Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
It's Ravens-Steelers week and there's a lot at stake once again in this rivalry. The winner takes control of the division and ... wait, what about the Bengals?
That's right. The Who Dey Nation is unexpectedly crashing the AFC North party this year. The Bengals (5-2) are tied with the Ravens for second place in the division, trailing the first-place Steelers (6-2) by a half-game. The same Bengals that began the season ranking last in ESPN's power rankings.
For those who still don't believe, Cincinnati has won four consecutive games for the first time since 2009. For those who still aren't impressed, the Bengals won their first West Coast game since 2003.
Whatever your opinion, you can't dispute that the Bengals are relevant in November again. There's a growing belief in the locker room that can be judged by the expanding vocabulary. According to the team's website, the P-word can now be heard from players.
“I think we set out not to do anything less,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said of the playoffs. “That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re going for team wins any way we can get them.”
The Bengals will find out whether they're playoff caliber when they play at the Titans (4-3) before hosting the Steelers and taking a trip to the Ravens.
Here's a look at what the local columnists are saying about the AFC North teams following Sunday's games:
BENGALS: The Bengals are 5-2 because they've taken advantage of a favorable schedule, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty. Their five wins have come against teams with a combined record of 13-25. Daugherty wrote: "The achievement comes with its own asterisk. The QBs they've beaten are a veritable Who's Not Who. Raise your hand if you'd start your dynasty with Kyle Orton, Curtis Painter, Blaine Gabbert, Charlie Whitehurst or Tarvaris Jackson. But we quibble. A 5-2 record should not demand style points, especially not around here."
BROWNS: The Browns have scored over 17 points just once this season. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto thinks the no-huddle is a no-brainer for Cleveland. Pluto wrote: "There are no quick fixes, not with two inexperienced guards, two running backs in the trainer's room, and no receiver who demands double coverage. But maybe a faster pace will help."
RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston believes the Ravens' momentous rally just hides another below-average performance. Preston wrote: "The Ravens staged their greatest comeback in franchise history, rallying from a 21-point deficit to defeat Arizona Sunday, but that was about the only good thing you could say. They won. That's it. They won. They beat one of the worst teams in the league, and had to rally from three touchdowns down. Go ahead, jump up and down. Break dance if you want. Lift your champagne glass, but there is not much to celebrate."
STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Dejan Kovacevic was impressed with the way the Steelers physically dominated the Patriots. Kovacevic wrote: "They chased Tom Brady as if endorsement deals were hanging from his neck. They made Wes Welker eat grass within a millisecond of catching the football. They rode big tight end Rob Gronkowski like a bucking bronco. And they apparently caught defensive genius Bill Belichick wholly unprepared for, of all gimmicky schemes, the underneath routes of tight end Heath Miller. The Steelers, finally, after eight games, are the Steelers again."