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Tuesday, September 28, 2010
AFC North Power Rankings analysis

By James Walker

Oh my!

That was my initial reaction when the AFC North reigned supreme at the top of ESPN.com's latest Power Rankings. The undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, arguably the NFL's biggest surprise at 3-0, were voted by our panel as the league's best team, despite quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension.

Let's take a closer look at all the rankings in the division.

Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0)

Cumulative ranking: No. 1

Walker's ranking: No. 4

Analysis: I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I've remained a couple of steps behind ESPN.com's panel on the Steelers' vote. I really like this team's toughness and character, and once Roethlisberger returns Oct. 17, the Steelers will be a complete team. But I don't agree that Pittsburgh, right now, is the best team in the NFL. I voted Pittsburgh No. 4 behind the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers. I don't believe Pittsburgh can beat all of those clubs right now without Roethlisberger. But apparently I'm on my own Power Rankings island with that one. ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton and AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky both voted the Steelers as the NFL's best team, while NFC West blogger Mike Sando voted Pittsburgh No. 2.

Baltimore Ravens (2-1)

Cumulative ranking: No. 8

Walker's ranking: No. 5

Analysis: Baltimore, ESPN.com's preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, is not playing up to its potential through the first three games. But the Ravens remain in solid position, one game behind Pittsburgh leading into this week's AFC North showdown. The panel is all over the place with this team, which is indicative of Baltimore's inconsistent play. Clayton, who watched the Ravens in person against the Bengals, voted Baltimore the lowest at No. 12. Kuharsky had the Ravens the highest at No. 4. I rated the Ravens No. 5, one spot below Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-1)

Cumulative ranking: No. 12

Walker's ranking: No. 12

Analysis: Despite beating the Carolina Panthers, 20-7, the Bengals fell one spot to No. 12 in this week's Power Rankings. Cincinnati's offense -- and particularly quarterback Carson Palmer -- isn't playing well and it's starting to become a concern. The weapons are there this year at receiver and tight end. So it's natural for the quarterback to get most of the blame. But the defense looks like the top 4 unit it was in 2009, and that's been enough so far for Cincinnati to win games.

Cleveland Browns (0-3)

Cumulative ranking: No. 30

Walker's ranking: No. 29

Analysis: The Browns stayed put at No. 30 for the second straight week. Cleveland isn't the worst team in the league, but it has a long way to go to turn its season around. The Browns have been in every game this year. But when it comes time to make a big play or get a big stop in the second half or fourth quarter, the Browns fail to do so every week. Cleveland has a rivalry game Sunday against Cincinnati at home, where the Browns have played the Bengals tough in recent years. Could this be Cleveland's first win?