CINCINNATI — Two young AFC North quarterbacks picked up their first career playoff wins on Sunday.
First, Lamar Jackson led the Ravens past the Titans 20-13. The reigning MVP completed 17-of-24 passes for 179 yards and one interception. He also ran for 136 yards and a touchdown.
Baker Mayfield followed that up by leading the Browns past the Steelers on the road. It was Cleveland's first playoff win in 26 years and their first postseason victory on the road since 1969.
Mayfield completed 21-of-34 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns.
Both wins give the Bengals perspective as they enter a crucial offseason. Everyone knows the AFC North is one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. Despite that, the Ravens and the Browns have completely changed the way they operate in recent seasons.
They added foundation pieces in Jackson and Mayfield.
The good news is the Bengals have their own star quarterback.
Joe Burrow flashed plenty of potential before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 11. The 24-year-old expects to be back for the start of the 2021 regular season.
The Browns went 7-8-1 and 6-10 in 2018 and 2019 with Mayfield under center, respectively, before posting an 11-5 record this season.
There's no reason why the Bengals shouldn't expect to have similar success in Burrow's third season.
A gradual climb needs to happen starting in 2021. The Bengals finished 4-11-1 this season. Doubling that win total is reasonable, but it won't be easy. If Cincinnati is going to do make a push, then they need to make the right moves this offseason.
The Browns did it with a first-year head coach and a variety of injuries throughout the season. Mix in a coronavirus outbreak and they overcame their fair share of adversity.
The clock began ticking on the Bengals the moment Burrow was drafted. There's pressure on this team to put the necessary pieces around him.
The Browns have been bad for decades, but that's no longer the case. They're trending upward and might be scratching the surface of their potential.
The same goes for the Ravens, who still haven't given Jackson a true No. 1 wide receiver. There are six or seven wide-outs in the AFC North that are better than anyone on Baltimore's roster.
Both teams should be better in 2021.
The pressure is on Mike Brown and the Bengals. They have to get it right this offseason. If they don't make the right moves, then they better get comfortable finishing last in the AFC North every year.
The Ravens and the Browns aren't going anywhere. The Steelers are one of the best franchises in all of sports.
Pressure is mounting and Sunday added to it. Jackson ran wild on the Titans and Mayfield delivered in primetime.
The Bengals have the third-longest playoff drought (five seasons) and they haven't won a postseason game since January 6, 1991.
They better make the right moves this offseason if that streak is going to end anytime soon.
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