Baltimore and Cleveland and the clear frontrunners.
Before the NFL season began, while everyone was still enjoying life in the warmth and comfort of their own homes, the Baltimore Ravens were a pretty clear favorite to win the AFC North.
Oh, how times have changed.
The season hasn’t even started yet and the defending champion Ravens have already lost star cornerback Marcus Peters, along with running backs J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill to season-ending injuries.
Nevertheless, the Ravens are still stacked on offense, to the point where there recently stashed former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell on the practice squad.
Baltimore has gone 30-7 since Lamar Jackson took over as the starting quarterback in the middle of the 2018 season and only Green Bay, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Kansas City have better chances to make it to the Super Bowl, according to ESPN.
Those injuries, however, may have opened the door for the Cleveland Browns to stack their claim to the division title. Baker Mayfield showed lots of improvement in his first season under Kevin Stefanski and star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Is back from his torn ACL.
If everything goes as planned, the Browns may find themselves in a position to compete with Kansas City for the lone first-round bye in the AFC.
That brings us to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who got off to a strong start under Ben Roethlisberger by winning their first 11 games. Pittsburgh ended its season by losing five of its next six games, including its first-round playoff tilt to the Browns.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is largely unproven this year, and the second-toughest schedule in the NFL is going to make it hard for them to make it back to the playoffs, let along win the division.
Then there are the Cincinnati Bengals. The scheduling gods saddled Cincinnati with the sixth-hardest schedule in the NFL, but there is no mistaking the talent that the Bengals have assembled on both sides of the ball.
Cincinnati have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, boasts one of the league’s premier running back and features a quarterback who many expect to find himself among the leaders at his position. The only question on the offensive side of the ball is whether the line can hold up.
The defensive line is solid, and the secondary can be as good as it has been in a long time. Even the linebacker play seems to have improved considerably. The biggest question marks, however, appear to be with the coaching staff.