Last season the AFC North was one of the weaker divisions in the NFL as only the winner of the division reached the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs for the second straight year after finishing the season 8-8. The Steelers had AFC North company while watching the postseason from home as the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns missed the playoffs as well.
The only team to reach to postseason from the AFC North were the Cincinnati Bengals who won the division with a 11-5 record. Even though the Bengals made it to postseason play, they made a quick exit during the divisional round.
That season’s over and now we look ahead to this season. Will the AFC North bounce back and be a competitive division within the AFC or will only the division champs see the playoffs once again?
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been busier than usual this offseason and rightfully so. It’s hardly the “Steelers way” to miss the playoffs in two consecutive seasons. The Steelers have lost a few faces like Emmanuel Sanders and Ryan Clark but have been filling in the holes by signing players like LaGarrette Blount and Mike Mitchell.
Will these new additions help the Steeler get back to winning ways? That remains to be seen but comparing them to the other teams within the AFC North, the Steelers’ chances of winning the division are promising.
The Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers’ biggest rival of the division, are coming off a Super Bowl hangover as the purple and black missed the postseason following a Super Bowl victory in the previous season.
The Ravens, like the Steelers, finished the season 8-8. They lost their last two games which was critical in the AFC wildcard race down the stretch. The Ravens split with the Steelers last season, beating the Steelers at home and losing to them on the road.
There are countless areas the Ravens need to seek improvement and they’ll look to tune their team up this offseason but you can never count out the Ravens in this division. They’re a consistent, well-coached team that may have had a down season last year but is more than capable of rebounding this season.
Last year’s AFC North champs, the Bengals, may have won the division but they didn’t really seem to stand out all that much. They were the best team in a subpar division. It became evident that they weren’t a legitimate Super Bowl contender after suffering a beat down from the San Diego Chargers (who just managed to squeak into the playoffs).
The Bengals have their moments were they shine and other times look like they don’t have it together at all. Consistent quarterback play from Andy Dalton has been a concern and boosting the defense will be a priority during the draft, but the Bengals have been a team on the rise in this division and like the Ravens, they can compete for the title this season.
Lastly, there’s the Browns. The Browns last season were, well, the Browns. The struggle in Cleveland has yet to see a resolution. The constant changes in ownership, coaching and management has been an ongoing roller coaster for so many years now. Until the Browns can figure out the franchise’s identity they’ll be in the background of the AFC North for now.
With all of this said, the Steelers can and will contend for the division crown. The Steelers, Bengals and Ravens will all be in the mix to win the division, which is usually the case. None of these three teams stands out of the pack and it can only be classified during the offseason as a “toss up.”
I suspect that either the Steelers or Ravens will claim the division title this season as both team will bounce back accordingly. For whichever team wins the division I believe the other will claim a wildcard spot. It’ll be competitive but the AFC North should perk back up from last season’s slump.