The AFC North might wind up being one of the tightest-contested divisions in the NFL in 2023, especially if all four teams can stay healthy. Last season, the last place team in the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns, won seven games while the winner of the division, the Cincinnati Bengals, registered 12 wins.
On Monday at the annual AFC Coaches Breakfast in Arizona, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked his thoughts about building a team annually that can first and foremost fare well in the AFC North.
“I think in any discussion divisional play is major,” Tomlin said via the team website. “It’s just how we’re structured as a league. If you’re going to dominate anything, you’ve got to first start in your neighborhood and that neighborhood is the AFC North. And I’ve got a lot of respect for that. And I think all of us, whether you’re in the North or not, probably have that perspective because of the familiarity and particularly in the ways that scheduling is done and has been done in recent years.”
Last season was a remarkable one when it came to divisional play within the AFC North as all four teams registered a 3-3 record overall. That was the first time that all four teams went .500 in the AFC North division since it was created in 2002. Could we see a repeat of that feat in 2023? It’s quite possible.
Last season, the Steelers won their first AFC North game against Bengals in overtime to start the 2022 regular season. They then proceeded to lose their next two AFC North games against the Browns and Baltimore Ravens, respectively. The Steelers needed to win their final two games of the 2022 regular season against the Ravens and Browns to keep their playoff hopes alive, and they managed to accomplish that feat.
Obviously, the Steelers will play each of their AFC North foes twice during the 2023 season and it’s a good bet that two of those six games will be consecutive to close out their schedule. My money is on the Ravens being one of those two games.
“There’s some weighty division games, man, down the stretch, it seems, that are significant and, boy, you better be in position to win those games if you want to be a team on the rise at the latter part of the regular season, for example,” Tomlin said on Monday.
As things stand prior to the 2023 NFL Draft, the Steelers have the longest betting odds when it comes to winning the AFC North this season. Barring numerous injuries those odds aren’t likely to change prior to the start of the 2023 regular season.
The last time that the Steelers won the AFC North division was in 2020 and they did so with a 4-2 record against the other three teams. For his career, Tomlin is 65-30-1 in AFC North games.