AFC North

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AFC North
Conference American Football Conference
League National Football League
Sport American football
Founded 1970 (as the AFC Central)
Country United States
Teams
No. of teams 4
Championships
Most recent AFC North champion(s) Pittsburgh Steelers (22nd title)
Most AFC North titles Pittsburgh Steelers (22 titles)

The American Football Conference North Division, or AFC North, is a division of the National Football League's (NFL) American Football Conference (AFC). It was created as the AFC Central in 1970 following the completion of the AFL–NFL merger when two of the NFL teams—the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers—moved from the "old" NFL to join the former American Football League teams in the AFC, in order to give the two conferences an equal number of teams. The division adopted its current name in 2002, when the league realigned divisions after expanding to 32 teams.

Formation[edit]

The AFC North currently has four members: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers. The original four members of the AFC Central were the Browns, Bengals, Steelers and Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans).

The AFC North is the only division in the AFC that does not contain a charter team from the original American Football League. However, the Cincinnati Bengals were an AFL expansion team in the 1968 AFL season (the Steelers and Browns joined the AFC in 1970), although the Bengals joining the AFL was contingent on the team joining the NFL after the AFL–NFL merger was finalized in 1970, as Paul Brown was not a supporter of the AFL.

Three of the teams have interlocked histories. Both the Bengals and the Browns were founded by Paul Brown, while the Ravens and the city of Cleveland have their own unique relationship. Only the Steelers, who are older than the original Browns, have no direct history involving Paul Brown.

History[edit]

1970s[edit]

The division was formed when the Browns and Steelers moved to the AFC in 1970, joining the newly formed "AFC Central" with the Houston Oilers (from the AFL's East Division) and Cincinnati Bengals (from the AFL's West Division).

Although the Bengals won the first AFC Central Division Championship in 1970, the Steelers dominated the division for most of the 1970s. The Steelers also would win four Super Bowls in the decade.

1980s[edit]

The 1980 Cleveland Browns broke the Steelers' six-year run as division champions, but failed to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs, losing to the Oakland Raiders as a result of Red Right 88. The Bengals were the only team to represent the AFC Central in the Super Bowl during the decade, appearing in Super Bowls XVI and XXIII. Both appearances resulted in close losses to the San Francisco 49ers.

1990s[edit]

The Steelers returned as the dominant team in the division in 1992. They won five divisional titles in six years, and played in Super Bowl XXX, in which they lost to the Dallas Cowboys.

In 1992, the Oilers were involved in one of the most famous playoff games in NFL history. In a game now known as The Comeback, the Oilers surrendered a 32-point lead to the Buffalo Bills and lost in overtime, 41–38. It is the largest deficit ever overcome in the history of the NFL.

In 1995, the Jacksonville Jaguars joined the league through expansion and were placed in the AFC Central. It was the first change to the structure of the division since its inception and added a second team to the division from the U.S. South. In 1996, in one of the most controversial decisions in American sports history, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and were rechristened as the Baltimore Ravens. Then in 1997, the Oilers moved to Tennessee but remained in the division (the team later was renamed the Titans in 1999). The makeup of the AFC Central changed once again in 1999 when the NFL "reactivated" the Cleveland Browns. The division had six teams for the 1999, 2000 and 2001 seasons.

Aside from Pittsburgh's appearance in Super Bowl XXX, the only other appearance in the Super Bowl for the division in the decade was the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, who came up one yard short of the first Super Bowl to go into overtime. Along the way, the team got revenge on the Bills seven years after the Comeback in the Wild Card round by defeating the Bills 22–16 as a result of the Music City Miracle.

2000s[edit]

The decade began with the Ravens winning Super Bowl XXXV. The team's defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis, was arguably one of the best defenses of all time.

