Commentary: The Longer the NFL Lockout Lasts, the More the Competitive Balance Will Shift in the AFC North

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - MARCH 03: A view of Sun Life Stadium behind a locked gate as the NFL lockout looms on March 3, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Some teams will be affected by the lockout worse than others. For example, if the owners are granted an appeal and the lockout doesn't actually come to an end until the day before the regular season begins, the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers will likely be a lot less rusty than the Cincinnati Bengals.

Unfortunately, the same goes for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. Both the Steelers and the Ravens are coming off of successful seasons and largely have all the pieces in place to remain successful in 2011. The Bengals don't.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if the Steelers or the Ravens don't have a chance to practice as a team or even play in preseason games, that they're much more likely to have winning records than the Bengals do. Of course, we can't just blame the lockout.

We can also blame Carson Palmer and his trade demand/threat of retirement. Baltimore isn't losing Joe Flacco and Pittsburgh isn't losing Ben Roethlisberger before the 2011 season ends. Palmer not playing in 2011 is the biggest weakening blow to the Bengals.

But the lockout isn't going to help.

Even though I've never been a huge supporter of starting a rookie quarterback in game one, if the Bengals are forced into that situation, and they likely will be, that rookie QB, whoever it may be, might not have any time to learn the Bengals new offense before the regular season.

The same goes for any other Bengals rookie or second-year player, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Guys like Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley, Jermaine Gresham and the new wide receiver, quarterback and even running back, will struggle to play catchup while the stronger teams in the AFC North continue to strive.

Bengals new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has installed a new west coast offense in Cincinnati but none of the players, young and old, have been able to learn it, and they won't be able to learn it until the lockout comes to an end. The Steelers and Ravens' offensive units won't have to worry about that.

That's why the longer the lockout lasts, the deeper the divisional hole the Bengals will need to dig their way out of and the lower their chances are of having something that resembles a successful season. The Carson Palmer saga may have set the tone of the 2011 season, but the lockout isn't helping anything.

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