The AFC North contains teams in every section of the competitive window: The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are in win-now mode; the Cleveland Browns are building; and the Cincinnati Bengals are rebuilding.
The AFC North contains former league MVPs (Lamar Jackson) and Super Bowl champions (Ben Roethlisberger), and perhaps some future MVPs (Joe Burrow?). Despite being home to the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL, it provides some of the closest divisional matchups in the league.
4. Cleveland Browns (5-3)
Despite clawing to 5-3, sitting one win out of the playoff picture, and being on pace for their first winning season since the Bush administration, the Cleveland Browns find themselves at the bottom of the AFC North power rankings.
After starting the season 4-1 the Browns have dropped two of their last three games, including a Week 8 drubbing at the hands of the Las Vegas Raiders.
In the 16-6 loss to the Raiders, the Browns combined for just 226 yards on offense and zero touchdowns. In Cleveland's first game without Odell Beckham Jr. -- who is out for the season with a torn ACL -- the squad looked anemic and coach Kevin Stefanski criticized the team's low time of possession after the game.
"You have to possess [the ball] by sustaining drives, making first downs on the third down or finding ways to just get first downs," Stefanski said. "Obviously, we did not do that on offense."
The Browns are expected to have running back Nick Chubb back from injury coming out of the bye week, but QB Baker Mayfield has recently been placed on the COVID-19 list, though there is not expectation he will miss time.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1)
The Bengals sit at 2-5-1, at the bottom of the AFC North, and likely en route to a fifth straight season without the playoffs.
But progress is there. Rookie QB Joe Burrow is on pace for 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In the Bengals' five losses, four have come by five or fewer points. Cincinnati has a higher point differential than the Browns (-20), and a better differential than six AFC teams.
Burrow has injected a competency into the AFC North basement-dwellers that was missed the last few seasons; the expectation that they can and will win games.
"I’ve won everywhere I’ve been," Burrow said draft day. "I want to keep winning."
2. Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
After going 14-2 last season and running away with the AFC North, the Ravens crumbled in the AFC Divisional round against the Tennessee Titans.
Sitting at 6-2 this season, the Ravens have again disappointed fans by losing their two biggest games of the year thus far, to the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.
One of the most banged-up teams in football -- now playing without star CB Marlon Humphrey, DE Calais Campbell and LT Ronnie Stanley, among others -- the Ravens have had to rely on coaching and defense (perpetual Baltimore strengths) to win games and have a chance at repeating as AFC North champions.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)
At 8-0, the Pittsburgh Steelers are kings of the AFC North and, so far, the entire National Football League.
The Steelers returned the best defense in the AFC North from 2019 and added a healthy Ben Roethlisberger back at quarterback and a dominant rookie wide receiver in Chase Claypool.
The Canadian Claypool, or "MapleTron," has 444 receiving yards in eight games to go with five touchdowns. Pro Bowl receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner give aging QB Ben Roethlisbeger enough weapons to elevate his game and support the AFC North's best defense.
In Week 9, however, Roethlisberger suffered injuries to both of his knees that, at the time, the team feared were significant. According to reports following the win over the Cowboys, however, Roethlisberger's injury is not major.Published 11 Nov 2020, 01:57 IST