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Who Do You Like? Pick Your 2013 AFC North Winner


By Jeremy Hritz

I have been posing several questions this week, and this article will be no different. In fact, it may be the most important one that I have asked over the last couple of days.

Who will win the AFC North this season?

In years past, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the instinctive response to this question, but with the Cincinnati Bengals steadily rising over the past two seasons and with the Baltimore Ravens getting over the hump with a Super Bowl victory, Pittsburgh is no longer a guarantee. In fact, there is a very real chance that the Steelers could miss the playoffs for a second season in a row if they don’t rise to meet the level of play of their division foes.

With the regular season only a little over a month away, let’s take a look at the path standing between each AFC North team and a division title.

Let’s start with the Ravens, who finished 10-6 in 2012 overall and 4-2 in the division, losing once to the Steelers at home, and once to the Bengals at the conclusion of the season in what ultimately was a meaningless game. This season, the Ravens have the fifth best strength of schedule at .538, and while many will argue that the number doesn’t mean anything, with a schedule that includes away games at Denver and Chicago, and difficult home stands against the Texans, Packers, Vikings, and Patriots, and divisional games against the Steelers and Bengals, repeating as division winner, or even as a playoff team seems to be a monumental task. Also considering the numerous departures of upper echelon players, though they have been replaced by some proven talent, 10 wins will be a major accomplishment with the schedule they have been dealt.

Moving over to the Bengals who finished 10-6 and 3-3 in the division last season with losses to each AFC North team, they head into the 2013 season staring at the 12th most difficult schedule in the NFL at .508. The Bengals most challenging road games outside of the AFC North will be in Chicago and possibly San Diego, considering the travel demand. At home, the Bengals will square off against the Packers, Patriots, Colts, and Vikings. The Bengals, too, have a formidable schedule, and like the Ravens, a 10 win season would be considered quite a feat.

The Cleveland Browns strength of schedule comes in at .492, which is the same as the Steelers. They have some serious road tests against the Vikings, Packers, Patriots, and though the Chiefs had a down year last year, when Cleveland travels to Arrowhead this season, it could prove to be a daunting task as a result of the rebooting of the organization led by Andy Reid. Outside of their battles against Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cincinnati at home, their other serious test will be against the Bears.

We have taken a look at the Steelers schedule several times this offseason, and as mentioned earlier, their schedule is considered the 22nd most difficult in the league. However, road games against Oakland, where they always struggle, New England, and Green Bay, not to mention their journey to London to battle the Vikings, Pittsburgh has a difficult route to the playoffs in front of them. Like the Browns, their most difficult showdown at home, in addition to their AFC North foes, will be against the Bears.

Overall, the 2013 AFC North strength of schedule is a rigorous one as a result of playing the NFC North, and when factoring in the toughness of all of the teams in the division, the team that claims the crown will have definitely earned the right to compete for a Lombardi.

So with the 2013 schedules considered in this year’s AFC North, what is your predicted order of finish? And, do you foresee the Steelers returning to the top?

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  • Rob H

    Except for one time, they have always rebounded the season after not making the playoffs, add to that the fact that they seem to always play their best when a lot of people are picking against them, I think they take the division…provided of course that they avoid having major injuries for a third straight season, and you would think that the law of averages would be in their favor on that.

  • WilliamSekinger

    Steelers take this division @ 11-5. Bengals 10-6 make the playoffs. Ravens slide to 9-6 and miss the playoffs. Browns improve to 7-9 or maybe even 8-8.

  • DAYSNWAYS

    I think all signs so far point to us being better this year, so if we stay clear of injury and perform as we can, we can easily achieve a 12-4….

    The Bengals rarely are able to take the next step, and considering they are wildly inconsistent and Dalton is just average, i consider 10-6 for them generous

    The Ravens rode the crest of a wave and good fortune to the sb title, they won’t be as lucky this season, key departures will see them go even.

    The Browns are on the up, but the strength of this division is always going to hinder them, I see them at 6-10 at worst though, they will come to play and could break even..

    Steelers 12-4

    Bungals 10-6

    Ratbirds 8-8

    Clowns 7-9

  • woundedvet

    You’re asking Steeler fans website that question…. So Steelers, 19-0 record.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Honestly, looking at the team from last year, I think doesn’t really put into perspective just how closely matched teams in the NFL are. Due to this, I think the Steelers are going to be overlooked by many. Look at some things from last year:

    1. We played 2 games, splitting them, with Baltimore without our starting QB in either game. Had special teams not given up a TD in the first game, we would have won BOTH.

    2. Last year the team lost 3 games on last second FGs.

    3. One of those last second losses would not have the media talking about the Bengals. Had we beaten the Bengals in the next to last game of the season, guess what…the Steelers would have gone to the playoffs NOT the Bengals. Both teams would have finished at 9-7 and with our head to head sweep of the Bengals, they would have gone home.

    I think this team has a hard road ahead and how no idea if we can win the division, but I do think people are going to overlook this team.

