2023 NFL Season Preview: AFC North Edition

The most terrifying, aggressive, ugly, nasty, despicable, exciting and talented division in the league. To be optimistic, any team could win the division this year in the AFC North. But to be realistic, only one team should take the division crown…

Cincinnati Bengals: 1st

The Bengals are led by former #1 overall pick and the current second-best QB in the NFL. Joe Burrow. He alone could lift the Bengals to contention, as he has done in the past two seasons. But he is not alone. He has arguably a top five receiver in the NFL in Ja’Marr Chase, the best number two receiver in football in Tee Higgins, and the best number three receiver in Tyler Boyd, along with newly acquired TE Irv Smith Jr. (barf) and Joe Mixon at RB. That’s just the offense. On defense, they have a lot of underrated studs. Germaine Pratt being the most underrated of them all. Honestly though, the Bengals have talent at every position on defense. LB Logan Wilson, IDL DJ Reader, EDGE Trey Hendrickson, CB Mike Hilton, DB Dax Hill and S Jordan Battle could all be high impact players. The sky’s the limit for the Bengals this season. With their offensive line also becoming a solid unit, they are my pick to win the Super Bowl this season. They could legitimately have the MVP of the league and take home the Lombardi this season. It is an exciting time to be a Bengals fan. 

Baltimore Ravens: 2nd

I think Lamar Jackson is an amazing player, and he earned the contract that he received this offseason. I have no idea why that was even a question. What even are the Ravens without Lamar? When a player completely reshapes the way your franchise plays football, that should be a sign that he is the most important part to your team and therefore your number one priority. Whether the Ravens are setting themselves up for contention is irrelevant in this conversation. This guy is the franchise. Having a group of NFL quality receivers this year should propel Lamar back into the MVP conversation like he was at the beginning of last season. Dare I say, the Ravens might even have a top ten wide receiver room in the NFL now. Mark Andrews. Adding S Marcus Williams and EDGE Jadeveon Clowney to the defense will prove to be helpful. The thing that has always held the Ravens back in previous years has been injuries. They are hard to predict, but they somehow always are floating around the playoff conversation, so I expect them to get back there again.

Cleveland Browns: 3rd

This team used to be so fun to root for. The lovable losers. The up-and-coming team that just traded for Odell Beckham Jr. Baker Mayfield. But now, a lot has changed. I really do not want to get into Deshaun Watson outside of how he performs on the field, but his off-the-field issues obviously make him a villain. However, Watson as a football player was a top five quarterback in the NFL when we saw him at the peak of his powers. He is still only 27 years old, and with weapons like Nick Chubb and Amari Cooper at his disposal, their offense could take off. I also am expecting WR Donovan Peoples-Jones to have a bigger role this year. Not to mention their defense, which is led by one of the best players we have in the NFL today, Myles Garrett. Rushing the passer alongside Garrett is newly acquired Za’Darius Smith, who was quietly in the defensive player of the year conversation last season for the Vikings. In the secondary, Denzel Ward remains a top cornerback in the league alongside rising star Greg Newsome II. I am undecided on whether I think they can make the playoffs. It all comes down to how well Deshaun Watson can play. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: 4th

This is so weird to predict for me because the Steelers have been a perennial playoff candidate for as long as I have been alive. Nineteen years in a row, the Steelers have had a winning record, and as much as I would like to believe that they can stretch it to two decades, I just can’t see it this year. This division is too talented for the Steelers to win any more than two games WITHIN THE DIVISION. Not total. Kenny Pickett should continue to progress with Dionte Johnson, George Pickens, Pat Friermuth and I also expect a bounce-back year from Najee Harris. For the Steelers to have a chance at the playoffs, TJ Watt needs to be healthy. In games with their star edge rusher last season, they were 8-2. Without him, they were 1-6. Watt is truly capable of putting this team on his back, but he will always be under intense pressure. Luckily, they have players like EDGE Alex Highsmith, S Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB Patrick Peterson, and DE Cameron Heyward to take some of that pressure off of him. The Steelers are the best team that will finish last in their division this year. 

When AFC North football is on, it’s simple. Turn on your TV. Luckily, you will be able to watch at least one team from this division from September all the way until February. Please, please, please appreciate the quality of football we see out of these guys this year. And since I always have to mention the Vikings, they will destroy the future Super Bowl champs when they play each other in Week 15. Skol.

Header Photo: Fun fact: I have never been wrong about my Super Bowl predictions. So congratulations to the Cincinnati Bengals for winning Super Bowl LVIII. (Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Inquirer via AP)

Write to Hayden Lee at

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