The Bengals and Browns are Ohio based teams who head into 2021 with different expectations after opposite finishes in 2020.
The Browns finished 2020 with a surprising 10-6 record while the Bengals did not have similar luck as they went 4-11-1 and number one pick Joe Burrow ended up in rehab from a torn ACL in week 11.
The Steelers grasp on the AFC North seems to be slipping away with an aging Ben Roethlisberger and leaky offensive line. The Ravens (+115) and Browns (+145) both sit above the Steelers (+440) as the favorites to win the north by oddsmakers, which is a big change from recent years.
The Browns were the shock of the league in 2020 as they went 10-6 under first year head coach Kevin Stefanski. The long suffering Browns fans were forced to watch from home due to Covid restrictions as they made huge improvements on both sides of the ball. The Browns pulled off a huge upset in the first round of the AFC playoffs by beating the Steelers before falling in the divisional round on the road to the Chiefs.
Despite the Browns big improvements in 2020, they still had a few holes on defense and signed a couple impact defensive players that should make an immediate impact defensively for the the Browns:
Jadeveon Clowney, DE
The Browns missed out on Clowney in 2020 but were able to get him to sign with Cleveland this offseason and should help take some pressure off Myles Garrett on the opposite side of the line.
Anthony Walker, LB
Walker will provide leadership to a young browns defense and will help make play a key role in helping the Browns slow down the run in the ground and pound AFC North.
This could be the year of the Browns a favorable schedule compared to their division rival Steelers and Ravens (1 and 2 in SOS), and a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. returning to an already explosive offense. We like the Browns to win the AFC North and be in the mix for the AFC title. If the Browns can get home field advantage throughout the playoffs we could be looking at the Browns appearing in their first ever Super Bowl against a likely tough NFC opponent, which would bring tears to most in northern Ohio.
The Bengals heading into 2020 with plenty of excitement after landing the top prize in the 2020 draft by taking Heisman winner Joe Burrow with the first pick. Burrow gave new hope to a Bengals team who last made the playoffs in 2015 and were looking for an answer at QB since letting go of Andy Dalton.
The 2020 season was a bit of a disappointment as Burrow went out with a torn ACL in week 11 and they finished 4-11-1. They also suffered multiple injuries on the offensive line, and lost key free agent signing Trae Waynes for the year in training camp.
Bengals owner Mike Brown has the reputation for being notoriously cheap over the years by being unwilling to open up the wallet in free agency. This offseason was a nice change for Bengals fans, as they signed DE Trey Hendrickson (6 yr, $60M), CB Chidobe Awuzie (3 yr, $21M) and CB Mike Hilton (4 yrs, $24M) to big deals.
The Bengals should be a fun team to watch in 2021 with a healthy Burrow getting a full season to showcase his ability and better luck with injuries than they had last season. The AFC North is just too tough this year for the Bengals to make a playoff push and we think they should finish slightly below .500 in the 7-10 to 8-9 range.