Fans of AFC North teams are often quick to point out how tough the division is.
However, it seems every division is always talking about how tough they are. What about objective analytics? What do they have to say? They agree that the AFC North is tough, despite the Cincinnati Bengals, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano:
The Ravens and Browns rank higher than any team in the NFC West, according to the FPI ratings. This is the only division with two teams in the FPI top six, and neither of them is the defending division champion. That would be the Steelers, who started last season 11-0 before running completely out of gas and losing to the Browns in the wild-card round. The division’s overall ranking is dragged down by Cincinnati.
But is there another division whose last-place team embarrassed its first-place team on Monday Night Football in Week 15? Is there another division whose third-ranked team — based on FPI — has a coach (Mike Tomlin) who has never had a losing season in 14 years and a quarterback who has never had a losing season in 17 (Ben Roethlisberger)? The Browns attacked their defensive deficiencies this offseason and could have as many as nine new starters on that side of the ball. The Ravens’ Lamar Jackson was league MVP two seasons ago. The Bengals should get Joe Burrow back healthy and believe they’ve beefed up his supporting cast in his second season. And the Steelers? Well, they’re the Steelers.
FPI isn’t a big fan of the Bengals that has them ranked 27th in the league. In fairness to that stat, it doesn’t really predict drastic improvement from a team up or down to the next season.
The Browns and Ravens are obviously the cream of the crop in the AFC North as Cleveland was very close to taking out the Chiefs in the playoffs and Lamar Jackson already has an MVP on his resume.
The Steelers could very well fall to the bottom of the division. However, the Bengals should be more concerned with competing with Cleveland and Baltimore in the long-term with both of those teams not really showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon with their quarterbacks and supporting casts.
There is no doubt that Cincinnati will soon have Joe Burrow leading this team to a level where they are competing for playoff spots, and coming from such a fierce division will only help when the postseason comes around. They will already be used to facing some of the top teams in the league at that point.
By this time next year the Bengals should be more of a positive note in why the AFC North is such a tough test for the rest of the NFL.