This portion of the offseason is a time when every team in the NFL believes they are Super Bowl contenders. They are over a month removed from the draft and are getting their first look at veteran free agents additions and the team’s rookie crop in shorts and shirts with no contact.
Reality will eventually set in come Fall and even now each team has perceived flaws that could ultimately lead to their downfall in 2022. Fatal flaws can be uncertainty at particular position groups, off the field or legal issues for a star player and questions that will remain unanswered until the season gets underway. The AFC North features all of the above in one way or another.
Whether he gets suspended for a handful of games, half of the entire 2022 season, Deshaun Watson and the disturbing distraction that comes with him will be a black cloud that will hang over the team for the foreseeable future.
His teammates and coaches will continue to be bombarded with questions about his ongoing legal situation ad nauseum until and probably long after it gets resolved, which won’t be until after the 2022 season at least.
They burned the bridge with Baker Mayfield to a crisp and will likely be starting veteran journeyman Jacoby Brissett for a large chunk, the vast majority and potentially the entirety of the year.
Even if Watson sees the field and the Browns have success, make the playoffs, and put together a strong run at a title, it will all be soured and sullied by his off-the-field issues.
While many view the team’s lack of depth and even question their overall talent at the wide receiver position, there is much more uncertainty on the edge of their defense at outside linebacker.
They have a pair of edge defenders recovering from torn Achilles tendons suffered in this calendar year with veteran Tyus Bowser and rookie David Ojabo. Last year’s first-round pick, Odafe Oweh underwent offseason shoulder surgery and Jaylon Ferguson hasn’t shown a lot of pass-rushing prowess in his first three seasons.
Second-year pro Daelin Hayes has looked impressive during OTA’s but is unproven coming off an injury-riddled rookie season. They have yet to add an experienced veteran to the mix even though they tendered Justin Houston and brought in Jason Pierre-Paul for a visit this past week.
General Manager Eric DeCosta has had a very strong offseason, especially when it came to reshaping and adding quality depth to the secondary. Hopefully, the revamped bunch can force opposing quarterbacks to hold the ball a little longer so that their unknown commodities on the edge can get home and generate consistent pressure.
The reigning division and AFC champions are a very young team coming off a surprising Cinderella-like run to the Super Bowl. Even though they didn’t win it all, they still might suffer from a bit of a championship game hangover.
The kind of worst-to-first seemingly overnight success that the Bengals had in 2021 could give them a false sense of invincibility heading into this upcoming season. They are an extremely confident bunch led by their quarterback and 2021 Comeback Player of the Year, Joe Burrow.
Their front office aggressively addressed their most glaring weakness from last year this offseason with the additions of veterans Alex Cappa (right guard), La’el Collins (right tackle), and Ted Karras (center). However, they will be playing a first-place schedule for the first time since 2016.
They have a daunting slate of opponents in the second half of the season that includes hosting the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, and have road trips to Tennessee, New England, and Tampa Bay before closing out the season against the Ravens.
If it weren’t for Watson’s potential seismic impact for the 2022 Browns, the Steelers would be the odds on favorites to finish last in the division, and to some, they still are because of their quarterback depth chart.
Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement kept them from making the difficult yet clearly long-overdue decision of moving on from the franchise legend and future Hall of Famer. However, they didn’t land a notable veteran at the position via trade or free agency and were the only team to select a rookie signal-caller in the first round of this year’s draft from a class that was widely considered lackluster at best.
Despite being a former second overall pick, Mitchell Trubisky doesn’t exactly inspire confidence or strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. Fake slide aside, Kenny Pickett isn’t a much more imposing option and likely won’t start until the Steelers season begins circling the drain with the five-year veteran at the helm.
Thankfully, they finally have multiple dual-threat options at quarterback instead of the absolute statue with a barely average arm that Roethlisberger has been over the last few seasons. Sadly, they still probably have the fourth-best starter in the division even assuming Brissett makes most of the starts for the Browns in 2022.
If one of his quarterbacks doesn’t rise to the occasion and answers the call in a loaded AFC conference as a whole, this might be the year that Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin finally finishes with a losing record.