When it comes to reputation, the AFC North has had its fair share of esteem in spite of the fact that it hast actually only existed in the form that it takes now since 2002, having largely been culled from the old AFC Central division before each conference was split into four four-team divisions.
It helps to have the Pittsburgh Steelers as its nucleus, the winningest franchise since the merger, and the only team to hoist the Lombardi trophy six times, obtaining more such rings than a single hand can accommodate. But they haven’t been alone.
The Baltimore Ravens have regularly been neck and neck with the Steelers for most of the past decade and a half or so, and have won as many Super Bowls since the turn of the century—two—as well as the most recent of any team in the division. The Cincinnati Bengals, of course, have been fairing much better of late, though they are looking for their first playoff victory in decades.
When compared to other divisions, however, it’s understandable to see why it is regarded as more formidable. They sent three representatives to the playoffs, in fact, as recently as 2014, and both the Steelers and Bengals advanced last season.
So it was little surprise to see the AFC North right in the heart of a list of the league’s toughest divisions. Former wide receiver Nate Burleson presented his list of the three toughest divisions in the league, and he placed the Steelers’ division second, in between the NFC North and the NFC West.
You think about the Bengals and what they did last year, putting up the amount of numbers that they did, it’s unbelievable. The Baltimore Ravens, you heard the coach say this week that they’re in better shape than ever. Steve Smith even told me, their offense is looking powerful. The Ravens are special, obviously, and then you’ve got the Browns. But the Pittsburgh Steelers, they’re the team that everybody counts on every single season to be contenders for the Super Bowl. You’ve got Le’Veon Bell back in action, and Antonio Brown, one of the best receivers in the game. You’ve got to look at this division and say ‘hold up, this could be very special going into 2016.’
Considering the down year by the Ravens, the continuous upheaval in Cleveland, and the fact that between the Steelers and Bengals, they have only won a single playoff game since 2010—and that was in a game in which they faced each other—it’s understandable to give the NFC West an edge.
The Seahawks, of course, have won a Super Bowl recently, and played in another, and of course also played against the Steelers in 2005. The Cardinals have also lost a Super Bowl to the Steelers, and they currently have one of the top teams in the league. The 49ers are looking to rebuild, however, and the Rams are hoping to have found something with the top pick in the draft.