Ravens may be playing catch-up to Bengals for next few years
In 2021, the AFC North served as an even playing field for all four teams. In 2022, that field may be tilted one way, and it’s not in favor of the Baltimore Ravens.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the Cincinnati Bengals have become the team to beat.
The Bengals topped the AFC North and swept the Steelers and the Ravens in the process. Cincinnati bested the Kansas City Chiefs, this year’s Super Bowl favorites, twice, both of which were high-stakes matchups. And next Sunday, the Bengals will vie for their first Super Bowl ever against the Los Angeles Rams.
With Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow leading one of the best franchise turnarounds in league history, Cincinnati is primed to get even better in 2022, as the team has roughly $60 million in cap space to field yet another Super Bowl-contending roster.
Can the Bengals be stopped from overtaking the AFC North next year? Baltimore could give Cincy a run for its money, but not without making significant adjustments.
The Ravens may be a step behind the Bengals next season
General manager Eric DeCosta recently spoke about the challenge of beating the Ravens’ division rivals:
"“It’s kind of like [Chinese general] Sun Tzu – studying your enemies. I think we have to look at all the best teams, and how do we beat the best teams? Obviously, the Bengals are one of the best teams right now. They’re a very tough team to defend. They have excellent skill position players. They’ve improved quite a bit, and they’ve got a quarterback that’s fantastic.”"
Burrow, Chase, Higgins, Boyd, and Mixon. All young stars. And a solid defense to boot.
While the Ravens can’t boast as much young, promising talent as Cincy, they still have a well-run front office and a stable offensive core.
In their two losses to the Bengals in 2021, the Ravens gave up 941 passing yards and seven touchdowns, though their second meeting could hardly be called a fair game. Due to injuries, Baltimore fielded what was essentially a practice squad secondary, and Burrow never lifted his foot off the pedal.
Once Lamar Jackson recovers from injury, the Ravens should have enough offensive firepower to match that of the Bengals, but certain players may need to step up.
Jackson and Mark Andrews are the most reliable members of the offense, but younger weapons like Rashod Bateman and even Devin Duvernay and James Proche could make huge impacts in the passing game.
Both the Bengals’ and Ravens’ franchises have drafted well in recent years, and each organization’s picks in the 2022 NFL Draft could set the stage for future division matchups.
As it stands, though, the Bengals have the upper hand and could rule the AFC North for the next several years.
Baltimore may just have to settle for second place as the team continues to add reinforcements and try to build a successful future.