If there was ever a time for the div. to be flipped upside down...
....it is now.
The way of the AFC North is with Balt. and Pgh to be battling for the div. title, and usually both are factors in the post season. But if there was ever a time for the two other teams to flip that tradition, it is now.
Cinci has already been a play off team the last two years, so we know they could be on the verge of leading the div. Cleveland has new ownership, and all signs point to this ownership being far superior to the uninterested, never-had-a-job kid who owned them before. (When you stink that bad for that long, after so many different GMs, head coaches and QBs, there must be something broke at the top, and there was.) I believe the Browns are now positioned to improve on a significant basis, and Cinci has already proven to be on a winning track.
The other MAJOR element is the immense amount of cap space that both teams have right now. Both have between 40-50 million in cap space, allowing them to pretty much sign anyone they want. The Browns have Philly's old GM, and his MO is to be conservative and now blow $ on too many free agents. But, that being said, with that much cap room, he is going to make some significant signings. Cinci has so much cap room that the CBA will FORCE them to spend some $ to reach the minimum salary base. They have no choice but to sign some free agents.
Conversely, both Pgh and Balt. are left with no cap space. Pgh has been restructuring a lot of contracts to even reach cap max. And both Pgh and Balt. will lose significant players, forcing nearly wholesale changes to their prospective rosters. One could point to the Ravens as current world champs, to claim they will still be a top team, but lets not forget: Before Ray Lewis came back they were on a serious losing streak. And, obviously, he will be gone for the 2013 season. They also lost their center to retirement and their starting LT is a free agent.
Will all these factors mean the Bengals and Browns will finally flip the table to be the top two teams of the North? No one knows for sure. Some will say that the structure/policies that made Pgh and Balt. the top teams will continue to keep them there, but I am not so sure. Like I said, the Browns - with the new ownership, GM and head coach - could finally be a team on the rise. Will it show up as early as 2013? I am not sure if it will amount in more wins yet, but I am pretty sure they are done being a punching bag.