The AFC North has performed well so far during the preseason. That should make the Bengals, Browns, Ravens, and Steelers fans alike feel proud. The division right now is headed by the 3-0 Ravens, with the Browns and Steelers tied at 2-1, and the Bengals at the bottom with Thursday's loss, with a 1-2 record.
It's incredibly difficult to put the Browns above the Steelers, and some may argue that I am biased, but the performance of the Browns is better and more consistent.
1. Baltimore Ravens: 3-0
The first stringers of the Ravens have performed almost flawlessly. It all started against the Redskins. The Ravens dominated the Redskins in every facet of the game. While the talk was about the defense, and how they recovered from the losses of two starters and a coordinator, people didn't notice the offense.
The passing attack is like no other Ravens squad in history so far. Fifteen receivers caught for 408 yards against Washington. The rushing attack gained 129 yards in a really lopsided offensive effort. Against the Jets, Flacco threw for 108 yards with little mistakes but no touchdowns.
Against the Panthers, Flacco was at his best since last season, throwing for well over 200 yards and a touchdown. The receiving corps looked especially good during that game, with Derrick Mason catching for 70 yards, and newcomer Kelley Washington and running back Ray Rice catching for 67 yards.
Todd Heap caught for Joe Flacco's first preseason touchdown, a nine-yard strike.
The running game has been relatively solid; the only problem is the inconsistency of the runners. Some plays, the back breaks for a 16-yard gain, the next two plays they get stuffed in the backfield. Rookie Cedric Peerman, starter Ray Rice, and short-yardage back Willis McGahee have all at least once.
The defense has only allowed three touchdowns in three games, including one shut-out. The defense that led the league in takeaways hasn't slowed down despite offseason losses. The Ravens have compiled three interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns. The new four-man front has produced four sacks.
2. Cleveland Browns: 2-1
How do I dare put the Cleveland Browns ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers? Well folks, the Browns have been playing great since their week one loss. While Pittsburgh performed extremely poorly in week two, and despite week three's shutout, they still have to play better to top the Browns' performance.
As of late, the quarterback competition has shown some life. In week one, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson both threw an interception, but Anderson went 0-2, while Quinn went for 68 yards off of seven out of 11 passes.
Quinn couldn't get much going on in the second game, a 27-10 win over Detroit. Anderson threw for 130 yards, but also an interception.
The competition was a a draw until week three, where Quinn threw for a touchdown to Braylon Edwards. He went 11-15 and 128 yards. Derek Anderson didn't perform bad either, going 7-11 and 77 yards, but it's safe to say that Quinn has pulled away in the race.
At the receiving end, Braylon Edwards is actually catching balls for a change! He caught a touchdown pass, and two other passes for 51 yards, including an impressive over-the-shoulder catch in tight coverage. Edwards also caught a one-handed catch, but he was ruled out of bounds.
Outside of Edwards, Josh Cribbs and Brian Robeskie have been doing an adequate job replacing Donte Stallworth, and is emerging as a good No. 2 receiver. But what is even more impressive is Cribbs' kick and punt return skills. He returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown.
As with the rest of Cleveland's offense, they had to wait for week two for the running game to take shape. Jamal Lewis rushed the ball seven times for 23 yards and a touchdown against the Lions.
But rookie James Davis out-ran Lewis, rushing for 117 yards with a 9.7 average, as well as a touchdown. In week three, however, the running game gave way to the passing game.
The defense is doing a solid job for the most part. They gave up 17 points to the Titans and Packers, but held the Lions to one touchdown. The Browns have produced five fumbles, but only recovering one. They have gotten four interceptions and four sacks as well.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers: 2-1
The Steelers have been inconsistent, which is the only knock against them. They performed poorly and lost without Ben Roethlisberger, but they played great and won when he is on the field.
He completed four out of six of his passes in his first game, and in the second game threw for well over 100 yards. The ankle injury that sidelined him against the Redskins showed no serious effects.
Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch did a fine job filling in, but they didn't have the same presence on the field and that contributed to the Steelers' loss.
At the receiving end, Limas Sweed is starting to take shape as a No. 3 receiver, but is still showing inconsistency. Super-Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes is keeping up with the pace he set in the postseason last year. But the No. 1 receiver is still Hines Ward.
He is Roethlisberger's safety blanket and the most consistent producer on the offense. You can always count on him to make a play when needed.
The Steelers defense is the Steelers defense, simply put. They return all but one of their starters, and have added Evander "Ziggy" Hood, who is making an immediate impact with the second string. Lawrence Timmons is taking Larry Foote's position, and is doing so quite well.
The Steelers have produced five interceptions with one returned for a touchdown, and eight sacks (leading the AFC North).
4. Cincinnati Bengals: 1-2
I spent the entire offseason raving about how much the Bengals have improved, saying that they can go from four wins to seven or eight, and possibly defeating the Ravens or Steelers in one or both matchups.
I know it's only preseason, but it appears that I have been proven wrong for the second year straight, at least offensively. Carson Palmer's return to football was less than stellar, but not terrible; the only knock against him was his interception.
J.T. O'Sullivan, the second stringer, performed well in the first two games, throwing a touchdown in both, but couldn't find the end-zone in the third.
Jordan Palmer struggled in the first two games, throwing an interception in the first game and going 2-7, but was able to find the end zone despite throwing a pick. Carson Palmer missed the previous two games due to an ankle injury and will likely sit out next week so he doesn't agitate it before the season.
Chris Henry is emerging as a go-to receiver. The legally troubled receiver is finally starting to clean up his act, and it is starting to show. All three of the Bengals' passing touchdowns were to Henry. Henry caught for 100, 66, and 62 yards in the three preseason games, respectively.
Starters Lavernues Coles and Chad Ochocinco have both seen limited action, probably explaining the lack of success this preseason. Wide receiver Quan Cosby returned a punt 37 yards for a touchdown.
Rookie Bernard Scott is making strides at the running back position, and outperformed starter Cedric Benson, while getting less carries than Benson. However, neither of the two could find or fight their way into pay dirt (TD). Third stringer Brian Leonard did, with a one-yard run.
The Bengals defense has showed slight improvement, and were able to hold the stellar New England offense to two field goals. They have produced four sacks and four fumble recoveries.
Well folks, that's a wrap for week three. Before you get bent out of shape over the rankings or what I said, keep in mind that it is only preseason, and that none of this matters, and that each team can make or break their rank in a single game once the season starts.
If you think I am being biased toward or against a specific team, please let me know so I don't make the same mistake twice.