For quite some time, really since Marvin Lewis became the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, the AFC North division has become a perennial powerhouse in the league. While the same star quarterbacks seem to always arrive in the postseason, there seems to always be at least two teams from the AFC North to make the playoffs annually.
CBS Sports' John Breech recently looked at the divisions around the league and ranked them based on overall strength top to bottom. Aside from apparently moonlighting as a stand-up comedian, as evidenced by his Jim Tomsula kilt pic and obligatory Andy Dalton jab, Breech tabbed the AFC North as the best division in the NFL.
1. AFC North: If these rankings were based only on winning playoff games, Andy Dalton alone would have the AFC North in last, but thankfully for Dalton, the regular season matters here, too. The AFC North went 26-13-1 in non-division games in 2014, thanks in large part to the Bengals, who went 7-2-1 out of division. The AFC North also sent three teams to the playoffs in 2014, which is the second time that's happened since 2011. The only other division to send three teams just once in that span is the AFC West, which did it in 2013. (AFC North vs. NFC West and AFC West in 2015)
The fact that three AFC North teams reached the playoffs with at least 10 wins in 2014 is really impressive. You also can't forget the Browns started the 2014 season 6-3 before collapsing to a 1-6 finish. To further the idea that the AFC North is deserving of the top division ranking, 2013 was the only season in the past four which saw only one AFC North team in the postseason.
Aside from the Bengals being in the best division in the league, in 2015 they will play the second and fourth ranked divisions too, making for a schedule that's deemed the second most difficult in the league this year, behind only the Steelers.
The other aspect that Breech doesn't really address is the cannibalistic nature of the division. These teams beat into each other throughout the year and still have multiple teams get into the postseason. On our Inside the Jungle podcast, we have a great regular caller known as "John from Kentucky". In recent weeks, John has expressed his displeasure in the Week 17 bloodbaths the Bengals engage in to end the year.
Do these tough season-ending games take too much out of the tank for the Bengals as they head into the playoffs? Or, should the mindset be they are pros and need to be ready to play a big game, regardless? Either way, do you agree with Breech's assessment on the difficulty of the AFC North?