Where Do the Pittsburgh Steelers Stand in the AFC North Now?

Mike StangerCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2013

The yearly Pittsburgh Steelers' standing as the dominant team in the AFC North went southward last season. The Steelers missed the playoffs while the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl.

Even the Cincinnati Bengals got to see a little playoff action.

And the Cleveland Browns were, well, still the Cleveland Browns.

Now all of this flux in the division has magnified the purported Steelers' downfall. Adding to it is the perennial roster musical chairs in Pittsburgh.

This offseason offers no exceptions.

The annual ritual of shedding the roster of aging veterans, watching young talent move to greener pastures and bringing back former players for a reunion tour has progressed smoothly in 2013.

On the aging veterans front, the Steelers have released James Harrison and ignored Casey Hampton and Max Starks,

In the viable-but-disappointing category, Pittsburgh gave Rashard Mendenhall the opportunity to play for its minor-league club in Arizona and allowed Willie Colon a chance to find obscurity with the New York Jets

And no Steelers offseason would be complete without the occasional departure of overvalued young talent.

This year saw Mike Wallace finding financial security with the Miami Dolphins in the form of a five-year, $60 million contract and Keenan Lewis striking gold in New Orleans, where the Saints showered him with a lucrative five-year, $26 million homecoming.

On the positive side, the reunion tour continued with cornerback William Gay and tight end Matt Spaeth coming aboard.

In a vacuum, the losses hurt, but they aren't insurmountable. However, the Steelers don't play in a vacuum; they play in the AFC North.

The AFC North isn't standing still, but is it moving in a direction detrimental to the Steelers?

At first glance, Pittsburgh appears to have lost some standing in the division.

But upon further review, all is not rainbows and unicorns in the AFC North.


Baltimore Ravens

In Baltimore, the defending Super Bowl champions have been looking to unseat the Steelers as the king of the mountain for a long time. Now, they are getting a feel for what that's like—win a championship, lose key players.

All talk about the Ravens begins and ends with Ray Lewis. After 17 years, the future Hall of Famer called it quits. He may not have been the physical presence he once was, but Lewis still brought the emotional leadership.

Now, he's gone.

Along with him went Ed Reed, albeit under different circumstances. The seasoned veteran signed a free-agent contract with the Houston Texans worth $15 million over three years.

Joe Flacco may have the current richest contract in the NFL, but he no longer has steady wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin, along with Denver Broncos safety Rahim Moore, were major parts in helping Flacco land his contract.

The Ravens thanked Boldin for the memories by sending him to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

Other losses for Baltimore include the free-agent departures of Paul Kruger to the Browns and Dannell Ellerbe to the Dolphins.

All is not negative in Baltimore, though. For Ravens fans, Elvis (Dumervil) has just entered the building via Denver with a five-year deal worth potentially $35 million.

Whether or not Dumervil will replace Lewis as "The King" remains to be seen.


Cincinnati Bengals

With the apparent decline of the Steelers and the gutting of the Ravens' championship roster, the Cincinnati Bengals look to be the trendy pick to win the AFC North in 2013.

The Bengals are on a roll, making the playoffs in three of the past four years.

Their only major loss this offseason was linebacker Manny Lawson.

They placed the franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson and re-signed linebacker Rey Maualuga, cornerback Adam Jones, defensive end Robert Geathers, kicker Mike Nugent and punter Kevin Huber.

With Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green only in his third season and quarterback Andy Dalton progressing, the Bengals have a young nucleus to continue their ascension.

On paper, Cincinnati looks to be a force in the AFC North. Unfortunately, the games aren't played on paper.

After all, these are the Bengals and Marvin Lewis is still the head coach. Despite all of the recent success, the team hasn't won a playoff game since 1990, however, 2013 could be the start of the Bengals' dominance in the division.


Cleveland Browns

Yes, the Cleveland Browns—the perennial also-ran in the AFC North.

The Browns hope to be the other Ohio team in the division to make some noise.

Cleveland has made some noise this offseason, signing Paul Kruger away from Baltimore and bringing in former Raider defensive tackle Desmond Bryant.

The Browns' biggest ex-Raider acquisition, however, is quarterback Jason Campbell. He's been brought in to compete with current starting quarterback and former first-round pick Brandon Weeden.

Only in Cleveland does it make sense to draft a 28-year-old quarterback in the first round and then bring in Jason Campbell to challenge him the following year.

But this is Cleveland.

Oh, by the way, new-hire Rod Chudzinksi is Cleveland's fourth head coach in six years.

Instability at head coach is never a good thing.

So, what does all of this AFC North movement mean for the Steelers? Have the Ravens sustained too many losses to defend? Can the Bengals make the leap to division champs? Are the Browns, well, still the Browns?

No one knows for sure. It's impossible to determine how all of this affects the Steelers and their standing in the division. There is also that little NFL draft thing happening in April that can create even more volatility.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said it best in a recent interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac; "That's March talk. I'll see you in stadiums in the fall."



    Aaron Rodgers Says Deshaun Is 'Extremely Gifted'

    NFL logo

    Aaron Rodgers Says Deshaun Is 'Extremely Gifted'

    Jeff Risdon
    via Texans Wire

    Trump Takes Shot at NFL When Talking Anthem

    NFL logo

    Trump Takes Shot at NFL When Talking Anthem

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    Manziel's Team Has 2nd-Best Odds to Win Grey Cup

    NFL logo

    Manziel's Team Has 2nd-Best Odds to Win Grey Cup

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Bell Won't Attend Steelers OTAs

    Pittsburgh Steelers logo
    Pittsburgh Steelers

    Report: Bell Won't Attend Steelers OTAs

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report