If the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals did not play in the same division, I would pick both to return to the playoffs. Well, they do, and the Baltimore Ravens have to be considered the favorites to win the AFC North next season.
It is very unlikely that three teams from the North will make it again. The Oakland Raiders will compete with a full season of Carson Palmer, the San Diego Chargers are always dangerous and the New York Jets will re-tool and make a run.
So, who is it going to be? The Bengals have a bright future with Andy Dalton and AJ Green, but Marvin Lewis' track record of making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons is awful, whereas the Steelers have missed the playoffs just once in the Mike Tomlin era.
The Steelers are getting old on defense, but have a dangerous young receiving corps in Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Some members of the D have to go (James Farrior), but they should be OK, if not dominant, in that department.
They will need to look out for precipitous drop-offs from James Harrison (turns 34 in May) and Troy Polamalu (multiple concussions), but as long as they avoid another catastrophic injury bug, they should be fine.
Give me the Steelers' track record over the Bengals' potential.
Alexander is a featured columnist for bleacherreport.com You can follow Alexander on twitter @thesportsdude7 or become a fan on his Bleacher Report profile.