Bengals are AFC North favorites

Strong recent drafts have brought impact players like A.J. Green and Andy Dalton to Cincinnati. Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports

The AFC North has long been a division dominated by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. But coming off back-to-back playoff appearances, the Cincinnati Bengals are all of a sudden in the discussion this offseason as division favorites.

The Ravens won the Super Bowl last season, but remember: It's extremely tough to repeat, and they'll have a target on their backs all season. Plus, they completely purged their defense and lost the leadership of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. Can the youth come together over the course of the season?

The Steelers had a down year in 2012 (and they don't stay down for long in Pittsburgh), but they also have a lot of questions. Their offensive line has young talent but has struggled so far in preseason. The defense is old in spots and the depth at secondary isn't very good.

The Browns? I think they'll be better this season, but they're still at least a year away from really competing in the division.

That leaves the Bengals, my pick to win the division. Here are three reasons why I like Marvin Lewis' team to win the division title.

An elite defense

Cincinnati allowed only 20 points per game last season (eighth in the NFL) and was the fifth-best overall defense by total yards allowed. The Bengals were seventh in passing defense and 12th in rushing D, showing that they were well-rounded. And they should be improved after this offseason.