The AFC North is growing increasingly competitive.
With young Heisman trophy winning quarterbacks leading the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns, the stalwart Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer the dominant team.
Interestingly enough, three out of the four AFC North teams qualified for the playoffs in 2020.
This means increased divisional rivalries in the years to come, but who would be perceived as the favorite to win the division in 2021?
Would it be the Bengals, Ravens, Steelers, or Browns?
The short answer is that the Browns are the divisional favorite.
Let’s take a look at each time and determine why that is.
There is no doubt that Joe Burrow is a great player and quarterback.
One of the disappointments in 2020 was that he suffered such a significant injury.
#InjuryReport 🚨- Reposting this video, as an MRI has confirmed Joe Burrow has torn the ACL and MCL of his left knee. This video shows the anterior tibial translation, followed by an auto-reduction after the pressure was released from his leg. pic.twitter.com/AIl1wfHccE
— The Injury Guy (@thatinjuryguy) November 23, 2020
He is young and hopefully will be ready by opening day 2021.
But the Bengals need to fill in key spots around him, including an offensive line.
Bengals O-line coach: "We've got to do everything we can to protect" Joe Burrowhttps://t.co/IhSLDcOXmO pic.twitter.com/q5KfrlM69c
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) January 20, 2021
Until the Bengals get the pieces put together, Cincinnati is not the divisional favorite.
That could be a different story about two or three years down the road depending on how they draft and what free agents they acquire.
Lamar Jackson is a tough customer for defenses.
He can run, hand off, or pass at will.
But the Ravens have shown they are beatable.
The Browns did not beat the Ravens in either meeting in 2020.
So if any team other than the Browns is atop the AFC North in 2021, it would be the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens are already making moves, waiving RGIII and releasing Mark Ingram.
The Baltimore Ravens on Monday waived four veterans and signed 11 players to reserve/future deals, which gives them a chance to work with the team this offseason.
— WBAL NewsRadio 1090 and FM 101.5 (@wbalradio) January 19, 2021
Jackson needs reliable receivers.
The Steelers are baffling.
They jumped out to the 11-0 lead and looked pretty invincible.
Then, reality hit, and Ben started looking his age.
It is still unclear what happened in the wildcard playoff that caused them to make so many uncharacteristic mistakes.
Word is that longtime center Pouncey is retiring, but he has not confirmed that yet.
#Steelers Maurkice Pouncey is retiring after 11 seasons.
— SteelerNation (@SteeIerNation) January 24, 2021
The Steelers have plenty of talent, but the question mark is if Ben can make it through a 17 game regular season which is what is coming in 2021.
The Browns are the most opportune team in the division; there is so much upside.
Just getting started.
👏👏👏 @JWills73 @hbryant17 pic.twitter.com/2y4vbNxYPk
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) January 20, 2021
They are young and just got a taste of playoff experience.
The team was decimated with injuries and COVID-19 and still managed to succeed.
They finally have the right leadership in GM Andrew Berry and the NFL Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski.
Their challenge in the offseason will be great.
They need to score great free agent deals and make prudent decisions at the draft to upgrade the defense because that’s what let them down in the end.
There are also those nagging issues with Nick Chubb and Baker Mayfield‘s contracts and scores of free agents to figure out what to do with.
Of course, how the 2021 season goes is a big unknown, but what we do know is that the Browns will be a perceived leader in the AFC North division which is turning into the most competitive division in the NFL.
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