NFL

6 Things To Know About The AFC North

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The AFC North is known for it’s toughness in the trenches and their once conservative approach to winning that relied on running the football and playing outstanding defense. Those days are in the rear view mirror for the time being with the division hosting a bevy of some of the most talented offensive players in the NFL.

Three AFC North teams finished in the Top 15 in the NFL last season in total offense which included the Pittsburgh Steelers (2nd), Baltimore Ravens (12th) and Cincinnati Bengals (15th). In contrast (which may surprise some) three of the four defenses finished in the bottom half of the league in total defense. The Steelers ranked 18th overall along with Cincinnati (22nd) and the Cleveland Browns (23rd). Baltimore finished in the top-ten (8th overall) in the same category.

The change in philosophy has not changed the results. The division remains as strong as ever and with the 2015 season quickly approaching, it is a perfect time to glance in the archives and pull out some notes about the AFC North.

With that said, here are The Six Things To Know About The AFC North

It could be the best division in football…

 

Depending on where your allegiance sways to you to follow, the facts are clear.

With five Super Bowl appearances since 2001 that yielded two Super Bowl trophies for the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, along with having the most multiple playoff appearing teams (seven) during that time. The AFC North was and still is one of the top divisions in the entire league.

This year, the battle for the AFC North title will remain as intense as ever. The three-headed monster of Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will embark on a 16-game tug-of-war contest with the rising Cleveland Browns aiming to knock each out of contention for the division crown.

The AFC North dominance goes deeper than the recent run on Super Bowl titles. It is a deep and talented division. Other divisions may possess one powerhouse team that beats the runts of the league annually, but in the AFC North that comparison fails to apply.

The NFL’s best running back could call the AFC North home… 

From day one of his rookie camp back in 2013, it was evident that former Michigan State Spartan Le’Veon Bell was a notch above any other back on the Steelers roster and as we have come to witness, possibly on anyone else’s roster.

He led the AFC in rushing (1,361 yards) and finished fourth in the AFC in receptions (83). Only 18 other players in the league caught more passes than Bell last season. Only one player rushed for more yards (DeMarco Murray).

Facing a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy last season, Bell is still poised to be one of the most productive and entertaining players in the NFL.

Pittsburgh’s offensive scheme revolves around Bell touching the football repeatedly via the running or passing game. Last he carried the football 290 times and the rest of the running backs on the roster chipped in for 91 carries. His absence will definitely be missed and his return will be greatly anticipated in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati has not won a playoff game in a long, long, long, long time…

How long has it been?

Their first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi was only two years old the last time the Bengals won a playoff game. Ogbuehi was a few months in to getting acquainted with the process of learning how to walk and leaving the diaper stage in his life and at the same time Cincinnati was the proud victors of a 10-7 win over the Houston Oilers.

The Bengals have an all-time playoff record of 5-13, with six of those losses coming in the last 10 years. A pretty remarkable turnaround for the franchise considering that 46 percent of their appearances in the playoffs have come in the last 10 seasons under the direction of head coach Marvin Lewis.

While Lewis has his critics and maybe deservingly so, it his hard to argue his lack of success for an organization that has been down and out for a long time.

Expectations now run high in Cincinnati for a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Year five of the Andy Dalton era begins and the noose around his neck tightens after his lackluster performances in the playoffs. He is 0-4 while his head coach (Lewis) is 0-6.

Possessing one of the most talented rosters in the league, the stakes are high for the Bengals to win their first playoff game since their 2015 first-round pick was wearing infant clothes.

Cleveland has some bad luck… 

In case you haven’t noticed, the Browns do not win all that often.  Since returning to the league in 1999, their overall record is 84-172 during the regular season. Make it 173 if you add the one playoff loss they had in 2002 under then head coach Butch Davis.

Cleveland did manage to catch a little lightning in the bottle back in 2007 when all the stars aligned and the team finished 10-6. Usually in most circumstances if a team reaches double digits they earn at the very least a Wildcard berth in the playoffs. It does happen on occasion when teams miss out even with a successful season, but in the case for Cleveland 10-6 seasons aren’t leaves dropping off the playoff tree.

How magical was the 2007 season?

Quarterback Derek Anderson threw 29 touchdown passes, a career-high. Anderson has played eight-years in the league and his 29 touchdowns in 2007 match the exact total of touchdown passes thrown in his other seven seasons.

Now Cleveland looks to get back on track and get a winning record underneath their belt, but the road is going to be hard considering the competition in the AFC North.

But maybe, just maybe they find more of that lightning in the bottle that can catapult them towards success, if only for one season.

Double-down on Mike Tomlin with a pair of two’s…

 Mike Tomlin took over coaching duties in 2007 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. His record over that duration is an impressive 82-46 in the regular season, 9-5 in the playoffs that includes two AFC Championships and one Super Bowl victory.

Tomlin has finished 8-8 twice (2012-13) but never below .500 in his coaching career in Pittsburgh.

In five of his eight-years coaching in Pittsburgh, he has helped lead the team to double-digit wins. The streaks come in pairs 2007-08 and 2010-11.

This is where it gets interesting for Pittsburgh.

The team won 11 games last season and if history tells us anything it’s that the Steelers are in line for another double-digit winning season.

The Ravens offense could be even better in 2015…. 

The Ravens have been one of the most efficient and winning franchises since their inaugural season back in 1996.

Two Super Bowl victories and 10 playoff appearances in their 19 years of existence proves the Ravens have been a model franchise.

Famously known for their defense that includes future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, the offense has never been the object of admiration in Baltimore. Even during their first Super Bowl run back in 2000, the team’s offense ranked 14th overall in points and 16th overall in total yards.

Last season, the Ravens finished the year ranked 8th overall in points. Not an astronomical number, but for Baltimore it ranks tied for second best ranking in the history of their franchise. Their best finish (6th overall) happened their very first-year in the NFL with Vinny Testaverde as the quarterback.

The reason for optimism is that their offense added some weapons in the NFL Draft and has new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman taking over with his vertical passing attack.  Once tight end Maxx Williams and wide receiver Breshad Perriman get up to speed, the Ravens offense should be prolific.


About Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates College2Pro.com. He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.