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First and 10: Bengals Sleeping Tigers in AFC North

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AFC North Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow

The Cincinnati Bengals won the AFC North, won two road playoffs and were Joe Burrow looking to his right instead of his left away from beating the Los Angeles Rams and winning Super Bowl LVI after the 2021 season.

It just feels like a good time to remind everyone of that, because it seems like some people have forgotten.

The Bengals had their best season — and the best season for any AFC North squad — in recent memory, with young offensive starts Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins joining solid contributors like Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon to finish sixth in the NFL in points per game.

Cincinnati went 4-2 in the division, sweeping Pittsburgh and Baltimore while their 0-2 mark against the Browns contained a Week 18 no-contest that the Bengals nearly won anyway.

This offseason, their only meaningful loss in free agency was tight end C.J. Uzomah, while the team signed Hayden Hurst to fill that gap and added three starting offensive linemen in Alex Kappa, Ted Karras and La’el Collins to address the biggest need of the 2021 team.

If that version of the Cincy offensive line had been good enough to block Donald for four seconds instead of three, Burrow might’ve found Chase streaking wide open for a Super Bowl winning score.

This year’s version should be able to make that block hold that much longer and then some.

The Bengals also got a player in safety Dax Hill at pick No. 31 that was discussed as a potential fit for the Steelers 11 picks earlier.

And while they do have the toughest schedule in the division, the AFC North overall does not have a strong slate this season. The Bengals had the sixth-toughest schedule in the NFL (by 2020 opponent records), while Pittsburgh had the toughest and Baltimore was second-most difficult. Cincinnati opponents had a .529 previous season winning percentage.

This year, the Bengals have the third-toughest schedule, but their opponents have just a .536 winning percentage from 2021 — only a .007 increase.

It’s not that much more of a difficult schedule, the team is better on paper, and yet, all of the offseason stories have been about the Bengals’ AFC North compatriots.

The Ravens traded Hollywood Brown and need to sign Lamar Jackson. The Steelers have the intrigue of replacing Ben Roethlisberger. The Browns stepped in a pile of shit, then rolled in it.

Drama makes for good headlines. But it doesn’t make for good football. Things have been quiet coming out of Cincinnati, but they easily should be seen as the AFC North heavyweights right now.

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TODAY’S STEELERS SCHEDULE

The team still has one unsigned pick remaining from the 2022 NFL Draft: QB Kenny Pickett. Bechtold

Steelers QB Mitch Trubisky completes his three-day youth football camp in his hometown of Mentor, Ohio. Saunders 

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