My what a difference a week makes.
After the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, it seemed the hierarchy of the AFC North was in place. The Steelers the cream of the crop, with the Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals taking up the middle ground and the Cleveland Browns assuming their usual roles in the cellar.
Then Week 5 happened.
The Jaguars stomped a mud hole in the Steelers at Heinz Field, the Ravens went to Oakland and beat the Raiders and the Bengals took care of business against the Bills at home. Suddenly, the AFC North is a jumbled mess.
Let’s update the standings heading into Week 6:
Pittsburgh Steelers - 3-2
Baltimore Ravens - 3-2
Cincinnati Bengals - 2-3
Cleveland Browns - 0-5
While it was very obvious the difference a week makes, drawing conclusions after 5 weeks of football is not the best practice. In terms of the Steelers, they still have two games against the Bengals, and one against the Ravens and Browns remaining in their final 11 games. Divisional games are huge, and there are still plenty of those before any type of distance develops in the standings.
However, what you can do at this stage of the game is figure out just who has the most potential, is playing well and which teams need help.
Currently, the Steelers are still the team with the most potential. Their defense is by far the most talented in the division, and their defense is playing at a much higher level than anticipated coming into 2017. However, the Steelers are also a team who has some major issues which need rectified if they want to win back-to-back division crowns. The defense has been gashed by the run, while the offense hasn’t come close to living up to their potential. The goal is 30-points per game, and the unit hasn’t scored 30-points once this season.
When it comes to playing well, it is hard to ignore the Bengals. After starting the year 0-3, they have two solid wins under their belt, and the offense is starting to gel after changing offensive coordinators early in the season. Throw in a dynamic rookie like Carl Lawson, and you have a team who could make things interesting down the stretch.
The toughest team to gauge at this point in the season just might be the Ravens. Baltimore has looked tremendous, see Week 5 vs. Oakland, and like one of the worst teams in the NFL, see their London game vs. Jacksonville. Their up-and-down season continues, but they have stayed afloat despite missing more than 15 players for the year after being placed on injured reserve. Will they be able to withstand those injuries for the long haul? That is the ultimate question for the Ravens.
As for the Browns, everyone knew this was a rebuilding year, but I think everyone thought they would bring a better product to the field on game days. Despite having 100 draft picks, a slight exaggeration, the team still has to prove they can turn college talent into quality NFL production. After naming DeShone Kizer the starting quarterback for the first 4 weeks, head coach Hue Jackson benched the rookie from Notre Dame and has named Kevin Hogan the starter moving forward. This is exactly how you ruin a young quarterback, something which has been in the culture of the Browns for over a decade.
When all is said and done, this mediocre AFC North division will likely come down to the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens. The Steelers have a tough road to hoe, but as was evident the past 3-4 years, nothing is certain, or guaranteed, in the AFC North.