Ben Roethlisberger injury: State of AFC North in flux, Ravens set to cruise, Steelers' playoff odds plummet

The Pittsburgh Steelers' hopes of reclaiming the AFC North title took a major hit when it was announced that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would miss the rest of the 2019 season with an elbow injury.  Sitting at 0-2, the Steelers were already facing an uphill climb, and now, they appear to be in danger of recording their first losing season under head coach Mike Tomlin. According to SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh, the Steelers had just a 33.3% chance to make the playoffs with Roethlisberger, and those odds have now plummeted to 13.7%. 

The new starter in Pittsburgh, Mason Rudolph, played pretty well on Sunday, and he completed 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He has a chance to prove that he's the future of the franchise this year, and there's no doubt that he has potential. Still, the Steelers just aren't as talented as they have been in the past, which is why registering their first losing season since 2003 seems like a possibility.

While it is early, the only team in the AFC North that has proven they can be legitimate contenders are the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Lamar Jackson looks like an MVP candidate and has passed for 596 yards and seven touchdowns through two games. While the game was a little closer than many thought it would be, the Ravens were still able to hold off Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, 23-17, in Week 2.

Could Big Ben have played his final snap as a Steeler? Will Brinson, Ryan Wilson, John Breech and Sean Wagner-McGough discuss the fallout from Ben Roethlisberger's season-ending injury in an emergency Monday afternoon edition of the Pick Six podcast. Make sure and subscribe to get our daily NFL pod, now with seven (!) episodes per week, M-F.

To say the Ravens are an offensive juggernaut is probably an overstatement, but they have one of the more versatile offensive attacks in the league. With Jackson's running ability and their bullpen of capable running backs, it looks like the Ravens are just going to get better. With that being said, their first two opponents, the Miami Dolphins, and the Cardinals, are not in line for winning seasons, but the Ravens are still my pick to win the division. Still, with new offensive coordinator Greg Roman designing an offensive system to fit Jackson's skill set, plus the addition of playmaking wide receiver Marquise Brown, Baltimore has the look of a top-10 offense overall.

It's too early to rule out the Cleveland Browns, who play their second game of the season Monday night against the New York Jets. They were embarrassed by the Tennessee Titans on their home field in the season opener, and Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions as opposed to his one touchdown. The real story, however, was the lack of discipline we saw with this team. 

The Browns racked up 18 penalties for a total of 182 yards last week, which led to more than $70,000 in fines, per News 5 Cleveland. Those who are crowned the offseason champions usually don't win in the regular season, and the Browns' first game could be an early indication that this team is doomed to disappoint. 

It doesn't help that the Browns did very little to address their offensive line this offseason -- pass protection was a major issue in Week 1.

We will be tempted to use what happens during their Monday Night Football matchup to answer unanswered questions, but that may not be such a good idea. Jets starting quarterback Sam Darnold is out with mono, running back Le'Veon Bell may not be 100% healthy and the team has been dealing with several injuries on the defensive side of the ball -- namely with linebacker C.J. Mosley and No. 3 overall pick defensive lineman Quinnen Williams

The Browns are supposed to blow out the Jets on Monday night, and if they do, are we going to act like everything is hunky-dory in Cleveland? We may have to wait at least another week to have a better idea of what this Browns team is capable of in the grand scheme of things.  

Sadly, the Cincinnati Bengals appear the favorites to finish last in the AFC North for the second year in a row. First-year head coach Zac Taylor had a promising season opener, losing on the road to the Seattle Seahawks by just one point. The offense appeared to be much improved, as Andy Dalton threw for 418 yards and two touchdowns. 

The Bengals then regressed in Week 2, as they were blown out by the San Francisco 49ers, 41-17, on their home field. Dalton still passed for 311 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, but the Bengals recorded just 25 total rushing yards. While Taylor wants his unit to score more than 17 points in a game, the defense was the real issue. The Bengals gave up 572 yards of total offense including 259 rushing yards, as the 49ers moved the chains an astounding 27 times. 

Things may get better for the Bengals over time, but they don't have a chance to accomplish anything in 2019 if their defense can't stop anyone. 

When examining the AFC North as a whole, the Ravens appear to be the team set up for success in the near future. The Browns and Bengals both have first-year head coaches, and only time will tell if they made the right hires. The Steelers, on the other hand, appear to be on the downswing. We don't know if the 37-year-old Roethlisberger will be able to come back in 2020 from this injury and maintain the ability to lead the NFL in passing yards. Roethlisberger is signed through the 2021 season after agreeing to a contract extension earlier this spring.

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