers picking the Bengals to win the AFC North and 20 picking the Ravens.
Iyer thinks the Bengals are too talented to miss the playoffs, although teams that lose in the Super Bowl often struggle the following season.
"The Bengals will avoid having a true Super Bowl-losing hangover because of they are too well-rounded of a young team to let that happen," Iyer said. "Led by Joe Burrow, they are still loaded on offense with an improved line. Defensively, led by Trey Hendrickson, they can still make key plays on every level."
Pittsburgh Steelers: Some Pundits Predict Mike Tomlin's First Losing Season
The Steelers enter 2022 with plenty to prove in their first season after Ben Roethlisberger's retirement. Breech predicts the Steelers will go 8-9, which would be a new experience for Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who's never had a losing season during his 15 years in Pittsburgh.
None of The Athletic's 43 writers picked the Steelers to win the division. Meanwhile, Gary Gramling of Sports Illustrated sees Pittsburgh tumbling to 6-11.
"For the first time in nearly two decades, the Steelers will be breaking in a new quarterback, either free agent Mitchell Trubisky, signed from Buffalo, or first-round pick Kenny Pickett out of Pitt," Gramling said. "Finding a successor for Ben Roethlisberger is the biggest question facing this team, but its run defense was stunningly leaky a year ago, a fact overshadowed by T.J. Watt's NFL-record-tying 22.5-sack performance. Coach Mike Tomlin, new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and new assistant head coach Brian Flores need to find a way to steady the front seven."
Iyer still believes Pittsburgh will piece together a winning season and finish 10-7.
"The Steelers' calling card is their pass defense, but their passing game should carry a much higher ceiling at some point with Kenny Pickett taking over," Iyer said. "The run defense is headed to being shored up while the running game is in the capable legs of Najee Harris. Expect Mike Tomlin's team to overachieve again."
Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson Suspension Presents Major Challenge
While the Ravens and Bengals are popular choices to reach the playoffs, the Browns are not. Iyer believes the 11-game suspension of starting quarterback Deshaun Watson will be too challenging for Cleveland to overcome.
"Deshaun Watson's suspension expanding to 11 games ensures the Browns won't be playoff team again post Baker Mayfield," Iyer wrote, predicting the Browns will finish 7-10 and last in the division. "They can help Jacoby Brissett win with the running game and defense, but they no longer will have the scoring offense to stay with the better teams in the AFC."
NFL Network's Judy Battista thinks Brissett could play well enough to keep the Browns in playoff contention until Watson returns. Battista named Brissett as one of the “22 People Who Will Shape the 2022 NFL Season.”
"If Watson were in line to start for the entire season, (Cleveland) would have very real Super Bowl aspirations," Battista said. "Nobody can expect Brissett to be Watson for the long term (although Watson looked very rusty in his only preseason appearance), but the veteran core of the team is very good, so Brissett's job is to keep the offense on the tracks.
"Brissett started five games in Miami last season, winning two of them while completing 63 percent of his passes. If Nick Chubb and Kareem can stay healthy (and the Browns don't trade Hunt, as he requested last month) and the defense remains among the league's best, Brissett probably doesn't need to be too much better than that for Cleveland to at least be in the playoff mix when Watson returns."