|Conference||American Football Conference|
|League||National Football League|
|Founded||1967 (as the NFL Eastern Conference Century Division)|
|No. of teams|
|Most recent champion(s)|
|Most AFC North titles|
The American Football Conference North Division, or AFC North, is a division of the National Football League (NFL)'s American Football Conference (AFC). 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 two conferences an equal 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 is usually called "the toughest division in football". The AFC North currently has four members: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers. The original four members of the AFC Central were the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), the Cleveland Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh 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 Cincinnati 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.
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.
In its present incarnation, the Steelers lead all division members with a record of 568-519-20 and a playoff record of 33-21 (6-2 in Super Bowls). The Ravens are the only other member of the division with a Super Bowl win (2-0 in Super Bowls following their win in Super Bowl XLVII); their record presently is 158-128-1 with a playoff record of 11-7. The Bengals hold a record of 315-390-2 with a playoff record of 5-11 including two Super Bowl losses. The Browns franchise's overall regular season record is 498-432-13 with a playoff record of 16-20. Since their return as an expansion team in 1999, the Browns record is 77-162 in the regular season, 0-1 in the playoffs.
There have been a total of fourteen playoff match-ups between AFC Central/AFC North teams since 1970. The Steelers have played all three existing AFC North rivals at least once in the postseason, and, including three matchups against the Oilers/Titans franchise while the two were divisional opponents, have a record of 10–1. The Browns are 0-3 in intradivisional playoff matchups, the Ravens 2-3, and the Bengals 1-2. The Oilers/Titans franchise finished with a 2-5 record in such games before moving to the AFC South, while the Jaguars finished 0–1.
During the 1960s, the NFL labeled all of its divisions with the first letter "C"; each division's name also contained seven letters; the Capitol Division centered on Washington, DC, the Central Division in the upper Midwest, the Coastal Division having two teams on each coast, and the Century Division having teams from various geographical areas: Cleveland was in the Midwest and Great Lakes, Pittsburgh in the Appalachians, New Orleans in the Deep South, St. Louis in the Great Plains (also part of the Midwest) and New York City was on the East Coast.
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.
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. Joining the newly formed "AFC Central" are the Houston Oilers (from the AFL's East Division) and Cincinnati Bengals (from the AFL's West Division).
The division thus became more geographically accurate, as Cincinnati (along with Cleveland) is located in the Midwest and (along with Pittsburgh) along the Ohio River, although Houston is clearly in the Southern United States (but part of the South Central United States as well).
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.
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.
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, and added a second team to the U.S. South. The following year, in one of the most controversial decisions in American sports history, the Cleveland Browns moved 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 NFL "reactivated" the Cleveland Browns. 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.
In 2002 the NFL realigned into eight divisions of four teams. The Jaguars and Titans—the latter winning the AFC Central title in 2000—were both moved to the new AFC South, while the rest of the AFC Central remained intact and renamed the AFC North. The Bengals, Browns, and Steelers were guaranteed to remain in a division together in any circumstance; this was part of the NFL's settlement with the city of Cleveland in the wake of the 1995 Cleveland Browns relocation controversy. The division, geographically-speaking, thus became the shortest driving distance between each team among the NFL's eight divisions, as three of the teams are located within close proximity of Interstate 70 (with the one city that isn't, Cleveland, being two hours north of I-70), and the distance between Baltimore and Cincinnati (the two teams furthest away from each other) being only 526 miles apart. The Browns and Steelers, the two closest rivals, even ride a bus to their games instead of flying.
The division rivals also have shared media conglomerates: all of the markets except Cleveland have a station owned by Hearst Television (WBAL-TV in Baltimore, WLWT in Cincinnati, and WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh), while all of the markets except Cleveland also have stations owned and/or operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group (WBFF, WNUV, & WUTB in Baltimore, WKRC-TV & WSTR-TV in Cincinnati, and WPGH-TV & WPNT in Pittsburgh), and every market except Pittsburgh has a station owned by E. W. Scripps Company (WMAR-TV in Baltimore, WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, and flagship station WEWS in Cleveland), though Scripps did own the Pittsburgh Press before selling it off to Block Communications in 1992 during a labor strike involving it and the Block-owned Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Additionally, Raycom Media has stations in Cincinnati (WXIX-TV) and Cleveland (WOIO & WUAB) while CBS Television Stations own stations in Baltimore (WJZ-TV) and Pittsburgh (KDKA-TV & WPCW). This has occasionally led to stations that have sister stations in rival markets to have friendly rivalries amongst themselves. This is especially true with WJZ-TV and KDKA-TV (both former Group W stations), who are both CBS O&O stations and thus have the majority of the broadcasting rights to their respective home team games through the network.
