Only eight active quarterbacks in the NFL have Super Bowl rings, and unfortunately for the Bengals, they play in the only division with two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks. In fact, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco have represented the AFC in four of the last 10 Super Bowls. With quarterback being the most important position in the NFL, Andy Dalton and the Bengals have their work cut out for them in the AFC North.
1) Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger
As a Bengals fan, it pains me to say this, but Ben Roethlisberger is still the best quarterback in the division, and in my opinion, hands down the toughest quarterback to game plan for. He is not the best passer, nor is he the most mobile quarterback, but no quarterback has ever kept plays alive and made bigger plays out of nothing than Roethlisberger. At 6'5" and somewhere well north of 250 pounds, Roethlisberger is not a running threat, but he is nearly impossible for one guy to bring down and he is mobile enough to pick up the yards that are needed or keep a play alive long enough to burn your defense.
What makes him so frustrating as an opposing fan is your team can play perfect defense and still get beat deep because Roethlisberger keeps the play alive longer than any cornerback can cover a receiver. Or, he takes off running, and despite looking like a man running in quick sand carrying a refrigerator, he seems to always get one yard past the first down stick. He has the "it" factor you want in a quarterback and he has multiple Super Bowl rings to show for it.
2) Baltimore Ravens, Joe Flacco
If we were ranking solely on the regular season, I would put Dalton number two and Flacco number three, but we are not...so I am not. Flacco is a mediocre regular season quarterback who has struggled to make the playoffs since the retirement of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. However, he has recently been the anti-Dalton come playoff time. Where Dalton puts up big numbers throughout the season and wilts in the playoffs, Flacco is the opposite.
During his last two playoff runs (2012, 2014), Flacco had a solid regular season TD/INT ratio percentage of 2.23 and a winning percentage of .630. In the playoffs during those same seasons, his TD/INT percentage jumped to a staggering 17:2 or 8.5% and his winning percentage jumped to .830. While Flacco's ability to play well enough to make the playoffs can be questioned, no one can question this – if Flacco gets his team to the playoffs, his team has a very good chance of winning because he has proven to be the type of quarterback who can carry a team in the playoffs (11 TDs, 0 INTs, 1,140 yards and a 117.2 Rating in the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl run).
3) Cincinnati Bengals, Andy Dalton
Dalton is a lightning rod among Bengals fans and national media alike, and in my opinion, he’s often unfairly criticized. In 2014, despite Dalton's stats taking a step back (a result of injuries to his top targets and a less pass-happy offense), Dalton looked like a quarterback who was progressing. Regardless of where you fall in the Dalton argument, the fact is the guy wins - insert joke about playoffs and primetime here.
In 2011, a rookie Andy Dalton took over a 4-12 team which had lost their top two Hall of Fame caliber receivers (Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens), lost their top cornerback (Jonathan Joseph), lost a franchise quarterback refusing to play for the organization and a team that many predicted would win less than two games... all this during a lockout, without the benefit of offseason programs. In four seasons, all Dalton has done is compiled 40 wins, gone 4 for 4 in making the playoffs and has done so while playing in the toughest division in football; one which also happens to feature two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.
With a healthy compliment of weapons and a second season in Hue Jackson's offense, Dalton needs to take that proverbial "next step" and cut down on mistakes. With a solid season, and more importantly, some playoff wins, Dalton can improve his ranking in not just the division, but the NFL.
4) Cleveland Browns, Josh McCown
Just one year after taking another first round quarterback (Johnny Manziel), the Browns found themselves shopping for a quarterback yet again this offseason and landed - and plan to start - a 35-year-old journeyman backup with a 17-32 career record as a starter.
McCown managed to leverage an impressive five game stretch in 2013 with the Chicago Bears into two pretty nice contracts in two years. McCown went 3-2 in that stretch in 2013 with 13 touchdowns and just 1 interception. However, despite signing a big contract with the Buccaneers in 2014, McCown was let go after leading the Bucs to the worst record in the NFL, and found a landing spot (and a nice contract) with none other than the Cleveland Browns, becoming the latest name on the Browns QB carousel.
McCown is clearly the least talented and least accomplished quarterback in an otherwise quarterback rich AFC North. Fresh off a 1-10 run with the Bucs in 2014, McCown has an overall record of 17-32 in his 12 year career and has 61 touchdowns to 59 interceptions. However, in the last three years, he has seen his supporting cast deteriorate from Brandon Marshall, Alshown Jeffries, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett in 2013, to Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin in 2014, and now Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Gary Barnidge and Isaiah Crowell in 2015.
While McCown will finally get to operate behind a quality offensive line, it’s tough to see him having much success with this supporting cast. Not to mention, he is going from the worst division in football (NFC South) to the best division in football. Unfortunately for Browns fans, if you take out McCown's five game stretch in 2013 with the Bears, he has a 14-30 record as a starter with 48 touchdowns and 58 interceptions. As long as Manziel stays out of trouble, chances are he will get a chance to redeem himself at some point in 2015.
Chris Pokorny (@DawgsByNature), Dawgs By Nature
The biggest question mark on the team. To go out and acquire Josh McCown, who should really be a veteran backup, for significant money shows the lack of faith the team had in Johnny Manziel one year after taking him in the first round of the draft.
Matthew Stevens (@MatthewS_balt), Baltimore Beatdown (@BMoreBeatdown)
Flacco might not be the regular season stat machine that other quarterbacks are, but when it's the fourth quarter or the postseason, there are few quarterbacks that I'd rather have. In the AFC North, the only quarterback that I could rank higher would be Big Ben Roethlisberger, whose offense has finally settled down around him enough so he doesn't get beaten up any longer.
Jeff Hartman (@BnGBlitz), Behind the Steel Curtain (@btsteelcurtain)
The Steelers are lucky enough to have had a franchise QB since 2004 in Ben Roethlisberger, and Roethlisberger's game has developed into a Top 5 player at his position. The Steelers machine goes as Big Ben goes.