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The Steelers appear to be lagging far behind the Browns and Ravens in the AFC North

Are the Steelers in the same class as both the Browns and Ravens in the AFC North? It just doesn’t feel that way right now.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Something was going through my mind when everyone was mocking the Browns for blowing a double-digit lead and losing to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 1: doubt.

Doubt was going through my mind. Sure, I wanted to make fun of the Browns for being the Browns. I wanted to laugh at quarterback Baker Mayfield’s emotional vulnerability after throwing a game-sealing interception. I wanted to go to social media and post the memes and the gifs.

In fact, I may have done all of those things, but I didn't believe any of it; again, I’m talking about the usual story about how the “Browns is the Browns.” No, instead, what I was trying to emotionally and intellectually shield myself from after Week 1 was how strong Cleveland looked in spite of Nick Chubb’s fumble and the long-haired punter’s botched handling of a perfectly good snap that turned the tide in favor of the defending AFC champions.

I may have been too drunk off of the euphoria of the Steelers’ unexpected Week 1 victory against the Bills at Highmark Stadium to do anything but dance around and write celebratory articles, but deep in my conscience I felt it: that victory seemed a little too much like the ones that took place in 2019 following the season-ending elbow injury suffered by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, Pittsburgh could remain relevant and be a contender thanks to a relentless defense, but a serious one? Looking at that season in hindsight, it never seemed realistic.

I have to say that’s how I’m feeling about the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers and their chances of surpassing the Browns and/or Ravens in the AFC North when all is said and done.

Speaking of the Ravens, they may be 1-1 like everyone else in the AFC North after two weeks, but even without some key and potent running backs, their ground game has looked as strong as ever so far in 2021. Is it because of quarterback Lamar Jackson and his unparalleled aptitude for tucking, running and making defenders look foolish all game long? Sure it is, but it has worked for him and Baltimore’s offense for three-plus seasons. That’s the point, isn’t it, to find what works for an offense and do it to perfection? Jackson isn’t perfect; he makes mistakes and throws some questionable interceptions at times. But when he’s not doing that, he’s a quarterback capable of magical things, like the jump pass he threw to receiver Marquise Brown for a 40-yard touchdown in the Ravens’ thrilling 36-35 victory over Kansas City at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday Night Football.

Speaking of quarterbacks, that Mayfield isn’t so bad, either. Actually, he looks downright good at times. He has a good offensive line, a fine duo of tight ends, good receivers and undoubtedly the best running back tandem in the entire NFL in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Baltimore’s offense can move the football on a regular basis and score points, but Cleveland may have the most explosive attack in the NFL in the not-so-distant future.

When I watch the Ravens and Browns do their thing on offense, they just look worlds better than Pittsburgh on that side of the ball. Stretch plays are run to perfection. Receivers are open and, believe it or not, they aren’t forced to catch contested passes on a regular basis.

I know what you’re going to say: Roethlisberger is old, sure, but you win championships with defense, and the Steelers may have the best one in the NFL (when healthy, of course).

The Steelers may have the best defense in the NFL (when healthy), but is that the only true way to win a title? I know that sentiment gets thrown around a lot, especially when a team is much better at it than it is at scoring points. But I don’t think that cliche is as true as many believe. At best, it’s a 50/50 split when you’re talking about offense and defense and which is more important for championship success. It may, in fact, be the offense that has the edge when it comes to which unit is more vital to winning titles.

Even if you believe that defense is more important, the defenses of the Browns and Ravens appear to be much more capable of helping out their potent offenses than the Steelers offense does of carrying its own weight when that dominant defense isn’t on the field.

As the title of this article states, it is very early. There are 15 games left in this 2021 campaign. Great defense does make up for a lot. Neither Jackson or Mayfield has proven that he can be the quarterback to lead his team to the promised land. Roethlisberger has and may be able to do it a third time before he rides off into the sunset.

The Steelers may again prove to be the class of the AFC North when the 2021 regular season ends and the 2021/22 postseason begins.

But, to quote comedian Dennis Miller: I’m just not getting that vibe right now, babe.