Handicapping AFC North after two weeks

Matt Williamson, of ESPN.com, assesses the AFC North after two games. It's an Insider article, so you'll need a subscription to read the entire piece. But here's some excerpts:


Williamson: [Roethlisberger] can carry this team. He is throwing the football extremely well and, if possible, might be even more difficult to get on the ground for opposing pass-rushers than at any point I can remember. The Steelers defense isn't what it once was (and it's now tough to count on James Harrison and Troy Polamalu), but it's still an elite unit.

Hensley: The Steelers were a big letdown in Week 1. The defense let Peyton Manning dictate the game, and it didn't force him into uncomfortable situations. But, like last season, Pittsburgh calmed any fears the following week. The Steelers made it look easy in defeating the Jets on Sunday. Pittsburgh will still be a major player come December.


Williamson: After dismantling Cincinnati's defense, the Ravens' offense came back to Earth a bit against the Eagles -- but I think Philadelphia has a top-five NFL defense. Joe Flacco struggled in the second half and I still don't think he has done enough to shake the "inconsistent" label.

Hensley: If these first two games are any indication, the Ravens will go as far as Flacco takes them. The offensive play calling shows that the Ravens are making Flacco more of the centerpiece than Ray Rice this year. Sunday night's game against the New England Patriots, who won't be happy following a loss to Arizona, will be another test to find out where Baltimore ranks among the power players in the AFC.


Williamson: The Bengals don't resemble a .500 team to me and I think they're in for a long season. The offense scored 34 points on Sunday, and that side of the ball seems to be growing up, but it was against a Cleveland defense that struggled getting receivers on the ground after the catch (and was without Joe Haden to help with A.J. Green).

Hensley: I agree that the Bengals haven't looked like a winning team so far this year. But there's a good chance that Cincinnati will bounce back. I have a hard time thinking this defense will struggle this way all season. Don't write off the Bengals too quickly.


Williamson: Brandon Weeden played like an NFL quarterback for the first time for Cleveland on Sunday and Trent Richardson looks like he is all he is cracked up to be. But again, the Bengals aren't nearly as difficult to play against as the Eagles. Cleveland is several years away from truly competing with the big boys in this division.

Hensley: For the first time in recent memory, the Browns can get excited about their offense. But, with four rookies playing major roles on offense, there will be a lot of growing pains. So, expect some promising weeks mixed in with mistake-filled games.