In 2002, the NFL realigned into eight divisions of four teams. The Jaguars and Titans—the latter winning the AFC Central title in 2000—were both moved to the new AFC South, while the rest of the AFC Central remained intact and was renamed the AFC North. The Bengals, Browns, and Steelers were guaranteed to remain in a division together in any circumstance; this was part of the NFL's settlement with the city of Cleveland in the wake of the 1995 Cleveland Browns relocation controversy.[1] The division, geographically-speaking, thus became the shortest driving distance between each team among the NFL's eight divisions, as three of the teams are located within close proximity of Interstate 70 (with the one city that isn't, Cleveland, being two hours north of I-70), and the distance between Baltimore and Cincinnati (the two teams furthest away from each other) being only 526 miles apart. The Browns and Steelers, the two closest rivals, even ride a bus to their games instead of flying.[2]

The division rivals also have shared media conglomerates: all of the markets except Cleveland have a station owned by Hearst Television (WBAL-TV in Baltimore, WLWT in Cincinnati, and WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh), while all of the markets except Cleveland also have stations owned and/or operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group (WBFF, WNUV, & WUTB in Baltimore, WKRC-TV & WSTR-TV in Cincinnati, and WPGH-TV & WPNT in Pittsburgh), and every market except Pittsburgh has a station owned by E. W. Scripps Company (WMAR-TV in Baltimore, WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, and flagship station WEWS in Cleveland), though Scripps did own the Pittsburgh Press before selling it off to Block Communications in 1992 during a labor strike involving it and the Block-owned Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Additionally, Raycom Media has stations in Cincinnati (WXIX-TV) and Cleveland (WOIO & WUAB) while CBS Television Stations own stations in Baltimore (WJZ-TV) and Pittsburgh (KDKA-TV & WPCW). This has occasionally led to stations that have sister stations in rival markets to have friendly rivalries amongst themselves. This is especially true with WJZ-TV and KDKA-TV (both former Group W stations), who are both CBS O&O stations and thus have the majority of the broadcasting rights to their respective home team games through the network.

Since realignment, the Steelers have won the division title seven times, and the Ravens and Bengals have each won four times. The Steelers have swept all divisional opponents twice, in 2002 and 2008 (going 7 for 7 both times, winning against the Browns in a 2003 AFC Wildcard game and the Ravens in the 2009 AFC Championship), and the Ravens and Bengals have swept all three divisional opponents once each, the Bengals in 2009 and Ravens in 2011.

Since divisional realignment, the Steelers have made the playoffs ten times, the Ravens eight times, the Bengals seven times, and the Browns one time.

In 2005, although finishing second in the division to the Bengals, the Steelers became the first team in NFL history to enter the playoffs as a #6 seeded wild card team and win the Super Bowl.

In 2008, the Steelers became the first team to repeat as division champion since the divisions' creation in 2002. The team went on to win Super Bowl XLIII that season, their second Super Bowl in four years and an NFL-record sixth overall.

In 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals swept their annual six-game slate of divisional opponents. Their first three games against the AFC North came in weeks three-through-five when they beat the Steelers, Browns and Ravens, respectively, each by three points. The close finishes deemed the Bengals, "Cardiac Cats." Cincinnati clinched their first division title since '05 in a week 16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, 17-10. In the playoffs, however, the Bengals fell to the New York Jets at home, 24-14.

Baltimore finished off their season by winning three of their final four games to finish 9-7 and earn the number-six seed in the AFC Playoffs. In the first round of the postseason, Baltimore defeated the New England Patriots in Foxboro, 33-14. In the divisional round of the postseason, Baltimore's season came to an end with a 20-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, who would defeat the Jets one-week later to win the conference.

2010s[edit]

The Ravens repeated as division champions in 2011 and 2012. The team went on to win Super Bowl XLVII over the San Francisco 49ers, on February 3, 2013, in New Orleans. It was the second franchise Super Bowl win. As of 2012, the Steelers are the AFC North's most successful team with a 599-547-21 record all-time with the Browns 2nd in line with an overall record of 510-441-13 while the Ravens sit in 3rd (even though they were not an official franchise until 1996) at 164-128-1 and then the Bengals today remain the only team in the division with their all-time record below .500 as they sit in last at 310-396-2.

In 2015, the Bengals became the first team in the AFC North (Central) to ever start the year 8-0, finishing the season 12-4 and winning the division for the second time in three years. Cincinnati clinched the division title in week 16 when the Steelers were upset by the 4-10 Ravens in Baltimore, quarterbacked by Ryan Mallett. Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton was having his best season of his five-year career until breaking his thumb on December 13 against Pittsburgh caused him to miss the rest of the season. In the playoffs, Cincinnati (quarterbacked by AJ McCarron) lost in a rematch with the Steelers, 18-16, in the final minutes of a heated battle. Pittsburgh advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs, only to lose to Peyton Manning and the eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos.

