Outside of the Cleveland Browns, who have been horrible since their reincarnation, the AFC North has mainly been a stalwart of success and blue-collar football prowess. Often anchored by staunch defenses and solid running attacks the AFC North has been one of the more dominant divisions in the NFL. Since 2005 the division has sent two teams to the playoffs eight times (2015 – Bengals and Steelers. 2014 – Steelers, Bengals and Ravens. 2012 – Ravens and Bengals. 2011 – Ravens, Steelers and Bengals. 2010 – Steelers and Ravens. 2009 – Bengals and Ravens. 2008 – Steelers and Ravens. 2005 – Bengals and Steelers.). So with this in mind let’s check in on the state of the 2016 AFC North.
What happened here? The NFC Beast has a total of 15 wins with no team being below 500 on the season. Most divisions are in the low double digits when it comes to wins. So it’s a little shocking to see the mighty AFC North with just nine wins on the season combined. Granted that is a tie with the NFC South, but they had only one good team last year. What has happened to these teams and what must they do to right the ship?
Browns: 0 – 6
Not to say it’s impossible for the Browns to real off 10 straight wins, but anyone that wants to bet me that they will I am happy to take your money. The Browns are in the bottom third of the league in virtually every category. It doesn’t help that they have five players with nine passing attempts or more. With that said, Cody Kessler has shown promise. A 65 percent completion percentage and a QB rating of 93.8 is more than enough to win games in the NFL, if the defense was doing anything. But 29.3 points against (29th league rank) and 403.3 yards again (29th league ranked) is embarrassing. Even still the team would have to manage to score more than 18.8 points per game. Salvaging this season is very unlikely. The Browns needs to draft play-makers on both sides of ball to turn this around.
Bengals: 2 – 4
The passing game for the Bengals is on point, with solid performances from Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and even Brandon LaFell is showing a lot of gumption in the red zone. The team struggles to run the ball (ranked 24th in the league) and score points (ranked 30th in the league). This is not the way to win this division. Especially when you’re defense is allowing a 20th ranked 24.2 points against, despite being the 15th best team in the league in terms of yards allowed. Marvin Lewis has coached this team forever, and I feel like he is the biggest part of the problem. The team has become stagnant and a fresh set of ideas might be all they need to find their winning ways once again.
Ravens: 3 – 3
The Ravens are sticking to what the AFC North does best. While their offense hasn’t been great (they are in the bottom third in points and yards) their defense has held them in games (8th in points, 3rd in total yards and 2nd against the run). The team needs offensive firepower to win games and they have it. The injuries to Steve Smith and Devin Hester were the primary reasons they lost to the Giants this past week. Once they return the team has to focus on an evenly balanced attack that scores points and controls the clock. This is how they used to win, and how they have to win now in order to make a playoff run.
Steelers: 4 – 2
The Steelers started the year on a tear, and that was without star running back Le’Veon Bell. Thumping’s of the Redskins and a solid win over the Bengals had everyone believing that they could dispatch their Pennsylvania counterpart the Eagles. The Eagles embarrassed the Steelers (still without Bell), and then the team appeared to get back on track. A crushing of the Chiefs and Jets had it looking like a sure thing that they could beat the lowly Dolphins. This has almost become a Jekyll and Hyde situation. The Steelers are 9th in the league in scoring points, total yards and passing yards. They are 11th in the league in points against, but near the bottom in passing yards against. The games they have won they’ve put up huge point totals, and the games they have lost they have been flat. On top of all that, Ben Roethlisberger is now sidelined due to a recent knee injury that required surgery. What the Steelers really now need is mistake free, consistent, football. Bell in the mix helps with ball security, relying less on the pass, but Ben needs to not force the issue when/if he returns.
The road doesn’t get easier for these teams as they are paired against the NFC East and AFC East for the season, both divisions doing well. With that said the season is far from over and any of these teams (not named “The Browns”) can still make a push for a post-season spot.