The Cincinnati Bengals are looking to build off their extremely successful 2021 campaign. The Bengals emerged from out of nowhere to win the AFC North, and then went on a surprising playoff run that led them all the way to the Super Bowl. Although they ended up falling short against the Los Angeles Rams in the big game, there’s no question that their 2021 campaign was a success.

The Bengals spent their offseason working on revamping their roster to help them make another run to the Super Bowl in 2022. They shored up arguably their biggest weakness at offensive line, and added to a defense that was quietly dominant during their playoff run last season.

Cincinnati have all the pieces in place to succeed, but they are going to have a much more difficult road out of their division this season. That’s because the AFC North has become much tougher over the offseason, and one team stands out as Cincy’s biggest threat to repeating as champions of the AFC North. Let’s identify that team and examine why they may cause the Bengals so many problems in 2022.

The Bengals biggest threat in the AFC North in 2022

Baltimore Ravens

Part of the reason the AFC North became so competitive this offseason was simply because the Baltimore Ravens had time to get healthy. The Ravens were hit hard by the injury bug before the 2021 season ever started, and they were never able to recover. Baltimore ended up finishing with an 8-9 record, which was last in the AFC North, and resulted in them unexpectedly missing the playoffs.

The Ravens are looking to bounce back in 2022, and if they do, the Bengals could be in some serious trouble. Baltimore is always going to be a threat to win games when star quarterback Lamar Jackson takes the field, and he figures to be raring to go after an injury-plagued 2021 campaign.

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Jackson also has a solid cast of playmakers around him that will help him lead the Ravens offense to victory. Both JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards are set to return after they both suffered ACL tears before the start of the 2021 season, and should pose a dominant running back duo behind Jackson. For pass catchers, tight end Mark Andrews and young wide receiver Rashod Bateman figure to be Jackson’s top two targets.

Defensively, the Ravens are looking as stout as always. They missed some key players last season, specifically Marcus Peters, who also tore his ACL before the season even started. Adding him back alongside Marlon Humphrey will give Baltimore one of the best cornerback duos in the league.

Baltimore’s front seven is going to need to have a bounce back season after struggling to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks consistently last season. Calais Campbell figures to lead the way in that regard after a down year in 2021, and Tyus Bowser emerged as a solid pass rusher, leading the team with seven sacks last season, although he is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

If the Ravens can stay healthy, they should be able to put together a nice bounce back season, and challenge the Bengals a top the AFC North. The reason this is a very big problem for the Bengals is that they primarily won the AFC North due to the struggles of all the other teams in their division.

This isn’t meant to take away from the success Cincinnati had last season, but think about it for a second. The Ravens were struggling with injuries all season, the Cleveland Browns had to deal with Baker Mayfield and his struggles, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were dealing with an aging Ben Roethlisberger. The Bengals only went 10-7 last season; it’s not like they scorched the division on their way to the Super Bowl.

The Bengals got hot at the perfect time last season, and that should help make them a better team in 2022. But it cannot just be assumed they lead the division heading into 2022 because they won it last season. A lot of things went right for Cincinnati in 2021, and chances are that won’t happen again. They probably won’t have to worry about the Steelers this season, but if Deshaun Watson ends up being able to play for the Browns, they immediately become just as big a threat as the Ravens.

But for now, the Ravens stand out as the biggest threat in the AFC North for the Bengals in the 2022 season. They have the talent, assuming they stay healthy, to win every time they take the field, and that alone should present a challenge the Bengals didn’t have to face last season. Many will expect Cincinnati to be able to win the AFC North again after their Super Bowl appearence last season, but the Ravens are going to do everything in their power to make sure it isn’t as easy as it was for them this time around.