The Steelers won the division title in 2016 after a 31-27 win over the Ravens on Christmas Day.

Division lineups[edit]

Place cursor over year for division champ or Super Bowl team.

Years
AFC Central Division[A]
70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 00 01
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cleveland Browns [B] suspended operations Cleveland Browns
Houston Oilers[C] Tennessee Oilers Tennessee Titans
Cincinnati Bengals
  Jacksonville Jaguars[D]
  Baltimore Ravens[E]
AFC North Division[F]
02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cleveland Browns
Cincinnati Bengals
Baltimore Ravens
     Team not in division      Division Won Super Bowl      Division Won AFC Championship
A In 1970 the division formed in American Football Conference.
B After the 1995 season, the Cleveland Browns franchise was deactivated; personnel, moved to the enfranchised Baltimore Ravens. The Cleveland Browns franchise was reactivated in 1999. The Browns, Ravens, and NFL officially consider the post-1999 Browns to be a continuation of the original team founded in 1946.
C Houston moved to Memphis as Tennessee Oilers in 1997, moved to Nashville in 1998 (still known as Oilers). Team was renamed Tennessee Titans in 1999.
D Jacksonville Jaguars enfranchised (1995 season).
E Baltimore Ravens enfranchised (1996 season)
F AFC Central renamed AFC North. Jacksonville and Tennessee moved to AFC South.

Division champions[edit]

Season Team Record Playoff Results
AFC Central
1970 Cincinnati Bengals 8–6–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1971 Cleveland Browns 9–5–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1972 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–3–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
1973 Cincinnati Bengals 10–4–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1974 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–3–1 Won Super Bowl IX
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–2–0 Won Super Bowl X
1976 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–4–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
1977 Pittsburgh Steelers 9–5–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1978 Pittsburgh Steelers 14–2–0 Won Super Bowl XIII
1979 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0 Won Super Bowl XIV
1980 Cleveland Browns 11–5–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1981 Cincinnati Bengals 12–4–0 Lost Super Bowl XVI
1982+ Cincinnati Bengals 7–2–0 Lost AFC First Round
1983 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–6–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1984 Pittsburgh Steelers 9–7–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
1985 Cleveland Browns 8–8–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1986 Cleveland Browns 12–4–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
1987 Cleveland Browns 10–5–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
1988 Cincinnati Bengals 12–4–0 Lost Super Bowl XXIII
1989 Cleveland Browns 9–6–1 Lost AFC Championship Game
1990 Cincinnati Bengals 9–7–0 Lost Divisional Playoffs
1991 Houston Oilers 11–5–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1992 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1993 Houston Oilers 12–4–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1994 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
1995 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0 Lost Super Bowl XXX
1996 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–6–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1997 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
1998 Jacksonville Jaguars 11–5–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars 14–2–0 Lost AFC Championship Game++
2000 Tennessee Titans 13–3–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs++
2001 Pittsburgh Steelers 13–3–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
AFC North
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
2003 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0 Lost AFC Wild Card Playoffs
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers 15–1–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
2005 Cincinnati Bengals 11–5–0 Lost AFC Wild Card Playoffs++
2006 Baltimore Ravens 13–3–0 Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs
2007 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–6–0 Lost AFC Wild Card playoffs
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0 Won Super Bowl XLIII
2009 Cincinnati Bengals 10–6–0 Lost AFC Wild Card playoffs
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0 Lost Super Bowl XLV
2011 Baltimore Ravens 12–4–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
2012 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0 Won Super Bowl XLVII
2013 Cincinnati Bengals 11–5–0 Lost AFC Wild Card playoffs
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0 Lost AFC Wild Card playoffs++
2015 Cincinnati Bengals 12–4–0 Lost AFC Wild Card Playoffs++
2016 Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5–0 Lost AFC Championship Game
2017 Pittsburgh Steelers 11-2–0 TBD

+ A players' strike in 1982 reduced the regular season to nine games. Because of the strike, the league used for its playoffs a special 16-team "Super Bowl Tournament" just for this year. Division standings were not formally acknowledged (although every division wound up sending at least one team to the playoffs); Cincinnati had the best record of the division teams.

