Coming off an 8-9 finish in 2021, the Cleveland Browns have made a couple of big changes to their roster, which has given fans across Northeast Ohio a sizable amount of hope for the coming season.
The acquisition of Deshaun Watson, who will be a significant upgrade over Baker Mayfield, plus the addition of Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper, will give the Browns as much offensive firepower as they have had in memory.
Some fans in The Land are perhaps thinking that, with a few lucky breaks, the Browns could be poised to win the division title in 2022, something they haven’t done since 1989 when they played in the AFC Central (the AFC North wasn’t created until 2002).
However, a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, the reigning AFC North and conference champions, reminded everyone in the division that they’re still the top dogs.
“It goes through us right now,” said D.J. Reader of the Bengals.
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) May 10, 2022
The Bengals Are The Best Until Proven Otherwise
Penciling in the Bengals as the winners of the AFC North in 2022 seems reasonable given what they did in 2021.
Coming into last season, they had one of the longest odds to win the Super Bowl.
But they coalesced as the year went on, and with a 10-7 record, they outlasted the Pittsburgh Steelers to finish first in the division.
Cincinnati showed its mettle, out-dueling the AFC South champion Tennessee Titans and the winner of the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs, to advance to the Super Bowl, where it hung tough before losing to the Los Angeles Rams.
Quarterback Joe Burrow runs the show, and he is poised to seriously challenge for a spot in next year’s Pro Bowl.
A Crack In The Bengals’ Armor?
The problem, however, with the Bengals is their defense.
They ranked 17th in points allowed, 18th in yards allowed and 26th in passing yards allowed.
But that could change, as they used their first three picks and five of their first six in last month’s NFL draft on defensive players.
Those rookies will have to grow up fast, however, because the rest of the conference has gotten better, especially on the offensive side of the football.
One of the teams that look better in that department is the Browns.
Watson gives them a signal-caller who has made the Pro Bowl in four consecutive seasons and led the league in passing yards in 2020.
Cooper has gone north of 1,000 receiving yards in five of his seven pro seasons, and he has a decent amount of playoff experience.
The Browns also hope that young wideout Anthony Schwartz will blossom with the help of Watson.
2022 could be a breakout season for WR Anthony Schwartz. Battled injuries his rookie season but under QB Deshaun Watson he could turn into the speed/downfield threat the team needs him to be #Browns. pic.twitter.com/0QQWxgw9mD
— Tyler Johnson (@T_johnson_TJ) May 11, 2022
In addition, running back Nick Chubb could elevate his already impressive numbers if Cleveland’s offensive line gets and stays healthy throughout the 2022 campaign.
Another thing that could do the Bengals in this coming season is if they regress a bit due to teams gunning for them and giving them their best shot each week.
If that happens, there could be an opening for Cleveland to make D.J. Reader eat his words.