Pittsburgh Steelers: Who’s the bigger AFC North threat?

Jan 1, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals inside linebacker Nick Vigil (59) against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals inside linebacker Nick Vigil (59) against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The AFC North had one of the best offseasons in recent memory, but who’s the bigger threat to the Pittsburgh Steelers – the Baltimore Ravens or Cincinnati Bengals?

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It’s no secret that the AFC is no hands down the harder conference in the NFL. With the offseason some of these teams have had, there’s no knowing how the season will play out. Trying to guess playoff teams right now is nearly impossible, which is exactly why we ask the question; who’s the best AFC North team outside the Pittsburgh Steelers?

When you think of the toughest matchup for the Steelers in the AFC North, you usually think of the Baltimore Ravens. Given their history and the fact that Baltimore always seems to compete for the division, most would assume their the toughest matchup for Pittsburgh.

Truthfully, the Ravens should always scare Steelers’ fans. The rivalry these two have leaves zero certainties when they play. One team can be 15-0 and the other 0-15, and there will still be no clear-cut favorite.

This season, though, the Bengals are the scarier team. Baltimore put together one of the best defensive minded drafts in the NFL and now have threats all over the field on defense. But there are still plenty of questions surrounding that offense.

For one, who’s the running back? If Terrance West or Kenneth Dixon is assumed to be the starter again, Baltimore will struggle against Pittsburgh’s front seven. Dixon has a high upside in the NFL, but still needs time to develop. Until he’s ready to control the running game by himself, they’ll struggle on the ground.

At receiver, Mike Wallace is a great deep threat, but outside of him, the Ravens are still searching for depth. Breshard Perriman is a great young talent, but without one more dependable option through the air, the Ravens’ offense doesn’t pose much danger to Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati made their offense one of the best in the league virtually overnight. By drafting John Ross and Joe Mixon, there isn’t a part of this offensive unit that isn’t intimidating to any NFL team.

Now, instead of having to worry about only A.J. Green, opposing defenses have to be concerned with Ross as well. As two wideouts who can burn secondaries deep on almost any play, Pittsburgh is praying their defensive backfield is developed enough to contain them at least somewhat.

Joe Mixon will have to compete for the starting job against Jeremy Hill, but from the looks of it, the Bengals were looking for a way to work Hill out of Cincy. For someone who has first-round talent but second-round off the field issues, Mixon is a steal in this offense. Whether he starts immediately or works his way into the lineup, he’s one of the toughest AFC North rookies Pittsburgh will play all season.

The Bengals defense is only getting better. Their biggest steal of the draft may have been Carl Lawson in the fourth round. As someone who can come in and start immediately, the Bengals somehow got a top round talent at the end of day two. Combine him with the returning stars like Vontaze Burfict and George Atkins, and this front seven now becomes lethal.

The entire AFC North is going to be tough. Pittsburgh, Cincy, and Baltimore will all compete for playoff spots this season, but against an incredibly difficult AFC, chances are only one or two make it.

The Ravens will still be a challenge. Heck, they’re the Ravens, they’re always one of the hardest teams the Steelers play.

Cincinnati is the best AFC North team outside of Pittsburgh, though. What they did this offseason is incredible. Not only do they now have one of the scariest offenses, but they’re continuing to develop their defense.

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They aren’t much of a playoff threat until they can prove they know how to win in January, but the Bengals are the toughest division team Pittsburgh will play all season.

This could be a matchup that goes 1-1 and has a big impact on who wins the North.