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AFC North Power Rankings before Week 1 kicks off

Browns have a lot to prove before they can move up the list

It isn’t easy being the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North. The other three teams have been well run, mostly, for at least a couple of years (Cincinnati) or much longer (Baltimore, Pittsburgh). The Browns, as the loyal fans know, have rarely been run anything but into the ground.

As we present our first weekly AFC North power rankings, it is important to remember that we are focused on what we have seen on the field, what is proven and what each team’s track record shows us. Based on 2022 and that none of the teams in the division blew up their core, Cleveland fans will be unhappy with the initial rankings.

The good news is, this is the first of many power rankings:

1. Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)

Week 1 Game: At Cleveland Browns (0-0)

It is very difficult to put the two-time defending AFC North Champions anywhere else besides first in these initial rankings. The Bengals return the majority of their talent on offense including the addition of offensive tackle Orlando Brown.

The Bengals defense will be a different story. They lost their two starting safeties in the off-season (Jesse Bates and Vonn Bell) so their secondary may be the biggest question for them heading into the season in a division that boasts the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Amari Cooper and George Pickens.

Their entire season will hinge on how well their offense performs because they will likely find themselves in shoot-outs most of the season.

2. Baltimore Ravens (0-0)

Week 1 Game: vs Houston Texans (0-0)

The Baltimore Ravens have a lot of new additions to their offense in 2023 including new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers while signing a new five-year, $260-million contract for Lamar Jackson.

One lingering question over the last couple of seasons is if their running backs can stay healthy. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards have continuously battled injuries over the last couple of years and it has had its effects on the Ravens’ rushing attack.

Much like the Bengals, there are questions on defense to begin the season. Tyus Bowser will miss at least the first four games (including Week 4 against the Browns) being on the NFI list and cornerback Marlon Humphrey is still recovering from a recent foot surgery.

We will see how the new additions on offense gel together with Monken. That will define the Ravens this season.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0)

Week 1 Game: vs San Francisco 49ers (0-0)

It was very difficult whether to put the Browns in this position or in fourth to start the season, but if there is one thing that has been constant since 2007, it is to not bet against Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While the Steelers have not won a playoff game since 2016, they have not finished below .500 in the entire tenure of Mike Tomlin.

The defense has always been the strong suit of the Steelers and will continue to be with the likes of T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Alex Highsmith. Where the questions lie with the Steelers is if Kenny Pickett, along with offensive coordinator Matt Canada, can build upon the stellar pre-season that the QB had. Pickett is surrounded by weapons on offense in Najee Harris, George Pickens and Dionte Johnson but the offensive line has been the biggest question in recent years.

Will the Steelers be able to run the ball and protect Pickett when needed? We’ll see.

4. Cleveland Browns (0-0)

Week 1 Game: vs Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)

Now do not worry Browns fans. This ranking as the season starts for the Browns is not due to the talent on the roster, there is no question how talented the Browns are. This ranking in the AFC North is more of the “Prove It” nature. Andrew Berry and the Browns front office have put together the best Browns roster since the team returned in 1999 but there is still one lingering question that will determine the fate of the entire season.

Will quarterback Deshaun Watson return to the Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback that he was in Houston and be able to find success in Kevin Stefanski’s offense? While it has been said that Watson has the keys to the offense, we shall see if the offense hums like a sports car or stalls out like a toy car with a dead battery. There are plenty of weapons that surround Watson, it is up to him to get them the ball and be a Top 10 QB in the league.

The Browns defense along with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will look to be a much-improved unit this season and they will be tested right out of the gate by Joe Burrow and the Bengals. The question on defense to start the season is will Denzel Ward be available for Sunday’s match-up with the Bengals after returning to practice Wednesday? Time will tell. If not, Greg Newsome and Martin Emerson Jr. will have to step up right away to begin the season.

How would you rank the AFC North as of today, before any games have started? Join the conversation in the comment section below: