Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals are riding high.
They’re seemingly “ahead of schedule” after winning the AFC North and Championship game last season.
With a young, stud quarterback in Burrow and weapons around him on both sides of the ball, they’re poised for a repeat performance.
Of course, the Cleveland Browns will be looking to snatch that divisional crown right away from the Bengals.
But how do they do that?
Burrow has turned the Bengals franchise around.
He’s dead accurate, featuring the highest completion percentage of any quarterback last season.
The Browns countered this offseason by trading for Deshaun Watson.
It’s hard to know exactly where his game is at after missing all last season.
A potential suspension looms on top of that.
However, if Watson returns and he looks like his former self, the thought is that he’ll be the best quarterback in the division.
Fans are already clamoring over simple workout videos featuring Watson throwing in Browns practice gear.
Footage of #Browns QB Deshaun Watson.
(Video via Browns) pic.twitter.com/tHdp1CqOy1
— Brad Stainbrook (@StainbrookNFL) May 9, 2022
Just two years ago Watson led the league in passing.
If Cleveland gets that version of Watson this year, they’ll boast the best quarterback in the division.
It’s no secret injuries have been a major factor in each of the two last seasons.
It’s not just for the Browns as every team dealt with COVID as well as the usual seasonal bumps and bruises.
However, Cleveland saw missed time from their starting quarterback, left tackle, wide receiver, and more in 2021.
Kevin Stefanski won’t use excuses, but all of that proved too tough to overcome.
Injuries will inevitably happen in a sport like football.
That’s why good teams invest in depth, though.
Cleveland did that through free agency and the draft this offseason.
They’ll be able to overcome minor scratches and bruises.
Too much missed time from the stars could doom them.
That seems obvious but it’s a legitimate concern considering the way the last two seasons have gone.
The quarterback position will be most important in keeping upright. Burrow only missed the season finale in 2021 and that’s only because of rest for the postseason.
Once Watson takes the field for the Browns, that offensive line needs to take pride in keeping him healthy.
Take That Ball Away
Defensively the Browns are where they want to be.
Cleveland’s defense allowed the third-fewest total yards last year.
Outside of that two week stretch against the Chargers and Cardinals, the Browns defense performed well.
The area for improvement on that side of the ball is the takeaways.
The Browns defense has the guys to create turnovers.
Denzel Ward has become one of the best at that with three interceptions (and a pick six) last season.
DENZEL WARD PICK SIX pic.twitter.com/g3pJqPcvAB
— Barstool OSU (@BarstoolOSU) November 7, 2021
But Cleveland ranked just 21st last year averaging just 1.1 takeaways per game.
Cincinnati’s defense, while not elite in this department, came in at 12th with 1.4 takeaways per contest.
Win Divisional Games
Cleveland has played well against the Bengals recently, winning their last four games against them.
That includes a 41-16 romping of Cincinnati in Week Nine last year, a game in which Burrow and the Bengals starters all played.
Bengals fans certainly have a stronger presence on Twitter than they do in their own home stadium on Sundays. Literally a home game for the browns every time they play down there. pic.twitter.com/9F1yq7Ui1u
— Mike (@MikeR5577) May 12, 2022
The Browns went 1-3 in their remaining divisional games though, beating Baltimore once in Week 14.
The Bengals, on the other hand, swept both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
If Cleveland had taken care of business against the Ravens and Steelers, they’d have made the postseason.
In 2022, winning those games is a must.
Can They Win the North?
Yes. Yes, the Cleveland Browns can take the AFC North crown from Cincinnati.
It’s far from a guarantee with the Bengals hungry to get another crack at the Lombardi Trophy.
They have the tools to get back there as well.
So does Cleveland, though.
It just needs to come together, quickly, over the course of the regular season.
The keys are getting elite quarterback play, staying healthy, and winning the turnover battle.