A month into the 2013 NFL season and the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns are all tied for the lead in the AFC North Division at 3-2. The Pittsburgh Steelers have fallen off the NFL map to become one of the worst teams in the league, while their AFC North rivals all have looked pretty impressive this year. The division appears up for grabs after a quarter of the season with three teams all vying for first place. The Browns defense looks strong and the Bengals are talented. But is either team enough of a force to claim the division from the defending champs? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk discuss this question.
Riley: The only thing holding me back from pushing Baltimore to the top of their heap is their lack of offensive weapons. Ray Rice is a great back and Torrey Smith is blazing fast, but otherwise the shelf is pretty bare for Joe Flacco. Their defense has been mostly steady but pass protection is holding the team back. Add to that the fact that every team is bringing their best game against the Ravens and you have a recipe for second place. The Browns could fizzle out, but the Bengals-as I predicted-have the talent and the coaching to win this division.
Green: You can't write off the defending champs too early. The offense will come around and the defense should be even better as the season rolls along. Very little separates the Ravens from the Bengals, aside from Cincinnati's long ball threat in A.J. Green. Both teams play very similar styles, while Baltimore has already beaten the Browns once this season. It doesn't matter if you're a genius or a gambling man but you can pick Baltimore to win this division.
Riley: I wouldn't guarantee a Baltimore title. The lack of a second wide receiver and injuries sustained by Rice may hurt the Ravens down the stretch, while the Bengals and even the Browns possess multiple downfield weapons that can attack a defense several ways. I don't see the Ravens defense being significantly better than the Bengals or the Browns, so the only thing separating the teams is coaching and offense. Up until this point, Baltimore hasn't looked like a clear division winner.
Green: If it's going to come down to coaching and offense then I trust the coaching staff that won a Super Bowl last year and the quarterback who set records along the way. You've always been candid about your distaste for the Ravens, Riley, so I'm not surprised at your opinion. If all three teams are pretty equal, then you have to go with proven commodity. They're 1-0 already against the Browns and the Bengals so the cards are in their favor.