++ Loss came against another AFC Central/AFC North team.

Wild Card qualifiers[edit]

Season Team Record Playoff Results
AFC Central
1972 Cleveland Browns 10-4-0 Lost Divisional Playoffs
1973 Pittsburgh Steelers 10-4-0 Lost Divisional Playoffs
1975 Cincinnati Bengals 11-3-0 Lost Divisional Playoffs
1978 Houston Oilers 10-6-0 Lost AFC Championship Game++
1979 Houston Oilers 11-5-0 Lost AFC Championship Game++
1980 Houston Oilers 11-5-0 Lost Wild Card Playoffs
1982+ Pittsburgh Steelers
Cleveland Browns
6-3-0
4-5-0
Lost AFC First Round
Lost AFC First Round
1987 Houston Oilers 9-6-0 Lost Divisional Playoffs
1988 Cleveland Browns
Houston Oilers
10-6-0
10-6-0
Lost Wild Card Playoffs++
Lost Divisional Playoffs
1989 Houston Oilers
Pittsburgh Steelers
9-7-0
9-7-0
Lost Wild Card Playoffs++
Lost Divisional Playoffs
1990 Houston Oilers 9-7-0 Lost Wild Card Playoffs++
1992 Houston Oilers 10-6-0 Lost Wild Card Playoffs
1993 Pittsburgh Steelers 9-7-0 Lost Wild Card Playoffs
1994 Cleveland Browns 11-5-0 Lost Divisional Playoffs++
1996 Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7-0 Lost AFC Championship Game
1997 Jacksonville Jaguars 11-5-0 Lost Wild Card Playoffs
1999 Tennessee Titans 13-3-0 Lost Super Bowl XXXIV
2000 Baltimore Ravens 12–4–0 Won Super Bowl XXXV
2001 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0 Lost Divisional Playoffs++
AFC North
2002 Cleveland Browns 9–7–0 Lost Wild Card Playoffs++
2005 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0 Won Super Bowl XL
2008 Baltimore Ravens 11–5–0 Lost AFC Championship Game++
2009 Baltimore Ravens 9–7–0 Lost Divisional Playoffs
2010 Baltimore Ravens 12–4–0 Lost Divisional Playoffs++
2011 Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals
12–4–0
9–7–0
Lost Wild Card Playoffs
Lost Wild Card Playoffs
2012 Cincinnati Bengals 10–6–0 Lost Wild Card Playoffs
2014 Cincinnati Bengals
Baltimore Ravens
10–5–1
10–6–0
Lost Wild Card Playoffs
Lost Divisional playoffs
2015 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–6–0 Lost Divisional Playoffs

+ A players' strike in 1982 reduced the regular season to nine games, so the league used a special 16-team playoff tournament just for this year.

++ Loss came against another AFC Central/AFC North team.

See also[edit]

Total playoff berths[edit]

At the conclusion of the 2016 season

Teams with
Division titles
Division
Championships
Playoff
Berths
AFC
Titles
Super Bowl
wins
Pittsburgh Steelers[3] 24 30 8 6
Cincinnati Bengals[4] 10 14 2 0
Cleveland Browns[5] 6 14 0 0
Baltimore Ravens[6] 4 10 2 2
Tennessee Titans*[7] 3 12 1 0
Jacksonville Jaguars*[8] 2 4 0 0

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Nfl Vote On Realignment Nears". 
  2. ^ "On the Steelers: Few, if any, signs of rivalry". 
  3. ^ Charter member of division in 1970.
  4. ^ Moved in from the AFL West in 1970.
  5. ^ This refers to the team that the league officially views as one continuous franchise that entered the division in 1970, suspended operations from 1996–1998, and resumed play in 1999.
  6. ^ This refers to the team that the league officially views as an expansion team that began play in 1996.
  7. ^ Moved in from the AFL East in 1970. Known as the Houston Oilers until 1996, as the Tennessee Oilers in 1997 and 1998, and the Tennessee Titans since 1999. Realigned into the AFC South in 2002.
  8. ^ Realigned into the AFC South in 2002.