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AFC North race back to Square One

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Posted Sept. 19, 2011 @ 5:05 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

What an interesting Sunday it was for the AFC North.

The Steelers, as expected, bounced back after their horrible performance at Baltimore, dominating Seattle. The Browns, who were favored at Indianapolis, got into the win column for the first time in 2011.

The Ravens? While there was perhaps nowhere to go but down after their rout of Pittsburgh in Week One, no one expected them to crater like they did in a 26-13 loss at Tennessee. The Bengals also followed a Week One win with a loss, though they did show some fight in a 24-22 defeat at Denver.

By Sunday's end, the entire AFC North was at .500. What does it all mean? We explore.

The PFW Spin

Sunday's biggest AFC North disappointment? That's easy. It's not that Baltimore lost at Tennessee. It's that the Titans handled the Ravens with relative ease. Tennessee outgained Baltimore, 432-229. The Ravens' pass-defense concerns are again at the forefront after Titans WR Kenny Britt (9-135-1) put together a Pro Bowl résumé tape vs. Baltimore. The Ravens also struggled to stop Nate Washington (7-99-0), who had one of his finest games in two-plus seasons in Tennessee.

Another major red flag for the Ravens: the offense, so potent and versatile in Week One, was ineffective and limited at Tennessee. The running game sputtered, but the passing game looms the bigger worry, with Anquan Boldin the only accomplished, reliable target at wideout with Lee Evans fighting an ankle injury.

The Bengals also have some issues to sort through after their loss at Denver. The defense was a big disappointment. In a favorable matchup against a Denver offense with only two healthy wideouts for much of the game, the Bengals allowed 318 yards and 24 points. The Bengals' passing offense was generally a positive, with QB Andy Dalton (27-of-41 passing, 332 yards, two TDs, no interceptions) playing very well and WR A.J. Green (10-124-1 on 14 targets) giving a Denver secondary without star CB Champ Bailey fits. However, the Bengals' last three drives into Denver territory ended without points. Also, on the Bengals' last drive, Dalton took a costly sack when the Broncos' blitzed, and he missed Jerome Simpson on a deep throw after Simpson had beaten his opponent.

As for the division's winners? Well, a tip of the cap to both. The Steelers dismantled a shaky looking Seattle club, holding the Seahawks scoreless. Pittsburgh did what it was supposed to do, but considering how poorly it played in Week One — and its struggles against clubs it was favored to beat in its so-called "post-Super Bowl letdown" seasons in '06 and '09 — it deserves plenty of credit for getting back on track.

The Browns also did what they were supposed to do Sunday, going into Indianapolis and pulling away late for a 27-19 win. The Colts played well early, but Cleveland was the better team for the final three quarters. That's a good sign.

The Browns are favored at home vs. winless Miami in Week Three, as are the Bengals vs. 1-1 San Francisco, the Steelers at struggling Indianapolis and the Ravens at banged-up St. Louis. If all four teams deliver as favorites, the AFC North Division race will be all the more intriguing entering October.

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