Breaking down AFC North power rankings

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

On Tuesday, ESPN.com posted its first NFL power rankings of the 2009 season.

Here is a breakdown of how things shook out in the AFC North:

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Walker's vote: No. 1

  • Cumulative vote: No. 1

  • Analysis: No surprises here. The Steelers received an almost unanimous vote this week as the NFL's top team. After winning the Super Bowl in February, not much has changed in Pittsburgh. The team returned 20 of 22 starters and there is no reason to believe the Steelers won't be title contenders once again in 2009. By the way, ESPN.com senior writer Len Pasquarelli was the only person on the panel not to vote Pittsburgh in the top slot. He has the Steelers rated ninth, and Pasquarelli will check in with the AFC North blog Wednesday to debate this topic (hint, hint).

Baltimore Ravens

  • Walker's vote: No. 7

  • Cumulative vote: No. 6

  • Analysis: I received a lot of heat in our AFC North inbox last week for not putting Baltimore in the top 5, but it turns out the overall panel didn't rate the Ravens in the top 5, either. By the way, everyone had good guesses Tuesday on the six teams I rated ahead of Baltimore. While a few people got the teams correct, I didn't notice anyone nailing the exact order. It was Pittsburgh (No. 1), the New England Patriots (No. 2), Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3), New York Giants (No. 4), Indianapolis Colts (No. 5) and Arizona Cardinals (No. 6).

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Walker's vote: No. 19

  • Cumulative vote: No. 23

  • Analysis: As expected, I had Cincinnati rated higher than anyone on the panel. For instance, NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert had Cincinnati rated the lowest at No. 29, one spot below the Cleveland Browns in his ballot at No. 28. Sure, I'm pegging the Bengals as a potential sleeper this season. But as I explained last week, No. 19 is a good starting point where it recognizes the Bengals' improvements on paper yet doesn't go overboard without them first earning respect on the field.

Cleveland Browns

  • Walker's vote: No. 29

  • Cumulative vote: No. 28

  • Analysis: My individual vote with Cleveland was pretty much in line with the cumulative vote. If the Browns are as efficient and smart as new head coach Eric Mangini expects, they could be in a lot of close games. But the talent gap on most weeks will favor the opponent and could hurt Cleveland throughout the regular season. For now, I expect Cleveland to remain toward the bottom of ESPN.com's power rankings until it answers some key questions, particularly at quarterback.