  • Luke Shabro

    Everybody is in love with the Ravens still but no one has repeated in 10 years. There’s too much parity in the league. Additionally, Flacco has Torrey Smith, Pitta and Dickson to throw to. That’s it. Jacoby Jones may be a good return man and made a few good catches but a true possession receiver he is not. That defense now has upgraded at a number of positions but what’s often being overlooked is they need time to gel. Daryl Smith has never played in a 3-4. Huff is good but he’s not as much of a ballhawk as Reed. Elam is a rookie. Doom can’t stop the run.
    The Bengals have a talented roster but with Andy Dalton under center you can only go so far. The kid is decent but he’s reached his ceiling. Eifert will help him but he can’t put the team on his back.
    The Browns are the Browns. While I think Chud and Norv’s system is much better suited for old man Weeden than Shurmur’s awful West Coast scheme was, he’s still unproven and what 30 years old now? Josh Gordon is a #1 caliber receiver if he can stay off the dope. The defense will be improved dramatically. They’ll be better than they have
    I picture this year being a year like 2007. A team good enough to get into the playoffs but probably not good enough to make a run. But who knows. Yes we need more splash plays. Yes we need more pass rush. Yes we need a run game. But most importantly, we need guys to stay healthy! If Ben stays relatively healthy and Troy and Wood stay healthy, we have a shot.
    Prediction
    Steelers – 11-5 (Split with Ravens; Sweep Bengals and Browns)
    Bengals – 10-6
    Ravens – 9-7
    Browns – 7-9

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Still don’t quite believe in the Bengals. They’re the Miami Dolphins of this division. Always lots of hype around them, but hardly anything to write home about. Yes, they’ve gotten better lately, but Dalton is still just decent. Not great. Cincy will win games of course, but they’ll only challenge by way of the Steelers failures, not their success. I see a two-team race to the finish as usual. I don’t like that the Ravens get all their hardest games at home, while we get ours on the road. BUT, I see a much hungrier and unified Steelers team ready to compete.

  • dong-dong1

    STEELERS 7-9 TOO MANY NEW FACES. ROOKIES AND WEAK BACK-UPS.

  • Randy Neff

    This is all about turnovers, injuries, and talent. The Browns are getting better, but clearly are still a notch below the Ravens, Steelers, and Bengals, who’s talent level is close to one another.

    The Steelers are due to get lucky in the injury department and they should trend upward in turnover differential this year.

    Steelers 11-5
    Bengals 10-6
    Ravens 9-7
    Browns 6-8

  • dgh57

    RAVENS 7-9 TOO MANY NEW FACES, ROOKIES AND WEAK BACKUPS!

    We have it where it counts the most and that is the best QB in the Division and a top 5 or 6 in the entire NFL! I’ll also take our defense and depth at RB too anyone else in the Division. My main concern is the depth on the o-line

  • dong-dong1

    WHY ISN’T THIS STORY ON YOUR WEBSITE? JUST WONDERING.

  • Jeff

    I think the Steelers end up in a two team race with the bengals for the division title, with the Ravens trailing close behind. If Ben stays healthy ALL season, which I know always seems unlikely, I think he ends up in MVP discussions. The Ravens will suffer some set backs due to the lost leadership roles over the last offseason; just ask the 2012 steelers how losing leadership affects the W-L column. Even though Flacco had that incredible 2012 playoff run, I just don’t see him doing that consistently for an entire season. Factoring in the size of Flacco’s contract, and the departure of Cam Cameron, their fan base will have no one to blame but Flacco if he struggles. He’s never faced that kind of pressure before – we’ll see how the self-proclaimed “number 1 QB in the league” handles some adversity.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Say what you will about Ben “always wanting to win,” but I think the last two (disappointing) seasons AND all the locker room drama that stifled last year’s momentum (not to mention injuries) has him more hungry than ever. We were IN the Super Bowl just three seasons back. The pieces are there, and he knows it. Time to be great again.

  • Guest

    In my opinion, Cincinnati currently has the best roster on paper but Andy Dalton is the 3rd best QB in our division. Baltimore added a lot of young talent, but it’ll be a tough road for them after losing so many key veteran players. Cleveland will be competitive but they still have a lot of issues and I can’t imagine they’ll win our division.

    Pittsburgh is very capable of winning the division, but as your “10 Questions” article pointed out, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. In my opinion, the key questions will be if Roethlisberger can stay healthy for 16 games and if our young offensive line can stay healthy and build continuity. I’m cautiously optimistic that both of those issues will be resolved and they will win a close division race.

    Prediction:
    PIT 10-6 *wins tie break over Cincinnati*
    CIN 10-6
    BAL 9-7
    CLE 5-11

  • mlc43

    Who knows. The only thing I’m really comfortable predicting is that the Browns will finish last. The Bengals, Ravens and Steelers are all about the same at about a 9-7 team. It’s going to come down to who can keep their key players healthy which gives the edge to the Bengals and the Ravens above the Steelers. When was the last time our QB played a whole season? Also, I think it’s hilarious how Flacco is getting so much love from a good 3 game stretch (okay great) that included a miracle lucky heave against Denver. That being said, I think he’ll go back to being mediocre unpredictable Flacco. So, I think that the Bengals could take it this year if everything holds to pattern. However, there is a lot that can change that pattern…so who knows.

  • kid_culi_26

    Not going to make a prediction. Way to many variables. Yea its fun to try to guess where everyone will be in early January, but its reckless to predict what happens. Steelers new defensive starters could play lousy and Ben could have a off year with a below average WR corp and know true RB. Steelers end up 5-11. Or the offense can rebound and the new guys on defense can force some turnovers and the team end up 12-4 with a bye. Who’s to say.

    Im more focused on camp and position battles to get this roster down to 53 plus a PS.

  • Stephen Dale

    what JC said below………..but.will be surprised if Pitt wins more than 8 games and think the team will actually under-perform and finish below .500 and looking up at Cincy & Baltimore…………..just don’t believe there is enough quality talent on the team to do any better.

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