One of the biggest overreactions that followed the 2013 NFL Draft was the conclusion that many drew of the Cincinnati Bengals being the favorites to win the AFC North Division in 2013. There’s no denying that the Bengals had a terrific draft weekend in New York City, as they did well to address their needs at receiver, running back, linebacker, and safety. But to leap to the conclusion that they are the obvious favorites to win the toughest division in the AFC is premature.
The Bengals did tie the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens atop the division last season with identical 10-6 records, but Cincinnati played a rather favorable schedule down the stretch that helped them reach that mark. The Bengals were 3-5 at the midway point last year and needed to win seven of their final eight games to reach the playoffs. Of those seven wins, three came against quality franchises experiencing a down season: the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Three more of those wins came against a trio of pathetic teams from the dismal AFC West Division: the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers. Their final win came in a meaningless game against the Ravens. This year’s schedule will not be quite as conducive to another late-season surge by the Bengals, and they will not be able to recover if they have another sluggish start.
Another issue the Bengals have is that they still have the third best quarterback in the division. While Andy Dalton has been a quality signal caller since entering the league, surpassing expectations, he is still lower on the totem pole than both Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco. Roethlisberger, when healthy, is still one of the most feared quarterbacks in the NFL, while Flacco is straddling the line that separates elite quarterbacks from everybody else following his Super Bowl victory and Super Bowl MVP award.
Furthermore, Cincinnati still has to compete with two more renowned and accomplished franchises. Both the Steelers and Ravens are far more accustomed to winning division titles and traveling deep into the postseason than the Bengals, and until Cincinnati proves that it can accomplish what Pittsburgh and Baltimore have been able to accomplish on a regular basis, it’s hard to think of the Bengals as the favorites in the division. That’s especially true when the talent levels among the three rosters are still in close proximity.
There’s no doubt that the Bengals are a far better team following the draft and that they are in good position to take that next step as a franchise, but until they can do it, it’s difficult to assume that they’ll be able to. It’s bound to be a tight and competitive race in the AFC North in 2013, and it’s too early to be calling the Bengals, or anybody else, the favorites.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him to your network on Google+.