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The AFC North is the Best Division in Football

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Many pundits think the NFC West is the best of them all, but they aren't right.

Steel City Blitz

"The NFC West is the toughest division in football". Is what many pundits and analysts have seemed to say over the past few years, yet they're wrong. While the West offers young quarterbacks, and trendy offenses, the AFC North is the greatest division in football, and it's about time we get some respect. Here are my reasons why the AFC North is the best.

Competitiveness

"We’re all competitors," Pettine says, "so I don’t want to say you’re being fake in pregame, but you look a guy in the eye, shake his hand, ask him about his family, and in your mind you’re going, I’m gonna beat your brains in." - Mike Pettine, Cleveland Browns HC

"The (insert AFC North team) versus (insert AFC North team) is one of the most storied rivalries in the NFL" seems to be a line mentioned in every single pregame for intra-divisional matchups, and it's true. I think the teams genuinely dislike each other, and so do their respective fan bases. I'll be honest with you, it's a little enjoyable arguing with my fellow AFC North fans every year. It's a pastime, a ritual, if you will. For eight weeks a year, I get to duke it out with fellow fans leading up to the games, and it's glorious.

"When we play the Steelers in Baltimore, it’s a completely different experience than the rest of the NFL." - Chris Canty, Ravens DE

While fans can talk all the smack they want in the leadup to a game, they truly have no idea which team will win. In this division, anything can happen on any given Sunday. The traditional 'laughingstock' of the league, the Browns, can easily topple the so-called 'powerhouses', the Steelers and Ravens. The Browns defeated the Steelers 31-10 last year, and narrowly lost to the Ravens twice. There are no favorites to win in the AFC North, as anything can happen. The teams are so good that the AFC North was the only division in 2014 that produced three playoff teams, the Ravens, Steelers, and Bengals. While the Browns came very close to making the playoffs, and had their best season in years.

The teams are all so evenly matched that they will seem to do anything to gain a tactical advantage over one another. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former Ravens and Browns scout offers a unique perspective, "It’s gotten to the point in that division where you’re afraid to cut a guy, especially a quarterback, the week before you play a team for fear the other team might sign him." "Coaches will bring in a guy the week of a game to learn the audibles and signals, so you end up holding onto a player you might have cut during a division game week and that practice squad player you wanted to elevate just has to wait."

This makes guys like Bengals RB Cedric Peerman, and Steelers QB Bruce Gradkowski valuable within the division, as they have each been with three different AFC North teams. Intra-divisional transactions, like Terelle Pryor moving from the Bengals to the Browns, can be pretty common, and potentially offer the other team a leg up on the competition.

The Defense

"it’s physical, it’s hard-hitting." - Joe Haden, Browns CB on AFC North football

Watching an AFC North game is like a 'blast to the past', when defense reigned supreme, and in the opinion of some, football was just better back then. Nothing is more thrilling to me then seeing two elite defenses battle on the gridiron for three hours. I'm always amazed by some of the plays and formations drawn up by the defensive masterminds of this division, and can't help but admire great defensive play, even if it isn't by my own team. If you like defense, then the AFC North is for you. We might not have 'top-tier' quarterbacks, or high-flying offenses, but we have damn good defenses.

You also can't help but love the hard-hitting nature of the defenders. Intensity + Hatred of Rivals + Good Defense = Insane Hits.

The NFC West can have their option plays and exciting offenses, but I'll take this over that anytime.

Coaches

You also have to admire the coaches, and front office staff that assemble these winning teams, and make sure they continue to win.

The AFC North is the only division with two Super Bowl winning head coaches, John Harbaugh (Ravens) and Mike Tomlin (Steelers). The other two coaches, Marvin Lewis of the Bengals, and Mike Pettine of the Browns, have each had successful tenures with their respective teams too. Lewis, has led his Bengals to the playoffs six times in twelve seasons, and Pettine, who was a first-year NFL Head Coach, led the Browns to a 7-9 record, their best in years. Not to mention, the coordinators of the division are superb, and are routinely poached for higher-profile jobs. The AFC North easily has one of the best group of coaches in the league.

"I think it’s the best division in football," "Hopefully we’ll get out there and prove that." - Mike Pettine, Browns HC

Because the AFC North doesn't have flashy players, or exciting offenses, they're not exactly a media favorite. The teams don't spend a lot on superstars, and are smart with their money in general, spending most of their money on dynamic pass rushers. This is certainly a good strategy, as represented by the division's three representatives in the playoffs. The AFC North teams are belligerent, smart, and can exploit weaknesses with their great players and coaches. All key traits in the makeup of a winning NFL team.

While the words I've typed today are rather useless, and don't prove which division is 'the best', we will certainly find out this season, as the AFC North has been scheduled to play the NFC West this year. These games are primed to be great showdowns, as the West and the North matchup well. It will certainly be exciting to see guys like Kaepernick and Wilson face off against some of the best defenses they'll see all year. The West is solid from top-to-bottom, and presents a difficult challenge. But don't get me wrong, the AFC North is the best division in football, and we'll see that on the field this season.