Our Pro Pick on the Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers AFC North Matchup
The Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to rally back from a 2-6 start to a 9-8 winning record and possibly the playoffs if two other outcomes go in their favor. It is a great turnaround, but it is not entirely unexpected given the difference in schedule when the Steelers were 2-6 compared to this 6-2 run since the bye week.
When the Steelers and Browns last met, the quarterbacks were Mitch Trubisky and Jacoby Brissett. The Steelers have upgraded to Kenny Pickett, who makes fewer mistakes and more plays in the clutch, while the Browns have downgraded to Watson, who is struggling in his return to football.
But the second half in Washington was by far Watson’s best half of football this year. He led three touchdown drives, matching the number he had in the first 18 quarters with the team. Nick Chubb had a good game on Sunday, but the Steelers have mostly held him in check in past matchups, especially those that were played in Pittsburgh.
The game expects to be another close slugfest in the AFC North, but the Steelers have the better defense and are at home with something to still play for. They also want to finish ahead of Cleveland once again and avoid the cellar of the division. T.J. Watt missed the first matchup and is back for this one.
We’ll take the Steelers to cover and get that 9-8 record, extending to a 19th straight season without a losing record, which would tie the 2001-19 Patriots for the second-longest streak in NFL history.
AFC North Prediction: Steelers -2.5 vs. Browns (-110 at BetMGM)
Our Best Bet on Who Will Win AFC North in 2023
The Bengals surprised everyone last year by winning the division with a 10-7 record, their first time finishing first in the AFC North standings since 2015. They also won their first playoff games since the 1990 season.
The Steelers should take a step back after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger and an absurd 9-2-1 record in close games last season. The Browns are stuck with an 11-game suspension of Deshaun Watson and face a very tough schedule with Jacoby Brissett as the starter.
But the team to watch is the Baltimore Ravens, who have the best odds to win the AFC North this year after having the most injuries of any team in the last two decades. They also lost a ton of close games down the stretch without Lamar Jackson, who is back and is still one of the best in the game. This team should rebound in a big way.
AFC North Predictions: Baltimore Ravens to win the division (+200 at FanDuel)
For more on where the other AFC races stand, check out our pages for the AFC South, AFC East, and AFC West.
The Current State of the AFC North
How are the AFC North teams looking as we head into Week 18?
Cincinnati Bengals: Super Bowl Hangover?
The Bengals are in a holding pattern as they wait to see the NFL’s decision on the Buffalo game following Damar Hamlin’s tragic cardiac arrest on Monday night. The Bengals were leading 7-3 in the first quarter, and they are still set to play the Ravens this Sunday in a game to wrap up the AFC North. But the No. 1 seed is still a slight possibility for the Bengals, and the No. 2 seed is even more likely. But the NFL has a very tough decision in an unprecedented situation to make here as the game with Buffalo is a crucial piece of the puzzle to completing this 2022 season.
Baltimore Ravens: Positive Regression
The Ravens have lost a low-scoring game for a change, but that will happen when you allow the game-winning touchdown in the final minute and your offense is struggling to score. The Ravens have not scored more than 17 points in the five games since Lamar Jackson was injured. When head coach John Harbaugh was asked about Jackson’s status for this week, he did not sound overly optimistic. Hopefully with the Ravens in the tournament, Jackson can return for their wild card game.
Cleveland Browns: For Shame
The Browns came alive in the second half in Washington after Amari Cooper made some nice plays to get open and score long touchdowns, something we have not seen in this offense since Deshaun Watson took over. We still haven’t seen a Nick Chubb touchdown in Watson’s five starts, but he is still a productive back and this offense has solid weapons to work with. But we’ll see if the Browns can score much in Pittsburgh this week as that rivalry continues with new faces in Kenny Pickett and Watson, neither of which were playing in Week 3 when these teams last met.
Pittsburgh Steelers: New Era Begins
How rare is it to see a quarterback get the ball in the final five minutes, down 4-to-6 points, and go on a game-winning touchdown drive? Kenny Pickett has done it in back-to-back weeks against the Raiders and Ravens, two teams historically bad at holding leads like this. But in Ben Roethlisberger’s 18-year career, he only had two such game-winning touchdown drives in 12 opportunities, doing so against the 2009 Packers and 2010 Ravens. Enjoy what Pickett has done, and he can be a great candidate for a sophomore surge if the Steelers get a new offensive coordinator and open things up for Pickett in the passing game.
AFC North Facts and History
The 2022-23 NFL season should be another one of the finest division races in the AFC North. Let’s take a look at the history and key facts of this division.
Which Teams play in the AFC North?
