If there are three tentpoles around which the NFL brands itself, they are quality, integrity, and parity. How well they succeed at each one in any given year can certainly be debated, but parity tends to be the one that they have the best shot at, and the one they like to emphasize the most.
One thing they like to focus on is how many teams make the playoffs in a year, having not made it the year before, and how often division winners change. The AFC North has been fairly unstable in that regard in recent seasons.
“It changes every year. The crazy thing in our division is, I think there hasn’t been a repeat champion in our division”, Cameron Heyward told Pat McAfee recently. “Every year it’s somebody new. So, you better bring your stuff, because everybody’s coming for you”.
The Cincinnati Bengals won the AFC North in 2021 with a 10-7 record, and became the first team in the division to advance to the Super Bowl since 2012. Heyward’s own Pittsburgh Steelers won the division in 2020, a year in which both the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns also advanced as wildcards.
The Ravens were the number one seed in the AFC in 2019 after setting a franchise record with a 14-win season. Unfortunately for them, they went one-and-done in the postseason, falling to the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round.
They did also win the division—barely—in 2018, making them the division’s most recent back-to-back champions in 2018-19. They defeated the Browns in overtime in Week 17 to claim the division at 10-6, a year in which the Steelers went 9-6-1 and watched the Ravens-Browns game play out to see whether or not they would have a postseason game to play.
Prior to that, however, Pittsburgh did win the AFC North two years in a row in 2016 and 2017, going 13-3 in the latter season, though like the 2019 Ravens, they were ousted by a lower-seeded team in their first postseason game. In 2016, they did advance to the conference finals, the furthest they have gone since the 2010 season when they came up short in the Super Bowl.
The Bengals won the division in 2013 and 2015, with the Steelers winning in between, the Ravens winning in 2011-12. Tomlin’s teams did win the AFC North in three of his first four seasons in 2007, 2008, and 2010, missing only in 2009 following a series of key late-season defensive injuries derailed their plans.
Entering the 2022 season, however, the division is as open as it has been in a while. The Ravens are unlikely to have as horrible luck as they had last year. The Bengals figure to be as challenging again next year, and if Baker Mayfield can stay healthy, they can have a more balanced team that can compete in the division, as well.