The AFC North may be one of the toughest divisions in football, as it had three playoff teams last season in the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens. However, it’s another team that everyone should be keeping an eye on this year: the Cincinnati Bengals. No, the Bengals aren’t going to be world-beaters in 2021, but quarterback Joe Burrow’s recent comments should have the other teams in the AFC North worried about having to face Cincinnati this upcoming season.
Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins were excellent rookies for the Bengals in 2020
Burrow was the one player in Cincinnati everyone had their eyes on in 2020. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, which came after he had an unfathomable season at LSU in 2019, winning a national championship and the Heisman Trophy.
He ultimately lived up to expectations and then some for the Bengals.
In nine games and part of another, Burrow threw for 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns, and five interceptions. His 268.8 yards-per-game average was also seventh in the NFL.
However, the Bengals’ incompetence in regards to putting an above-average offensive line in front of Burrow led to the young quarterback hurting his knee in Week 11. He missed the rest of the season after that.
While Burrow’s injury crushed Bengals fans, they still had some optimism when watching another one of their 2020 rookies: Tee Higgins.
After an excellent career with the Clemson Tigers, Higgins was Cincinnati’s second-round pick last year. He ultimately showed that he has the potential to become a great NFL wide receiver, catching 67 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. He caught 43 of those passes and gained 629 of those yards with Burrow on the field, too, which proved that the two of them can become a dangerous duo in future seasons.
Joe Burrow had a scary message about Tee Higgins
It appears that Burrow should be ready to go for the 2021 season, which is nothing short of miraculous given how messed up his knee was when he went down. So, while Bengals fans have that to be excited about, Burrow also recently sent out a message about Higgins that should have those chili lovers absolutely hyped.
“He looks like a different guy out there,” Burrow said of Higgins, who reportedly put on some muscle this offseason, per the Bengals’ team site. “We were throwing the deep balls and the first couple I underthrew him a little bit and I was like, ‘Gee Tee, where did that come from?’ I didn’t really expect that from him. He’s getting out of there this year. We have some horses on offense that I’m really excited about. Tee’s going to have a big year.”
Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan also had high praise for Higgins.
“He came back strong. He looks great physically. He put a lot of work in the offseason between the time we ended the season to the time we came back to change his body,” Callahan said, per Bengals.com. “He’s more explosive.”
The AFC North should be worried
No, the Bengals aren’t going to go out there and win the AFC North this year, but this message about Higgins, combined with Burrow’s on-time recovery, and some of the team’s other offseason moves, should have its divisional opponents worried.
The Bengals aren’t going to be a team you can just go ahead and mark as a W anymore.
In addition to Burrow and Higgins, Cincinnati finally addressed its offensive line this offseason, signing former Vikings tackle Riley Reiff and drafting three linemen, including second-round pick Jackson Carman out of Clemson.
They also drafted a new weapon for Burrow in his college teammate, receiver Ja’Marr Chase. He caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2019 with Burrow at LSU.
This is all while still having Tyler Boyd at receiver, who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019, and Joe Mixon at running back, who ran for over 1,100 yards in those seasons as well.
The Bengals have the weapons to become one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL, which could make things interesting whenever they play their AFC North opponents. While they still aren’t a good enough team to compete with those squads for a playoff spot, they can play spoiler and potentially keep one of those teams from getting a higher seed or even making the postseason entirely.
Cincinnati hasn’t been a true Super Bowl contender since the Boomer Esiason days. That won’t change this year, but a stronger Burrow and an improved Higgins within a more talented offense should have Browns, Steelers, and Ravens fans petrified.