Since realignment, the Steelers have won the division title six times, and the Ravens and Bengals have each won four times. The Steelers have swept all divisional opponents twice, 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 Ravens and Bengals have swept all three divisional opponents once each, the Bengals in 2009 and Ravens in 2011.
Since divisional realignment, the Ravens have made the playoffs eight times, the Steelers also eight times, the Bengals seven times, and the Browns one time.
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.
In 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals swept their annual six-game slate of divisional opponents. Their first three games against the AFC North came in weeks three-through-five when they beat the Steelers, Browns and Ravens, respectively, each by three points. The close finishes deemed the Bengals, "Cardiac Cats." Cincinnati clinched their first division title since '05 in a week 16 vicory over the Kansas City Chiefs, 17-10. In the playoffs, however, the Bengals fell to the New York Jets at home, 24-14.
Baltimore finished off their season by winning three of their final four games to finish 9-7 and earn the number-six seed in the AFC Playoffs. In the first round of the postseason, Baltimore defeated the New England Patriots in Foxboro, 33-14. In the divisional round of the postseason, Baltimore's season came to an end with a 20-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, who would defeat the Jets one-week later to win the conference.
The Ravens repeated as division champions in 2011 and 2012. The team went on to win Super Bowl XLVII over the San Francisco 49ers, on February 3, 2013, in New Orleans, LA. It was the second franchise Super Bowl win. As of 2012, the Steelers are the AFC North's most successful team with a 599-547-21 record all time with the Browns 2nd in line with an overall record of 510-441-13 while the Ravens sit in 3rd (even though they were not an official franchise until 1996) at 164-128-1 and then the Bengals today remain the only team in the division with their all-time record below .500 as they sit in last at 310-396-2.
In 2015, the Bengals became the first team in the AFC North (Central) to ever start the year 8-0, finishing the season 12-4 and winning the division for the second time in three years. Cincinnati clinched the division title in week 16 when the Steelers were upset by the 4-10 Ravens in Baltimore, quarterbacked by Ryan Mallett. Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton was having his best season of his five-year career until breaking his thumb on December 13th against Pittsburgh caused him to miss the rest of the season. In the playoffs, Cincinnati (quarterbacked by AJ McCarron) lost in a rematch with the Steelers, 18-16, in the final minutes of a heated battle. Pittsburgh advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs, only to lose to Peyton Manning and the eventual Super Bowl-Champion Denver Broncos.
Place cursor over year for division champ or Super Bowl team.
|NFL Eastern Conference
|AFC Central Division[A]|
|Cleveland Browns [B]||suspended operations||Cleveland Browns|
|St. Louis Cardinals[A]||Houston Oilers[C]||Tenn Oilers||Tennessee Titans|
|N Y Giants||New Orleans Saints||N Y Giants[A]||Cincinnati Bengals|
|AFC North Division[F]|
|Team not in division Division Won Super Bowl Division Won AFC Championship|
- A In 1970 the division moves to the newly created American Football Conference. New York Giants and St. Louis stay in the NFC and move (return in New York's case) to the Capitol Division (renamed the National Football Conference East division, or NFC East for short). The Century Division is renamed the American Football Conference Central division (or AFC Central for short), due to the AFL-NFL Merger. Cincinnati (from the AFL West) and Houston (from the AFL East) join the division.
- B After the 1995 season, the Cleveland Browns franchise was deactivated; personnel, equipment, etc. moved to the enfranchised Baltimore Ravens. The Cleveland Browns franchise was reactivated in 1999. The Browns, Ravens, and NFL officially consider the post-1999 Browns to be a continuation of the original team founded in 1946.
- C Houston moved to Memphis as Tennessee Oilers in 1997, moved to Nashville in 1998 (still known as Oilers). Team was renamed Tennessee Titans in 1999.
- D Jacksonville Jaguars enfranchised (1995 season).
- E Baltimore Ravens enfranchised (1996 season)
- F AFC Central renamed AFC North. Jacksonville and Tennessee moved to AFC South.
+ 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.
++ Loss came against another AFC Central/AFC North team.
Wild Card qualifiers
+ A players' strike in 1982 reduced the regular season to nine games, so the league used a special 16-team playoff tournament just for this year.
++ Loss came against another AFC Central/AFC North team.
Total playoff berths
At the conclusion of the 2015 season
- Includes records of Houston & Tennessee Oilers and Jacksonville thru 2001 season
- Paul Brown
- Charter member of division in 1967.
- Moved in from the AFL West in 1970.
- 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.
- This refers to the team that the league officially views as an expansion team that began play in 1996.
- 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.
- Realigned into the AFC South in 2002.