NFL Offseason: The Good News and the Bad News for the AFC North

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 09, 2013

By Russell S. Baxter
Cold, Hard Football Facts Statistician to the Stars (@baxfootballguru)

Two down, six to go.

We’re in the midst of taking a look back at each of the NFL’s eight divisions in terms of the good and the bad as of late.

This week, we’re focusing on the AFC North, which has provided us with more Super Bowl champions, thanks to the Steelers (2) and the defending champion Ravens (1), than any other division since the league was realigned in 2002.

It’s also a division that over the last two seasons has not only sent five teams to the playoffs (Baltimore and Cincinnati twice and Pittsburgh once) but the Browns are the only club of the group to finish with a losing record (both 2011 and 2012).

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Be it recently or historically, there’s always some interesting numbers that we all find fascinating in terms of trends, one of the many aspects that makes the National Football League the game we all love.

Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

The Good News: It was a banner postseason for quarterback Joe Flacco, who followed up his 22 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in the regular season with 11 scores and zero interceptions in four playoff games in 2012.

Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh, who both arrived in Baltimore in 2008, have been to the playoffs in each of their five NFL campaigns.

From 2008-11, the Ravens’ season ended with losses in the playoffs to the eventual AFC champion Steelers, Colts, Steelers and Patriots, respectively. The fifth time proved to be the charm for the Super Bowl XLVII champions …

Speaking of championships, the Ravens became the third straight team to win a Lombardi Trophy after winning 10 or fewer games during the regular season, joining the 2010 Packers (10-6) and 2011 Giants (9-7). The previous two seasons, Baltimore finished the season with 12-4 records and fell short of the Big Game… 

The Bad News: The traditionally defensive-oriented Ravens finished 17th in the NFL in 2012 in yards allowed, the team’s worst ranking since 2002. The team also allowed 1,965 yards rushing in 16 regular-season games (122.8 yards per game), the most allowed by the club in the franchise’s 17-year history dating back to 1996.

Baltimore also allowed 344 points during the regular season (up from 266 in 2011) and totaled just 25 takeaways. But Harbaugh’s club forced 10 turnovers in four postseason games, including at least two each in the wins over the Colts, Broncos, Patriots and 49ers...


Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)

The Good News: Only New England’s Bill Belichick (2000) has a longer active tenure as head coach with one team than Marvin Lewis, who was hired by the Bengals in 2003.

Including playoffs, Lewis now owns a 79-84-1 overall record with the team in 10 seasons and taken the club to the postseason four times. From 1992-02, Cincinnati was a combined 52-124 under head coaches David Shula (19-52), Bruce Coslet (21-39) and Dick LeBeau (12-33) …

It wasn’t long ago the Cincinnati pass rush was an issue. But one season after totaling 45 sacks the Bengals finished third in the NFL in 2012 with 51 sacks.

Those 96 sacks in the last 32 games are pretty impressive considering from 2003-10, Lewis’ team totaled only 230 sacks (less than 30 per season), the second-lowest total in the league over that span…

The Bad News: It’s a case of déjà vu that the organization would care to do without. For the second straight season, the Bengals not only made the playoffs but also fell to the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round. 

That means the franchise still hasn’t won a playoff game since beating Houston--as in the Oilers and as in the 1990 Wild Card Playoffs at since-demolished Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field. The Bengals still own the longest current drought in the league when it comes to not winning a postseason contest …

Although they finished with a plus-4 turnover differential in 2012, Cincinnati committed 26 turnovers during the regular season, second-most amongst the 12 playoff teams (Colts with 27). Lewis’ team coughed up the ball two or more times in eight of 16 contests this past season …


Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)

The Good News: For the second straight season, injuries cut short quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s season.

And the two-time Super Bowl champion was enjoying a solid season before he wa hurt and wound up dramatically improving on his 2011 performance. Roethlisberger threw 26 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions in just 13 games this past season, five more scores (21) and seven fewer picks (15) than he managed in 15 games the previous year.

It’s also worth noting that of his 26 touchdown tosses, 16 went to wide receivers and 10 went to tight ends and running backs …

While it hardly felt like it by season’s end, the Steelers allowed the fewest yards in the NFL for the second straight season and the sixth time in the last 13 seasons dating back to 2000. The last time Pittsburgh was not ranked in the Top 10 in fewest yards allowed was 1999 …

The Bad News: While the Steelers continue to rank amongst the best teams in the league in terms of teams moving the ball against them, the lack of big plays by the defense has begun to catch up with them.

Over the last two years, Mike Tomlin’s team has totaled just 35 takeaways in 32 regular-season contests (15 in 2011, 20 in 2012). During the team’s Super Bowl XLV season, the Steelers forced 35 turnovers in 16 regular-season tilts …

Speaking of miscues, hanging onto the football because an issue for the Black and Gold late in the 2012 season. Tomlin’s club committed 21 turnovers in their final seven games (eight of those in a Week 12 loss at Cleveland). The Steelers only coughed up the ball nine times during their 6-3 start…


Cleveland Browns (5-11)

The Good News: Although he fell short of 1,000 yards on the ground (950), Browns’ rookie running back Trent Richardson still enjoyed a pretty successful rookie season and could be in for even bigger things with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner in town.

Richardson led the team in rushing yards, finished second on the club with 51 receptions, totaled 1,317 yards from scrimmage and scored 12 of the team’s 28 offensive touchdowns …

Baby steps: Cleveland finished 19th in the NFL in rushing defense in 2012; in 12 of the previous 13 seasons dating back to 1999, the team finished in the Bottom 6 of the league in this statistic…

The Bad News: It wasn’t that long ago that the Browns appeared headed in the right direction.

But since posting a 10-6 mark and missing the playoffs in 2007, the team has lost at least 11 games in five straight seasons and is a woeful 23-57 dating back to 2008.

That means since their return to the NFL in 1999, the franchise owns a dismal 73-151 record (.326), made one playoff appearance (2002) and has finished above .500 just twice in 14 seasons …

Despite showing some improvement in terms of scoring points, the Browns continue to have their issues in this department. Cleveland totaled 302 points in 2012, neatly 100 more than the previous season (218). Still, the Browns have been limited to 17 points or less in 22-of-32 games dating back to 2011…

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