History shows AFC North will be up for grabs


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JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) with Pittsburgh Steelers fans. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Prior to 2002, the AFC Central division was a monster in and of itself. The teams who called the Central home made the regular season a murderer's row for all involved. Just look at the teams who made the AFC Central one of the best divisions in football:

1970 - 1980s


1999 - 2001

For those not old enough to remember just how tough — and nasty — the AFC Central was, go check out some old, grainy YouTube videos showing Earl Campbell and Donnie Shell meeting in the hole, Fred Taylor and Mark Brunell in Jacksonville and, of course, Ray Lewis and the upstart Ravens.

Then came 2002, and the NFL decided to realign their divisions, making eight conferences with four teams per conference. It was then we all said hello to the AFC North. The AFC North, consisting of the Steelers, Ravens, Bengals and Browns, has had anything but a singular, dominant team since its creation.

In fact, the history of the division tells us a lot, mainly how the division is up for grabs in 2020. Just take a look at the division winners since 2002:

2002: Steelers
2003: Ravens
2004: Steelers
2005: Bengals
2006: Ravens
2007: Steelers
2008: Steelers
2009: Bengals
2010: Steelers
2011: Ravens
2012: Ravens
2013: Bengals
2014: Steelers
2015: Bengals
2016: Steelers
2017: Steelers
2018: Ravens
2019: Ravens

Take a look at the above information. Notice anything in particular? How about the simple fact no team has ever won the AFC North three years in a row.


Not when the Steelers were poised to do so in 2009 or in 2018. In fact, not any other time, four in all, when a team has been back-to-back champions of the division. But that fourth time brings us to the 2020 season. The Ravens have been the division champions the past two seasons, and, with Lamar Jackson at the helm, look poised to be the first team to three-peat as division champs.

Or, could the Steelers be the team to upset the Ravens and keep this strange historical trend from coming to an end? It won't be easy, not with the Ravens having the easiest schedule in the NFL, per 2019 opponent winning percentage, but the Steelers could certainly make a run at it.

Can it hinge on one player? One player's health? Some might find that blasphemous with football being considered the ultimate team sport, but Ben Roethlisberger's return with the budding elite defense makes the Steelers immediate contenders. Roethlisberger re-injuring his arm, or not being able to return to form, makes the Steelers mere pretenders. We all saw what 2019 looked like, even with that defense.

So, who runs the AFC North in 2020? History shows it is up for grabs, but someone is going to have to step up and take it away from the reigning champions.

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