Wake-up call: Ravens, Bengals top AFC

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

The theme of the AFC North at the midway point of the season: Expect the unexpected. The Ravens and Bengals not only lead the division with a 6-2 record, but they share the best record in the AFC.

The Ravens are there after Joe Flacco led a last-minute comeback at Pittsburgh just seven days removed from Tom Brady failing to do the same thing. The Bengals are there after winning five straight games for the first time in 23 years.

The NFL loves parity. This is, however, bordering on insanity. The Steelers (6-3) went from the team to beat in the AFC last Sunday to falling to second place in the division Sunday night.

The only team with a losing record in the AFC North remains the Browns (3-5), who are three games off the division lead.

A look at what the local columnists are saying:

  • BENGALS: This team has proven itself in the eyes of the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty after the Bengals won at Tennessee, 24-17. "The first eight games were no fluke," Daugherty wrote. "How can half a season be a mirage? Even if you believe the Schedule Fairy has lived at Paul Brown Stadium, you cannot dismiss the Bengals as lightweights anymore."

  • BROWNS: The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto is most disappointed in a Browns defense that didn't pressure the quarterback and allowed 261 yards rushing at Houston. Pluto wrote: "So I came to this game with almost zero expectations from the offense, and they almost delivered a zero. But the defense... where was it? It's the defense that has the two top picks in each of the team's last two drafts. It has experienced leaders in D'Qwell Jackson, Scott Fujita, Ahtyba Rubin and Sheldon Brown. It has been mostly healthy, and played reasonably well for much of the season."

  • RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston thinks Joe Flacco is showing that he can beat good quarterbacks consistently. "The difference between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ravens is no longer in the quarterback," Preston wrote. "When the game was on the line Sunday night, Flacco outlasted Pittsburgh quarterback and rival Ben Roethlisberger."

  • STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook says the Ravens proved to be the better team again. Cook wrote: "[T]he officials didn't beat the Steelers on this night. The Ravens did. Besides that, when you can't hold a 20-16 lead in the final two-plus minutes at home when the other team has to go 92 yards, you don't deserve to win."