|Conference||American Football Conference|
|League||National Football League|
|No. of teams||4|
|Most recent champion(s)||Baltimore Ravens (3rd title)|
|Most titles||Pittsburgh Steelers (20 titles)|
The American Football Conference North Division, or AFC North, is a division of the National Football League's American Football Conference. 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 AFC an even 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 currently has four members: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The original four members of the AFC Central were the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), the Browns, the Bengals and the 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 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 553-503-20 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; their record presently is 140-115-1 with a playoff record of 11-7. The Bengals hold a record of 295-379-2 with a playoff record of 5-10 including two Super Bowl losses. The Browns franchise's overall record is 489-410-13 but is only 68-140 since the present club's re-formation in 1999.
There have been a total of thirteen playoff matchups 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 an undefeated record of 9-0. (The Steelers later lost to the Titans in the playoffs in 2002, after the two teams were realigned into separate divisions.) The Browns are 0-3 in intradivisional playoff matchups, the Ravens 1-3, and the Bengals 1-1. The Oilers/Titans franchise finished with a 2-5 record in such games before moving to the AFC South, while the Jaguars (who also later played the Steelers in the playoffs after the two teams were placed in separate divisions) 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 around 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 is located in the Midwest, 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, the Cleveland Browns relocation controversy saw the owner of the Browns, Art Modell, move his team 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 Browns returned to the NFL. 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. As part of the settlement between the NFL and the City of Cleveland as a result of the Cleveland Browns relocation controversy, any future realignment required the Browns to be in the same division as the Steelers and Bengals. There was talk that the fourth team was either going to be the Titans, Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, or even the expansion Houston Texans. The city of Houston had historical connections with the other AFC Central teams through the Oilers/Titans, while the Titans themselves had historical connections in the division. The Colts and Ravens made more sense geographically, with the Ravens being the favorites due to the team's connection to Cleveland.
In the end, 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 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.
Since realignment, the Steelers have won the division title five times, the Ravens have won three times and the Bengals twice. 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.
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.
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 East) and Houston (from the AFL West) join the division.
- B After the 1995 season, the Cleveland Browns franchise is deactivated; personnel, equipment, etc. moved to the enfranchised Baltimore Ravens. The Cleveland Browns franchise is reactivated in 1999.
- 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 qualifiersEdit
+ 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 berthsEdit
Through 2011 season
| Teams With|
- Includes records of Houston & Tennessee Oilers and Jacksonville thru 2001 season
- ↑ Paul Brown
- ↑ http://articles.courant.com/2001-05-21/features/0105210578_1_afc-north-divisions-of-four-teams-realignment
- ↑ http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2001-03-22/sports/0103220312_1_ravens-realignment-houston-texans
- ↑ http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10363/1114033-66.stm
- ↑ Charter member of division in 1967.
- ↑ 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.
- ↑ Moved in from the AFL West in 1970.
- ↑ 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.
- ↑ This refers to the team that the league officially views as an expansion team that began play in 1996.
- ↑ Realigned into the AFC South in 2002.