AFC North the real deal

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

It's not as if the Pittsburgh Steelers don't have enough on their plate tonight with a tough prime time date in Jacksonville.

But if the Super Bowl champions watched much football yesterday in advance of the Monday nighter against the Jags, they saw their future.

And in it, they saw plenty of nastiness.

Based on the play of the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens the past two weeks, the AFC North has to be unofficially considered the toughest division in football.

Both teams destroyed their opponents yesterday to bump their records to 2-0.

The Bengals performance was to be expected, the Ravens only add to their rivals' woes.

Led by the heart of the defence, Ray Lewis, the Ravens forced eight turnovers in their 28-6 thrashing of the Oakland Raiders and have yet to yield a touchdown in their eight quarters of dominating play.

Safe to say the six games featuring any combination of these three teams -- beginning with next week's Steelers-Bengals meeting -- will be must-watch events.

All three teams can pound the football, and all three can play defence.

Adding the Ravens to contender status only lengthens the odds of the Steelers repeating as champions.

Some other observations from a Week 2 loaded with divisional matchups:

- It wasn't much to watch, but Buffalo's 16-6 victory over the Miami Dolphins yesterday did enough to give the Bills a glimmer of hope as they head to their home opener.

- Led -- or misled -- by quarterback Daunte Culpepper, the Dolphins are a suspect bunch.

And the Bills will find that the New York Jets, which nearly battled back against New England yesterday, won't be a pushover this coming Sunday at the Ralph.

But it's not inconceivable the Bills (1-1) could be 4-2 after a four-pack of games that includes the Jets and Vikings and road games in Chicago and Detroit.

Even the most optimistic of Bills fans would take that.

- There will be a movement to proclaim that Eli Manning arrived yesterday after leading the Giants to their dramatic fourth-quarter comeback against the Eagles.

But the other side of the story shows why Eli may never be a match for big brother Peyton.

For the first three quarters yesterday, Eli was sacked six times and had a fumble and an interception, nearly taking his team out of the game. His comeback was something special, but he won't always be able to dig the G-Men out of such holes.

- The San Diego Chargers are leaving nothing to chance this September.

This past season, the Lightning Bolts were the best team not to make the playoffs after a 9-7 record in which they lost five games by four points or less.

Apparently, the lessons of Marty Schottenheimer have sunk in.

With their 33-6 win over Tennessee yesterday and a 27-0 kicking of the Raiders in their opener, the Chargers are taking late collapses out of the equation.

- Let's see them win big games late in the season, but the Atlanta Falcons are starting to look impressive as well.

The sporting world knows all about quarterback Michael Vick's moves, but with a defence that has yet to yield a touchdown, the dirty birds are more than a novelty act.

- Give CBS credit for making their own analyst, Phil Simms, squirm on the set.

After showing highlights of the Tampa Bay-Atlanta game in which Simms' son Chris threw three interceptions -- his second such hat trick in two weeks -- Simms was asked his opinion.

Father was as honest as he could be about son: "(Bucs coach Jon Gruden) has got a pretty good quarterback that's not playing well."


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