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The Balance of Power Has Shifted in the AFC North, Much to the Delight of the Cleveland Browns

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Looking at the current AFC North standings, one might think they were printed in reverse order.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, the AFC North's two perennial doormats, currently hold the top two spots in the division. On the other hand, the once-mighty Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are fighting for the right to not end up in the divisional basement when the dust settles on the 2013 regular season.

Cincinnati's success in 2013 has not been much of a surprise, as the Bengals have made it to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, but most prognosticators weren't sure if this young Cincinnati team would have what it takes to win the division this season. At 6-3, the Bengals have had some issues in 2013, particularly their inability to win on the road, but with a two-game lead over the Browns in the division, Cincinnati is looking good for at least a wild-card berth at this moment.

At 4-5, the Browns have the worst record of any second-place team in the AFC, but that's a perk of playing in the suddenly weak AFC North. After watching their divisional mates post a combined 61-35 mark over the last two seasons, the Browns look like a good bet to finish at least second in the division after their Week 9 win over the Ravens. The Browns have a serious shot at winning the North now that their quarterback situation has been stabilized with Jason Campbell at the helm. Cleveland's Week 11 tilt with the Bengals will be the de facto AFC North title game.

At 3-5, the Ravens have been one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this season. While it was assumed that the losses sustained by Baltimore's defense during the offseason were going to hinder the Ravens' chances at winning a second straight Super Bowl, Baltimore's defense has not been the problem in 2013. The Ravens' issues are on the offensive side of the football, as shown by the fact that Baltimore hasn't scored more than 18 points in a game in over a month. With a difficult remaining schedule, it's looking more and more like Baltimore will not get a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champs.

That leaves the Steelers, who are all alone in the AFC North cellar at 2-6. Though it was apparent that this was a Pittsburgh team in decline after they went 2-5 to finish 2012, I don't think anyone saw this kind of a year coming for the Steelers. The worst part for Pittsburgh is that they are pretty much lousy across the board. The Steelers are 23rd in points allowed, 25th in points scored, and 31st in sacks allowed and turnover differential. The 55 points the Steelers just gave up to the New England Patriots in Week 9 were the most ever given up by a Pittsburgh team, so it doesn't look like the Steelers are going to be able to turn things around anytime soon.

Shaun Heidrick is a Yahoo Contributor who has followed the Cleveland Browns for over 25 years.

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