In the season to highlight the teams of North Asia

1. Intense competition. The football world is already well aware of the brutal 20-plus-year feud between the Steelers and Ravens, but they may not be aware of the disdain the Bengals and Browns share with the rest of the division. There was a time when the Browns-Steelers were the top contender in the once-named AFC Central, before the Ravens even existed, and thanks to the Browns and Bengals’ return to contention, that entire division has fuel to fuel the fires of hatred. Expect the lead-up to each divisional showdown to be emotionally charged, and for HBO and NFL Films’ cameras to beautifully capture every emotional snap between each participating team. There’s a reason why the AFC North is known as the wildest division in soccer, and it’s not just because of the weather. If this group is as close to the standings as it was last season, these winter games should produce some of the best shots in team history. Strong blows.

2. Pivotal seasons for two (or three) QBs. Lamar Jackson is coming off his second career NFL MVP, and Joe Burrow is well established as the Bengals’ starting quarterback. This still leaves two teams with questions that need to be answered under center. Deshaun Watson returns for the third year of his Browns career without much to show for his efforts so far, but he has a long road to rehabilitate and get back to full strength in an offense that should be better (on paper, at least) than it was. Last season, when Joe Flacco was leading Cleveland to unexpected victories. If Watson is going to prove himself worthy of the $230 million he received from the Browns, it better be in 2024. We all know the uncertainty surrounding the Steelers, who brought in both Russell Wilson and Justin Fields to completely revamp their quarterback room this offseason. Will Wilson emerge as the starter for Week 1? If so, how long will he hold on to the job? How does Fields find his groove if he’s not the starter? This alone is worth watching, even if it’s an in-season documentary, rather than a training camp-focused film. If the skeptics are right, the HBO/NFL Films crew should be perfectly positioned to capture the moment Wilson loses his job to Fields.

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3. Baltimore’s attempt to defend the throne. The Ravens finished the 2023 regular season with great focus, helping fuel Jackson’s campaign for his second MVP. Jackson wasn’t the only star of a team that exited the regular season as the favorite to win the AFC title, and we didn’t even consider the chance that Baltimore wouldn’t win until the clock struck triple zeros. Be in the Super Bowl. The Ravens looked like a juggernaut as the calendar turned to 2024, and there’s no reason — other than losses to the coaching staff — that they won’t repeat that performance again this season. The addition of Derrick Henry and a draft focused on depth should make them favorites again this fall, but don’t expect the rest of the division to regress. Every team in this division believes this is their year.

4. Joe Burrow Bengals back? Cincinnati had a difficult 2023 season because their quarterback was only healthy for about a month. Burrow started the season like a statue due to a calf injury that carried over from training camp into the season, then suddenly healthy again, lighting up the Cardinals for 317 yards and three touchdowns in Week 5, which served as Cincinnati’s official announcement of its comeback. People along the Ohio River are probably still wondering what might have been if Burrow hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury in Week 10, but now that he’s healthy again, they have every reason to be excited about what lies ahead in 2024. Bigger An opponent for Burrow to this point in his career, as long as he avoids injuries, the Bengals should be in the heart of the AFC North, a division that doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. If he is at the top of his game, he could lead Bengal to the division throne as well.

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