From a geographical viewpoint, no NFL division is closer than the AFC North as the teams reside in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The four teams currently in the division are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, and Baltimore Ravens.
History of the AFC North
The AFC North technically did not exist until realignment in 2002 when the NFL moved to 32 teams spread out across eight divisions. But the rivalries were already ongoing as this division was bred out of the AFC Central, which started in 1970 after the merger.
The original AFC Central included the Steelers, Browns, Bengals, and Houston Oilers. These teams battled for years, though it was clear with four Super Bowl wins that the Steelers were the class of the NFL in the 1970s.
But the 1980s brought a down period in Pittsburgh, which led to some exciting runs by the Browns and Oilers. However, both franchises continuously saw their seasons end in postseason heartbreak. The Browns lost three AFC Championship Games to the Broncos, including “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” The Oilers made the playoffs seven years in a row in 1987-83, but they never got past the second round and even blew a record 32-point lead in Buffalo in the 1992 AFC wild card round.
The 1990s brought significant changes to AFC Central. The Jacksonville Jaguars joined the division as an expansion team in 1995, and they became one of the most successful expansion teams in pro sports with multiple playoff appearances before they were moved to the new AFC South in 2002.
Speaking of moves, in 1995 the Browns were sold to Baltimore by owner Art Modell where they became the Baltimore Ravens, which started playing games in 1996. They replaced the Browns, who would not be brought back as a franchise until 1999. By that time the Oilers had moved to Tennessee where they became the Tennessee Titans.
While the Titans lost the Super Bowl in the 1999 season, the Ravens won their first championship in 2000, getting there in just five seasons while the Browns have yet to ever make it to the big game.
With the AFC Central bloated to six teams in 1999-01, the league chose to realign things in 2002 with the arrival of the Houston Texans. The Jaguars and Titans joined them in the AFC South, leaving behind a new AFC North with the Steelers, Browns, Bengals, and Ravens, leading to where we stand today.
Who Has Won the AFC North the Most?
Since the 2002 realignment, the AFC North has been a fairly competitive division outside of one team:
- The Steelers have won the AFC North nine times since 2002, though they have never won it more than two seasons in a row (2007-08 and 2016-17).
- The Ravens have won the division six times with a pair of repeat runs in the John Harbaugh era (2011-12 and 2018-19).
- The Bengals have won the division five times, and usually with a gap of four or more seasons in between wins outside of the times they won in 2013 and 2015.
- The Browns have never won the AFC North and they have not won a division title since the 1989 season.
Cleveland has finished third or fourth among AFC North teams every season except for 2002 and 2007 when they were second in the division.
Who Has the Most Super Bowl Success in the AFC North?
The AFC North has accounted for eight Super Bowl wins, but it is far from even distribution.
- Browns: one of four NFL teams to never appear in the Super Bowl, joining the Lions, Jaguars, and Texans
- Bengals: 0-3 in Super Bowl (last appearance: 2021)
- Ravens: 2-0 in Super Bowl (last appearance: 2012)
- Steelers: 6-2 in Super Bowl (last appearance: 2010)
Prior to the Super Bowl era, the Browns won four NFL championships in 1950, 1954, 1955, and 1964. The Bengals have lost their last two Super Bowls after leading with 90 seconds left to play.
The AFC North and Its Heated Rivalries
While you know from our AFC West predictions that the division is known for its quarterback play, the AFC North is known for physical football. The AFC North is home to some of the league’s best rivalries. Perhaps the short distance between cities has fueled these rivalries in the AFC North as many of the fans genuinely despise one another. This has sometimes spilled onto the field as well with coaches and players getting involved.
- In 1989, Bengals coach Sam Wyche got on a microphone during a game to yell at the home crowd to stop throwing snowballs on the field. The famous quote ended up being “You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati!”
- Before a 2004 Steelers-Browns game, Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter and Cleveland running back William Green were ejected for fighting during pre-game warmups.
- In 2005, Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh infamously wiped his cleats with the Steelers’ famed Terrible Towel after a win in Pittsburgh. The Steelers eliminated the Bengals from the playoffs that year after coach Bill Cowher used that clip as motivation.
- Before a 2005 Steelers-Browns game, Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison body slammed a drunk Cleveland fan who was dancing on the field.
- In a 2013 Steelers-Ravens game on Thanksgiving, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin infamously stepped into the path of Jacoby Jones during a long kick return. Tomlin was fined $100,000 for the incident.
- In a 2019 Browns-Steelers game, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett swung a helmet at Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, leading to a brawl between the teams.
With the confidence (or cockiness depending on your viewpoint) shown by the young Bengals and the addition of Deshaun Watson to the division, these rivalries should only intensify in the 2022 season.