The Cincinnati Bengals have won division championships just twice in the past 23 years and both times they failed to win a playoff game. In 2005, the Steelers beat them in a wild-card game and in 2009 the Jets did the same.
It won't be a big upset if the Bengals win the AFC North again this year, but it will be if they find a way to win a playoff game. That hasn't happened since 1990, when Chuck Noll still coached the Steelers and Ickey Shuffle was alive and well in the Queen City.
But is this the year head coach Marvin Lewis finally puts it all together and the Bengals make some noise in the playoffs?
With the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens hit hard by retirement, free agency defections and the injury bug, and the Steelers coming off an 8-8 season, the Bengals return almost everyone from the team that went 10-6 last season and lost a wild card game to the Houston Texans.
The Bengals are the favorites to win the AFC North and a chic pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Led by one of the top defensive fronts in the NFL, the Bengals were eighth in the league in scoring defense and sixth in total defense a year ago. They are talented and deep at defensive line with star tackle Geno Atkins leading the way. The Bengals had 52 sacks last year, third-most in the league, and Atkins accounted for a team-high 12 ?? of those.
The Bengals attempted to bolster their pass rush even more over the offseason by signing former Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who will attempt to find a role in the Bengals' 4-3 defense.
The uncertainty surrounding the Bengals lies at quarterback. Andy Dalton was good enough to lead the team to the playoffs last season, but the Bengals ranked 12th in the league in scoring (24.4 ppg), 17th in passing (224 ypg) and 18th in rushing (109 ypg).
Dalton already had A.J. Green, one of the top receivers in the game, to target in the passing game, and the Bengals drafted tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round to give the third-year quarterback another weapon. In the second round, the Bengals went for offense again and drafted versatile running back Giovani Bernard to team with BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the backfield.
The additions on offense to go along with a defense that can be dominant means the Bengals are well-positioned not only to win the division, but challenge the Patriots and Broncos for supremacy in the conference.
Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retired. Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger and Dannel Ellerbe left in free agency. And if those offseason departures were not enough for the Ravens to overcome, top tight end Dennis Pitta will miss at least the first half of the season with a hip injury.
After winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens will be hard-pressed to get back to the playoffs this season. Their only saving grace is franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco.
Flacco is good enough to keep the Ravens in contention in the division. He proved that last season when he threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the postseason. But that was with Boldin and a healthy Pitta. He still has deep-threat Torrey Smith, but some other playmakers are going to have to develop in order for Flacco to lead this team back to the postseason.
The defense was not great last year even with Lewis, Kruger and Ellerbe. It ranked 17th in total defense and 21st in scoring defense. Coach John Harbaugh will be counting on defensive ends Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, an offseason free agent signing, to boost the defense to a new level in 2013.
Someday, the Browns will climb out of the AFC North basement, but it doesn't figure to be this year.
They're rebuilding again in Cleveland, with a new general manager and head coach after owner Jimmy Haslam fired Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur following a 5-11 campaign.
Mike Lombardi is the new general manager, and he hired Rob Chudzinski, the sixth head coach for the franchise since 2004.
Lombardi formerly made his living as an NFL Network analyst and criticized quarterback Brandon Weeden, whom the previous administration invested a first-round pick in 2012. That move prompted Lombardi to say it was a "panicked disaster" on the part of the Browns to draft Weeden.
That quote will be brought up every time Weeden faces adversity and won't make for a harmonious environment.
There is some talent on the roster. Running back Trent Richardson can develop into an elite running back and Joe Thomas is one of the best offensive linemen in the game.
But another year of starting over with a new administration figures to land the Browns in last place for the fifth time in six years.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.