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AFC North Defenses Rule NFL

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Three of the four AFC North teams have record at 5-2 or better, with the Pittsburgh Steelers leading the division at 6-2, followed by the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens at 5-2. The Cleveland Browns, at 3-4, remain in the basement of the AFC North. Due to current tie-breakers, the Bengals are actually in second place in the division and the Ravens third right now. The Ravens play at the Steelers this coming Sunday night, which will complete their regular season series. However, Cincinnati has not played either Baltimore or Pittsburgh yet in 2011 and have two games remaining with each.

The AFC North is proving that while offense makes highlights, defense still wins games, as the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals are among the top defenses in the NFL in almost every category. Overall, in terms of yards allowed, the Ravens lead the league, followed by the Steelers at #2 and the Bengals at #5. Against the rush, Cincinnati is 2nd in the NFL, Baltimore is 3rd and Pittsburgh 8th. The Steelers lead the league in passing defense, surprisingly followed by Cleveland (#2), ahead of the Ravens (#3) and Bengals (#9).

In what is the most important defensive category,points allowed per game, Baltimore is #2 in the league, Pittsburgh #3 and Cincinnati #5. The San Francisco 49ers lead the NFL in the fewest points allowed per game as well as being #1 against the run, although they still must face the Steelers and the Ravens (Thanksgiving night in Baltimore).

Seeing the 49ers among the top defenses in the NFL and sitting alone at the top of the NFC West is a tribute not only to their focus of attention on becoming a solid defense, but having a Harbaugh as their head coach must have something to do with it. A four game division lead with the season not quite half over seems like as much of a lock for the post season as any team in the league. With the NFL's second best record at 6-1, just behind the Green Bay Packers 6-0, San Francisco has transformed their team into one that no one is looking forward to facing, and shapes up the Harbaugh brother's meeting on Turkey Day (night) as one that could be a great one with significant meaning to both teams beyond the obvious sibling rivalry.

In a game where the focus seems to be on opening up offenses and scoring points, it's interesting to see three teams from the toughest division in football not only at the top of the league's defenses, but among the NFL's best records as well. Perhaps defense still can win championships?