Don’t look now, but the AFC North is damn good at football again…and the majority of the conference’s five total losses have come from within the division. The Cincinnati Bengals have lost to the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens, while the Browns have lost to the Ravens. The Bengals have also lost to the Los Angeles Chargers, while the Ravens have lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens (who played the Bengals), and the Browns all winning, the AFC North now has three times with four wins through five weeks, though the Bengals are now 1-3-1—with two intra-divisional losses.
That’s big for the Browns, especially, who are now 4-1. It had been a very long time since they had even had a winning record. Now they are three games over .500 for the first time since week 12 of the 2014 season, and that was at 7-4…before they lost their final five games.
The last time they started off the season 4-1? Bill Belichick was still their head coach. And they were still the team that would become the Ravens. That was back in 1994, and they finished that season 11-5, second in the AFC Central to a very good 12-4 Steelers team, who would end the Browns’ season in the Divisional Round with a 29-9 blowout.
But they were a good team then. They were 6-1, in fact, before they lost their second game. But they did lose to the Steelers twice in the regular season that year—and again in the postseason. 1994 marks the last time that they have won a postseason game, defeating the New England Patriots in the divisional round.
This is the first season for the Browns under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski, who was the runner-up for the job behind Freddie Kitchens last year. Kitchens served the majority of the 2018 season as interim offensive coordinator, and was given a lot of credit for a rookie Baker Mayfield’s play, but after the team took a step back last year, he was let go—as was general manager Jon Dorsey.
The team rehired Andrew Berry, and Paul DePodesta hired his man, Stefanski, of whom Berry was also a fan. it appears as though Cleveland finally has an organization that is all on the same page, and at least so far, it is showing on the scoreboards.
The offense is scoring over 30 points per game so far. The defense is giving up a lot of points as well (in fact they are nearly giving up 30 points per game as well), but they starting the season with a lot of injuries, particularly in the secondary.
Is this Browns team for real? The Steelers can’t afford not to treat them as though they are. They will be hosting Cleveland at Heinz Field next week, and the winner will either own the AFC North lead outright or share in the lead. Whoever wins will have five wins through six weeks of ball, and it’s been a while since anybody in the division has done that The Bengals actually started the 2015 season 8-0. The Ravens last did it in 2012. The Steelers last did it in 2010.