Breaking down the AFC North: Biggest surprises, storylines and what's next

The Baltimore Ravens are, Cincinnati Bengals (Cleveland Browns), Cleveland Browns (Cleveland Browns) and Pittsburgh Steelers make up one of the two divisions in NFL that does not have a team below.500 for this season. This means the race to win the AFC North title will likely be close.
Eight weeks later, Baltimore (5-2), Cincinnati (5-3), Pittsburgh (4-3), and Cleveland (4-4) are close behind. The Ravens are 47.4% likely to win the division. They are followed by the Bengals (27.3%) Steelers (14.1%), and Browns (11.1%).

Which team will win AFC North? The NFL's most difficult division could finish in any order. All four teams have done things we didn't expect before this season. Bill Barnwell

Our NFL experts offer game picks

PickCenter | ESPN Chalk

Additional NFL coverage

After Odell Beckham Jr. posted an Instagram video highlighting instances when Baker Mayfield didn't throw Beckham the ball or missed him, the Browns were the main newsmakers of the division. Beckham was released Friday. He will be on waivers next week.

We asked Jamison Hensley from Baltimore Ravens, Ben Baby from Cincinnati Bengals, Brooke Pryor of Steelers, Jake Trotter, Cleveland Browns reporter, to evaluate the season so far and look ahead.

Biggest surprise

Hensley: Quarterback Lamar Jackson's downfield passing. Jackson was to move on in his journey as a passer. It has been a leap. Jackson has completed 14 passes over 20 yards in seven games, almost matching his total for the entire season (17). The Ravens will rely more on Jackson's arm to win the division, despite Baltimore not receiving much from its backfield.

Baby: The play by wide receiver Ja'Marr Chass. The fifth-round pick is a player who has exceeded all rookie expectations. He is also one of the most explosive NFL receivers. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he and quarterback Joe Burrow have the second highest combined yardage of any quarterback-wide receiver pair. Chase is third in the NFL with 786 receiving yards.

Pryor: Steelers defense has been decent, but not great. Because of game conditions, the pass rush isn't as consistent. Pittsburgh ranks sixth with 19 sacks. The defense isn’t turning the ball over at the same rate as previous seasons. Two interceptions by the Steelers are tied for second in the NFL and six takeaways. They haven't been fully healthy as a team, with Stephon Tuitt, a defensive end, being placed on injured reserve following roster cuts. They came close to winning the Week 1 game in Buffalo. However, Tyson Alualu, the nose tackle, was injured and went down the following week.

Trotter: The Baker Mayfield/Odell Beckham Jr. partnership has ended. It is not surprising that they were still unable to bring it all together this season. It is amazing that the Browns cut Beckham Friday in the middle season. The season of the Clevelands, once so promising, is now spiraling.

The biggest storyline you should be following

Hensley: Ravens' pass defense. Baltimore is last in the NFL for passing defense. It became the third NFL team to allow three passers of 400 yards in seven games. This defense is proud and has a lot of tradition. Let's see how the Ravens will regroup against the likes Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Baby: Can the Bengals make a run for a division title? The Bengals will be the first to win three divisional games since 2015. They last reached the playoffs in 2015, when they lost to Cleveland. Cincinnati won't have it easy. According to ESPN analytics, the Bengals are expected to be the underdog in their last four games (at Denver and vs. Baltimore, respectively, at Cleveland).

Pryor: The offense is still in its infancy, with a new coordinator and a rookie runningback. It will be interesting to see how the offense develops over the course of the remainder of the season. Steelers displayed their best football against Browns, continuing to build on the identity they established against the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. Ben Roethlisberger threw it 35 times and Najee Harris carried it 26. Harris is a great lead back. However, the Steelers need to keep an eye on Harris' durability and that of the 39 year-old quarterback with an additional game. Although Roethlisberger may not be playing as well as he used to, the Steelers will continue to see an offensive trend if they can maintain a balanced attack, and limit Roethlisberger's hits,

Trotter: Mayfield's response to Beckham's season-ending knee injury. After Beckham's season-ending knee injury last year, Mayfield exploded and ranked No. He was No. 3 in the NFL for QBR Week 7-15, while leading the Browns to their first playoff appearance in 2002. Mayfield can overcome all the drama and produce another encore? It will not be easy, especially when you consider the non-throwing left shoulder.

The most important remaining game

Hensley: Week 16 at Bengals This is the AFC North championship game. After being defeated by Cincinnati 41-17 on Oct. 24, the Ravens will be motivated after this defeat. This was the largest margin of loss in the Lamar Jackson era. Cincinnati swept Baltimore in 2015, the last time it happened.

Baby: Week 16 vs. Baltimore. After being beaten at home in Week 7, the Ravens will seek revenge. To beat Cincinnati again, Cincinnati will need to put in a good performance. The outcome of the Bengals-Ravens match could determine which team wins the AFC North title.

Pryor: The wide-open AFC North race means that it's more about pivotal matches than one game. Steelers must win their four-game season-ending gantlet against Tennessee, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Baltimore to be able to make the playoffs after fizzling down the stretch last year.

Trotter: It could very well be this weekend in Cincinnati. The Browns' response to the OBJ chaos will be a sign of what the season holds. After three losses in four games, Cleveland's season appears to be on the verge of collapse. Cleveland's playoff hopes could be ruined by another divisional loss.