Wake-up call: AFC North race gets tighter

Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

The Baltimore Ravens needed to get some rest during their bye because they certainly didn't get any help from their AFC North rivals.

The Pittsburgh Steelers righted their season by beating the Tennessee Titans with a fast start. The Cincinnati Bengals continued to validate themselves by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars with a fourth-quarter comeback.

The Steelers and Bengals are now both 3-2, a half-game back of the division-leading Ravens (3-1). The Cleveland Browns were also on a bye and remain at 2-2.

The AFC North has become the model division when it comes to parity in the NFL. No other division has three teams with winning records, and the AFC North is the only division without a one-win team or a winless one.

This might not change soon when gauging next weekend's schedule. The Ravens are at home against the Texans (3-2), who could be without their best player on offense (wide receiver Andre Johnson) and defense (pass rusher Mario Williams) because of injuries. The Steelers play host to the Jaguars (1-4), who have lost four straight games. And the Bengals return home to face the winless Colts (0-5).

The Browns have the toughest challenge in the division because they have to go cross country to take on the inspired Raiders (3-2).

A look at what local columnists are saying about the AFC North teams after Sundays' games:

  • BENGALS: The young Bengals are buying into coach Marvin Lewis' philosophy of working hard, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty. "Lewis has had some teams that took all of that (and him) to heart," Daugherty wrote. "Last year’s team wasn’t one of those. Last year’s team mocked what Lewis stands for. This year’s model might be the best Lewis has had, when it comes to adopting his world view."

  • STEELERS: Max Starks was a difference-maker by starting at left tackle only four days after signing with the team for the veteran minimum, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gene Collier. "Had there been an available graphic, it would have read: Steelers without Max Starks, 2-2, 16 points per game, 3.5 sacks allowed. Steelers with Max Starks: unbeaten, 38 points per game, one sack allowed," Collier wrote.