Since its inception, and going back further to the AFC Central days, the AFC North has been known for defense. The reputation of the division being a rough, black-and-blue style tests the mettle of a team and makes the winner truly earn the title every year. However, the AFC North has seen some solid quarterback play over the last several years. Starting out with Carson Palmer, followed by Ben Roethlisberger soon after. Joe Flacco would join the fold in 2008 and Andy Dalton in 2011 after the Cincinnati Bengals traded Palmer to the Oakland Raiders.
With Palmer now playing for the Arizona Cardinals, the other three have combined for 20 playoff appearances total. While Dalton's playoff struggles are well documented, going 0-for-4 in the four games he started, it's been a different story for Roethlisberger and Flacco. Those two have a combined 23 playoff wins and three Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback holding the edge with two. Still, you can't deny those three are in the hunt for the playoffs every year, and you can't count them out on the road to January.
NFL.com's Adam Schein decided to rank every division by quarterbacks entering the 2017 season. The AFC North, despite its playoff resume with three of their four quarterbacks, was ranked 6th. Third from the bottom in the league and only ahead of the NFC West and AFC South. Schein stated:
"Big Ben is a Hall of Famer with a loaded offense-and yes, he's still at the top of his game. Cleveland, on the other hand, is best served turning to Brock Osweiler-which says something about something. I do think DeShone Kizer can play eventually. Hue Jackson can help both, and so can a vastly improved offensive line. Flacco needs some help at running back and will have a new cast of characters at receiver. I believe Jeremy Maclin can provide a boost. And you trust Flacco in big spots. Dalton always puts up the numbers in the regular season. Prime-time Andy is a different story. And over the past few offseasons, Cincy has lost a bunch of talent at receiver and along the offensive line."
When it comes to the Cleveland Browns, questions at quarterback is nothing new. While Osweiler is the veteran, he also might've been the worst quarterback in the NFL a season ago and the Browns have another young quarterback that Schein didn't mention in Cody Kessler. Kessler showed some flashes in 2016, and the Browns would be wise to start him come Week 1. However, this is the Browns, anything is possible.
At the top of Schein's list is the NFC South, and I agree with him. Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Jameis Winston is one of the best young signal-callers you'll find along with guys like Derek Carr, while Matt Ryan and Cam Newton have both won the league MVP's over the last two seasons. Both leading their teams to the Super Bowl. It is hard to argue this division carries the best set of quarterbacks in the NFL, every one of them is good and has proven to lead their team well. Three of them have been to Super Bowls and Winston will have his time to shine in the playoffs soon enough.
There are two divisions you could argue are not better than the AFC North as a whole despite each having a Hall of Fame quarterback. Remember, this is as a group, not separate. Those divisions are the NFC North and AFC East. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the two best quarterbacks in the NFL. Period end of story. It's what comes after that raises questions. In the NFC North, Matthew Stafford is really good and puts up the stats every regular season, just like Dalton. But just like Dalton, he has never won a playoff game, going 0-3. Sam Bradford led the NFL in completion percentage in 2016 with 71.6, but the Minnesota Vikings faltered after getting off to a 5-0 start. Bradford has also never made the playoffs in his seven-year career. In Chicago, It's either going to be the highly paid unproven Mike Glennon, or the rookie they traded up to grab, Mitchell Trubisky.
Over in the AFC East, talented quarterbacks like Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Tannehill have emerged while the New York Jets continue to be the Browns and Bears trying to search for answers at the position. Similar to the Browns, they have a veteran they can plug in come Week 1 in Josh McCown, but they also have two young quarterbacks like Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. In a year where they will be contending for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, it's probably best for Gang Green to see what they have in these two young quarterbacks before even thinking of going to another Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tannehill was playing well last season and was leading the charge on the Miami Dolphins first trip to the playoffs since 2008 before tearing his ACL. Matt Moore picked up where Tannehill left off and the Dolphins clinched their postseason berth after beating the Buffalo Bills and the Ravens loss to the Steelers in Week 16. Taylor will have to try to evolve into a true quarterback this season if they are going to compete for the playoffs, but the talent is there and he has brought the Bills an excitement they haven't had in a long time. Taylor has only had one 300-yard game so far in his two-year starting career, that will have to change.
The AFC North quarterbacks might be a bit overshadowed by Schein. Roethlisberger, Flacco, and Dalton are three quarterbacks who will be competing for both the division and a wild-card. All three of them have been to the playoffs in the same season not once but twice in 2011 and 2014. Entering this season, Big Ben has the most talent around him of the three thanks to Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. He also gets back Martavis Bryant after a year-long suspension and tight end Jesse James looks to continue his development. Dalton and Flacco have weapons at receiver but Dalton has the edge at tight end thanks to Tyler Eifert and you can never forget about A.J. Green. Both the Ravens and Bengals however, have concerns on the offensive lines as Dalton lost Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth, while Flacco lost Rick Wagner and Jeremy Zuttah.
As we all know, the key to an effective offense and quarterback is the play of the offensive line. Of the three contending teams in this division, the Steelers and Roethlisberger have the edge over Flacco and Dalton as we head into training camp.
Do you agree with Adam Schein’s ranking of the AFC North quarterbacks?