2016 South Side Questions: Can AFC North Struggles Be Improved In Second Half Of 2016?


The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Why has the AFC North seen so many struggles this year, and will they improve in the second half?

Over the course of roughly the first half of the 2016 season, the AFC North has struggled pretty much as much as any other division, and perhaps more.

The AFC North is one of just three divisions to feature three teams with a losing record, and with the Steelers sitting at the top of the division with a 4-3 record, they are the division whose leading team has the lowest winning percentage.

Every other division leader is at worst 5-3, though of course the Steelers could reach that mark on Sunday. But they also have the worst team in the league with the Browns, the only team that has not yet won a game. at 0-8, they are the only team to have guaranteed a non-winning season already, and the only one with more than six losses. Only five other teams have five or six losses.

I could go on about how statistically poor the AFC North has been, but let’s get into the whys. What immediately becomes apparent is that injuries play a major role in this storyline, especially in Cleveland, where six different players have thrown a pass due to injuries at the quarterback position.

Given the injuries and upheaval there, their bottoming out is understandable, but how can the Bengals, who went 12-4 last year, have already lost four games and tied in a game? It’s true that they lost two wide receivers and had a switch at offensive coordinator, but the drop off should not have been so stark.

In Baltimore, the Ravens have dealt with some injuries, but even their three early wins seemed a bit improbable, and they have lost four straight since then. They only won five games last year, but should be a better team than that.

Pittsburgh should be better than their 4-3 record as well, with injuries playing a major role in that, but a young defensive secondary and inconsistencies on offense, including at the quarterback position, have contributed to it as well.

All told, a variety of factors, seen and unseen, have conspired to turn the AFC North into one of the toughest divisions in the league to, currently, one of the worst. Will the division be able to rebound in the second half of the season.

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