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AFC North

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The American Football Conference North Division, or AFC North, is a division of the National Football League's American Football Conference. It was created prior to the 1967 season as the NFL Century Division when the NFL split into four divisions. It became the AFC Central in 1970 following the completion of the AFL-NFL merger when two of the NFL Century 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 AFC an even number of teams. The division adopted its current name in 2002, when the league realigned divisions after expanding to 32 teams. It is the only AFC division to be the successor to a former NFL division from 1967.

The AFC North currently has four members: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals,the Browns, and the Steelers. The original four members of the AFC Central were the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), the Browns, the Bengals and the Steelers. Dating back to the NFL Century's formation in 1967, only the Steelers have remained members for the division's entire history, due to most of the other teams either leaving for other divisions or joining later and the Browns failing to keep pace due to being out of the league for three years.

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 Bengals were an AFL expansion team in 1968 AFL season (The Steelers and Browns joined the AFC from the NFL 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.[1]

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.

HistoryEdit

1960sEdit

The Browns won all three division titles from the 1960s, though the St. Louis Cardinals were competitive within the division. The Browns played for the NFL title in 1968 and 1969, but lost both games. The New York Giants and New Orleans Saints swapped places with each other between this division and the NFL Capitol Division in each season. The Steelers finished in last place each season.

1970sEdit

The division moves to the AFC with the Browns and Steelers and is renamed the AFC Central in 1970, while the other three teams that had been members of the NFL Century stay in the NFC. The Giants and Cardinals are placed in the NFL Capitol—now renamed the NFC East--while the Saints in the NFL Coastal Division, which is renamed the NFC West; the Cardinals now play in the NFC West while the Saints play in the NFC South.

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

1980sEdit

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.

1990sEdit

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. Two years later, the Cleveland Browns relocation controversy saw the owner of the Browns, Art Modell, move his team to Baltimore and be 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 Browns returned to the NFL. 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.

2000sEdit

The decade began with the Ravens winning Super Bowl XXXV, to the dismay of Browns fans. 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, and the AFC Central became the AFC North. (The Jaguars and Titans—the latter winning the AFC Central title in 2000—were both moved to the new AFC South.) In this new decade, the Steelers have won the division title four times, the Ravens and Bengals have each won the division twice. The Steelers and the Bengals are the only teams in the AFC North to have swept all three divisional opponents since the re-alignment – the Steelers 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 Bengals in 2009.

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.

Division lineupsEdit

1967

The Eastern Conference respectively divided into the Capitol and Century Divisions. The Century Division consists of Cleveland, New York, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.

1968

New Orleans moved in from the Capitol Division, New York moved to the Capitol Division as well.

1969

  • Cleveland Browns
  • New York Giants
  • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • St. Louis Cardinals

New Orleans moved back to the Capitol Division, New York moved in from the Capitol Division as well.

1970–94

New York Giants and St. Louis moved to the Capitol Division (renamed National Football Conference's East division, or NFC East for short). The Century Division is renamed American Football Conference's Central division (or AFC Central for short), due to the AFL-NFL Merger. Also, Cincinnati and Houston moved in from the defunct American Football League.

1995

Jacksonville Jaguars enfranchised.

1996

  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Houston Oilers
  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Pittsburgh Steelers

Cleveland Browns franchise deactivated; personnel, equipment, etc. moved to the enfranchised Baltimore Ravens.

1997–98

  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Tennessee Oilers

Houston moved to Memphis as Tennessee Oilers.

1999–2001

  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Cleveland Browns
  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Oilers moved to Nashville as Tennessee Titans, the Cleveland Browns franchise is reactivated.

2002–present

  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Cleveland Browns
  • Pittsburgh Steelers

Jacksonville and Tennessee moved to AFC South. AFC Central renamed AFC North.

RivalriesEdit

While all four teams do have rivalries with each other, four major rivalries exist: the Battle of Ohio between the Browns and Bengals, and Steelers rivalries with the three other teams. The Ravens, Bengals, and Browns all consider the Steelers their "top rival"; however, the Steelers only reciprocate this feeling to the Ravens, despite recent bitterness with the Bengals and historical bitterness to the Browns.

The Ravens do have mini-rivalries with the Browns and Bengals, but isn't as deep due to the Ravens relatively-short history, viewing both as simply division opponents. Browns fans dislike the Ravens due to the Modell move, but generally consider the Ravens "second" behind the Steelers. The Bengals also view the Ravens as a division opponent without bitterness.

Division championsEdit

Season Team Record Playoff Results
NFL Century
1967 Cleveland Browns 9–5–0 Lost NFL Divisional Playoffs
1968 Cleveland Browns 10–4–0 Lost NFL Championship
1969 Cleveland Browns 10–3–1 Lost NFL Championship
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 10–5–1 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 Steelers10–6–0 Lost AFC Wild Card playoffs
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers12–4–0 Won Super Bowl XLIII
2009 Cincinnati Bengals 10–6–0 Lost AFC Wild Card playoffs
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers12-4-0 Lost Super Bowl XLV

+ 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.

++ Baltimore and Pittsburgh went on to win Super Bowl XXXV and Super Bowl XL, respectively, as wild card teams.

Total playoff berthsEdit

Team Championships Playoff Berths
Pittsburgh Steelers[2] 20 25
Cleveland Browns[3] 9 15
Cincinnati Bengals[4] 8 9
Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans[5] 3 12
Baltimore Ravens[6] 2 6
Jacksonville Jaguars[7] 2 4
New Orleans Saints[8] 0 0
New York Giants[9] 0 0
St. Louis Cardinals[10] 0 0

ReferencesEdit

  1. Paul Brown
  2. Charter member of division in 1967.
  3. This refers to the team that the league officially views as one continuous franchise that entered the division in 1967, suspended operations from 1996–1998, and resumed play in 1999.
  4. Moved in from the AFL West in 1970.
  5. 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.
  6. This refers to the team that the league officially views as an expansion team that began play in 1996.
  7. Realigned into the AFC South in 2002.
  8. Moved in from the NFL Capitol Division for 1968. Realigned back into the NFL Capitol Division in 1969, but later moved to the NFC West in 1970; now playing in the NFC South.
  9. Realigned into the NFL Capitol Division in 1968, but rejoined the division in 1969; moved to the NFC East in 1970.
  10. Realigned into the NFC East in 1970; moved to the Phoenix metropolitan area in 1988 and is now playing in the NFC West.

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