The New AFC North


Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Browns defeated the Ravens last Sunday, some history was made.  Yes, it was the first time Cleveland had beaten Baltimore since 2007.  But more astonishing than that, it marks a complete flip-flop for the teams in this division.

The Browns and the Bengals are atop the AFC North Division for the first time since its creation in 2002.  Prior to that, either Pittsburgh or Baltimore had owned the top position, and was typically followed by the other team in at number 2.

The Baltimore-Pittsburgh dominance actually started in 2001, which was the last year of the old, AFC Central Division, when they finished 1st and 2nd respectively.

So for Cleveland and Cincinnati, this is a pretty big achievement, and a long time in coming.  In fact, these two teams have not shared the 1st and 2nd positions in the division since the days of Kosar and Esiason in 1986

Does it begin a new era for the AFC North?  It looks likely, but we’ll know for sure in December.

But it seems fitting that it is these two teams who share this honor.  They are, after all, linked in many ways, sharing much, while still being very different

Both teams reside in Ohio, but are 250 miles apart, sitting at opposite ends of the state.  Cincinnati and Cleveland both sit on water, but for one it’s a Great Lake, and for the other it’s a great river.  NE Ohio still has a very industrial feel to it, while SW Ohio is a bit more conservative and considers itself the northern-most southern city.

There are some subtle differences in the people of the two cities, as well.  Cincinnatians are very polite, saying “Please,” when they don’t hear you, as if to say, “could you please repeat that?”  Clevelanders are a little more hard-core, and they have no problem throwing things at their team’s opponents.

Folks in Cleveland have grown up tasting ethnic dishes such as Pasta Fagioli, Gyros, and Pierogis.  Cincinnatians prefer Goetta with their eggs in the mornings, and for lunch enjoy a type of chili that is not seen in any other part of the country.

Clevelanders love The Ohio State University.  Folks in SW Ohio believe the University of Cincinnati is the best school in the state.

Despite their differences, though, these two teams share a common, historic coach: Paul Brown.

In 1946, Brown became the first coach of the Cleveland Browns and led them to four All-American Football Conference Championships, and then went on to win four NFL titles.

After being fired by then new owner Art Modell in 1963, Brown moved about as far away from Cleveland as he could get without leaving the state, Cincinnati.  He co-founded the Bengals in 1968 and was their first coach, serving until 1975.

If you’ve ever wondered why Ohio’s two professional football teams both have similar color schemes, you can credit Paul Brown.

Both teams have had success in the past.  The Bengals appeared in two Super Bowls.  While the Browns have never played in one, they do have four NFL titles.  Neither team, though, has won the Lombardi Trophy.

Both teams have experienced bad times, as well.  Since 1991, the Bengals have an overall losing record: 134-289-1.  But at least they continued to put a team on the field.  Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1995, and Cleveland fans went without a team until 1999.

But more painful than that is the fact that we have had to watch our former, beloved team have so much success in Baltimore.  The fact that the Ravens are in our division and we have to play them twice a year, is like rubbing salt in an open wound.

But all of that is behind us, and the Bengals and Browns are at the top of the AFC North.  This is great for our state.  After all, both teams have loyal, Ohio followings that have supported their teams through good times, and bad.

Can they stay at the top for the rest of the season?  Only time will tell.  Personally, I’m a little guarded about my predictions, but part of me just can’t help being excited.  I keep asking myself, “Are the good times back? Is this the new AFC North?”