Coming off a 9-7 season and a Wild Card playoff berth, the Bengals are poised to build upon the success of 2011. In fact, some (ESPN) have picked them to take the lead in AFC North this year, ahead of the Steelers and the Ravens, and win the division.
Although their acquisitions in the offseason were not flashy, they reinforced not only their secondary by signing cornerback Jason Allen and re-signing Adam Jones, but they added BenJarvus Green-Ellis to their lacking backfield from New England.
The predictions of the "sophomore slump" are inevitable for any quarterback who had an outstanding rookie season (see Cam Newton in Carolina), and Andy Dalton is no exception. However, with Green-Ellis as a veteran running back behind him and A.J. Green still his most viable deep threat at wide receiver, Dalton has the supporting cast to have a viable second campaign as the Bengals quarterback.
On the other side, the Ravens, coming off last year's AFC Championship loss to New England, are reeling from the loss of Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, who tore his Achilles in the offseason and is expected to miss most, if not all, of the 2012 season.
Along with losing Suggs, the Ravens also lost their defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, to the Indianapolis Colts, where he has now assumed the head coach duties. Although they've lost more players to free agency than they've signed, the Ravens still have four-year starter Joe Flacco, and they did re-sign rushing workhorse Ray Rice. Not to mention, they still have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on defense.
What will be curious to see is if the Ravens (sans Suggs) are able to stave off the up-and-coming Bengals and remain in the hunt for the AFC crown and get John Harbaugh to his first Super Bowl and the Ravens' first since 2000.