It's that time of the summer when everyone is making their football predictions, and I'll have mine for the AFC North next week. But you don't have to wait to see what ESPN analyst and former NFL head coach Herm Edwards thinks about the division. It's an Insider post, but I can provide a few of his thoughts for those who aren't subscribers.
Edwards didn't go with the Baltimore Ravens because they lost leadership in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. He didn't select the Pittsburgh Steelers because of a struggling offensive line and an aging defense. He believes the Cleveland Browns will improve but he thinks they're a year away from competing.
That leaves the Cincinnati Bengals. Edwards is picking the division's young team on the rise for three reasons: an elite defense, recent strong drafts and improved versatility on offense.
This is Edwards' take on the Bengals:
The Bengals understand what the big stage looks like, having been to the playoffs in two straight years, now they simply need to perform better on it. And that includes both Dalton and Marvin Lewis (Dalton has 0 TDs, 4 INTs in two playoff games; Lewis is 0-4 in the playoffs in his Cincy coaching career). But first they have to get there. The Bengals have an elite defense, an influx of young talent and a very versatile offense, so I expect them to take the AFC North crown this year. Once they're in the playoffs, we'll see if they can take the next step and finally win a playoff game.
The Bengals are going to be a popular pick to win the division this year. They have one of the best playmakers in the NFL in wide receiver A.J. Green and their defense has a shot to be No. 1 this year. But, as Edwards pointed out, it's not about winning the division or reaching the playoffs. The big question is what the Bengals will do when they get there.