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Another ranking of the AFC North with the Ravens at the top

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Bill Barnwell of Grantland is ranking all of the divisions and the teams within them. Lately, he took a look at the AFC North, and posted the Ravens as the top team in the division.

The Ravens are no strangers to praise this offseason as many analysts have ranked the Ravens high up on the overall power rankings list and high within their division. Barnwell even mentions that the AFC North was the best division in 2014 by sending three teams to the playoffs, which is a pretty gnarly feat.

It’s fair to say the AFC North was the NFL’s best division in 2014. The North was the only division to send three of its four teams to the playoffs, which was just the sixth time that’s occurred under the current divisional format, which started in 2002. It went 26-13-1 in games outside the division, a .663 mark that was not just the best in the league, but the third-best from any season over that 13-year span.

The Ravens finished third in the division in 2014, but eventually took care of business in the playoffs, beating up the Steelers and being only a few plays away from a win in Foxborough against the Patriots. Barnwell thinks that the Ravens have a serious shot at topping the division in 2015.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ravens followed that success with a division title in 2015. While Baltimore’s 10-6 record in 2014 was good for only third in the ultracompetitive North, the underlying numbers suggest the Ravens may have been the best team in the division. While the Steelers and Bengals were both legitimately good teams and deserved their trips to the playoffs, there were aspects of their performances that suggest they won’t be able to keep up with Baltimore this season

As you might have guessed Barnwell took a look at those aspects and it clued him in on how the Ravens will deserve the division crown this season. He looks towards the point differential to see exactly how each team performed all season long and it becomes clear that the Ravens dominated with a 107 point differential over the Steelers' 68 and the Bengals' 21.

The Pythagorean expectation suggests the Ravens were notably better than both the Steelers and Bengals on a play-by-play basis last season, outplaying the Steelers by more than one win and the Bengals by more than two full wins. Some of that owes to the 48-17 trouncing the Ravens put on the lowly Bucs, but we know that blowing out bad teams tends to be a better positive indicator than it might seem, and the Ravens had a number of comfortable wins over tough competition. They beat the Steelers by 20 points in Week 2, the Panthers by 28 points in Week 4, and the Dolphins by 15 in Week 14.

Barnwell continues on by suggesting that the Ravens are the only team to be consistent in their performance all season long. Even by taking out the win over the Bucs, you still have a team that was able to beat up on other tough teams pretty regularly. Meanwhile, the rest of the division has a signature win, but then some head scratching losses the rest of the way, suggesting that the Bengals and Steelers were punching up a weight class and didn't really deserve their final win/loss records.

Barnwell also mentions that teams that underperformed the previous season tend to take a pretty large jump forward the following season. With the Ravens underperforming by roughly a single game, they are the choice to jump ahead in 2015 and take the crown.