Young QBs Baker Mayfield, Joe Burrow signify AFC power shift

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 17: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns completes a pass to Jarvis Landry #80 of the Cleveland Browns in the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 17, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 17: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns completes a pass to Jarvis Landry #80 of the Cleveland Browns in the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 17, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

The Battle of Ohio is legit with Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow

It was exciting to see Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns get the best of the rival Bengals on national television, and to see two first overall picks duke it out. You could view it cynically as a game that one team had to win just because they played each other. It is really a question about what your eyeballs told you and whether you believe what you saw.

This fan’s eyeballs saw  Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow displaying the talent that justified their selection as first overall pick of the draft. Mayfield won this round, but Burrow earned a lot of respect from the Dawg Pound, especially considering the limited preparation that was possible because of the curse of Covid-19 this year.

After the game, FirstEnergy Stadium was still reverberating from the shock waves. Man, there were some guys ballin‘ on both sides. Mayfield was Mayfield again after a dysfunctional experience with coach Freddie Kitchens’ offense in 2019.

Special kudos to Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt for beating up the Bengals on the ground. Jedrick Wills and Chris Hubbard were both stout at the tackle positions despite being banged up earlier in the week. Wyatt Teller was dominant at right guard. Myles Garrett was in the Bengals backfield all game long. Denzel Ward slowed down the  Bengals wide receivers. There were plenty of heroes in Brown and Orange.

But let us give credit where credit is due. These guys are not your father’s Bengals. A.J. Green is actually old enough to be your father’s Bengal, but he is still a tremendous wide receiver if he stays healthy. Green could have been a Hall of Fame receiver had he played for the Patriots or the Packers rather than the Bengals all his career.

Likewise, John Ross and Tyler Boyd give the Bengals an exceptionally dangerous trio of wide receivers, and Joe Mixon is not that far from the level of Chubb and Hunt. These guys are not journeyman ballplayers, they are legit talents.

On defense, Geno Atkins (inactive last week) is their big man, along with Carlos Dunlap, Sam Hubbard, Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates and  William Jackson III. The point is, there are legitimate stars in Cincinnati and the Browns beat a very good team.

Then there is the case of Joe Burrow. He had been sent into exile from Ohio, specifically The Ohio State University, for two years to Louisiana, where he set records for touchdowns in a season with 60 and scorched the earth in the process. Now he returns triumphantly to Cincinnati where he has strapped the entire city to his back.

On Thursday, on a national stage, Burrow threw the ball 61 times without an interception, rushed seven times and was sacked three times. In all, he was the ball carrier on 71 plays, taking eight hits from Myles Garrett and Company in the process and surviving his baptism by fire.

Miracles aside, however, the Bengals and the Browns must face the grim reality that they are in the same division with perpetual superpowers Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Based on what we saw in week one, the Baltimore Ravens look to be as invincible as ever, especially on offense. The Houston Texans were not able to do any better than the Browns against them, so we may as well admit that the Ravens are just a very tough team.

Similarly, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a totally different team with quarterback Big Ben Roethlisberger functioning at a very high level with a surgically repaired elbow. They destroyed the Giants, holding Saquon Barkley to six (SIX!) yards rushing on 15 carries. Running back Benny Snell, Jr. gained 113 yards on the ground. If that is not vintage Steelers, what is? In Week 2, James Connor went for 106 yards and 6.6 yards per carry, and Ben threw for 301 yards against Denver. The Steelers had seven sacks and an unheard-of 19 hits on the quarterback, knocking Drew Lock out of the game. That is an insane stat.  No way around it, the Steelers are back to being the Steelers.

The reason this writer was not too upset that the Ravens clobbered the Browns last week is because the Ravens have an awesome team that this writer believes has an excellent chance to dislodge Kansas City as the AFC representative in the Super Bowl. They were 14-2 last year, gang.  The Ravens beat up the DeShaun Watson and the Houston Texans about as soundly as they beat the Browns last week.

As for the Bengals, their loss came against the Chargers, who took the supposedly invincible Kansas City Chiefs into overtime in week two. By extension, then, the AFC North looks competitive with the best team outside of the division.

There is unbelievable talent in this division and it starts with the quarterbacking. Does anyone really think that it is going to be the “same old Bengals” with Joe Burrow running the office? Does anyone see them going 4-12 this season, even with an 0-2 start?

The Baltimore Ravens are featuring the reigning MVP in Lamar Jackson, who is the greatest dual threat quarterback the NFL has ever seen. Better than Michael Vick, Fran Tarkenton or Randall Cunningham, and Tarkenton is in the Hall of Fame.  Just stay healthy, Lamar.

No matter what you may think of Ben Roethlisberger, his on-the-field achievements are Hall of Fame worthy. If the bionic elbow stays healthy, that is going to spell trouble for the rest of the division.

No offense to Freddie Kitchens, who is a good guy in many respects, but being head coach of the Browns is not his karma. Having Kevin Stefanski take over for him is going to help Baker Mayfield resume his career after the debacle of 2019.

the AFC North is going to look like Strategic Air Command. Everything we have seen indicates that the AFC North is  the toughest division in the AFC from top to bottom this season.

Next. 5 Bold predictions vs. Washington. dark

This football season is going to be the most fun Browns fans have had in years. This the year that the division rivalry is really going to be a rivalry.  We will learn more when the Browns play the team formerly known as the Hogs this Sunday.