Despite popular opinion, the season is only a quarter of the way complete and the AFC North division race is just starting to heat up.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens were the only active teams during Week 4, as the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns enjoyed the first bye-week of the NFL schedule.
The knee-jerk reaction following Week 4 holds that the Steelers are mediocre at best and the Ravens look to pose a legitimate threat to the Bengals for the divisional crown. Either way you slice it, there's a lot of football left to be played, and by looking at the upcoming schedules for the AFC North teams, you'll see nothing is guaranteed.
The Bengals currently sit atop the division with a 3-0 record, and they'll face some stiff competition when they return to action next Sunday. They travel to Foxborough to play the New England Patriots (2-1), then face the Carolina Panthers (2-2) at home, go on the road to play the Indianapolis Colts (2-2) and then back home for a divisional match against the Ravens (3-1).
Based on their upcoming schedule, the Bengals will truly be tested both at home and on the road. How well they emerge from this stretch will certainly be a telling sign for a team that looks to be the most complete in the division.
The Ravens are alone in second place with a 3-1 record and, like Cincinnati, have a pretty difficult stretch of games coming up. Back-to-back road games starting with the Colts (2-2) and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3), followed by the Atlanta Falcons (2-2) coming to M&T Bank Stadium, and then on the road to face the Bengals (3-0) in divisional play.
The Ravens have been somewhat of a surprise this season, as they haven't experienced the letdown many expected. Steve Smith Sr. seems rejuvenated, and he'll certainly help this team contend down the stretch.
The Steelers are by themselves in third place in the division with a 2-2 record. After dropping a heartbreaking loss to the Buccaneers Sunday, it's obvious that no game is a gimme for this Steelers team. Suddenly a trip to play the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4) seems more daunting than it did a week ago. This will be followed by another road game against the division-rival Browns (1-2), a Monday Night Football matchup against the Houston Texans (3-1) and a home game against the Colts (2-2).
Nothing is guaranteed with the Steelers, but if they want to keep pace with the division leaders, they have to string together some victories before they become an afterthought in the division race.
The Browns find themselves in the cellar of the division with a 1-2 record, but they could easily be 3-0 if you look at how they've lost those two football games. Cleveland might have the easiest stretch of all four AFC North teams. A trip to Nashville to play the Tennessee Titans (1-3), a home meeting with the Steelers (2-2), on the road against the Jaguars (0-4) and a home meeting with the Oakland Raiders (0-4).
The Browns' next four opponents' combined record is 3-13. So if there's a team that might make some gains within the division, it very well could be the Browns.
After four games, the AFC North remains a division that could still go many different directions depending on injuries and opponents. But one thing is for sure, this division is still up for grabs for all four teams calling the AFC North home.