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NFl: AFC North trying to regain reputation as the best

Published August 30, 2014 5:15 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

They do things a little differently in the AFC North.

They're patient with their coaches and quarterbacks — well, with the exception of Cleveland, which is in a league of its own when it comes to change. They develop a style and stick with it, win or lose.

And it's worked.

The AFC North is coming off what amounts to a down year for the NFL's most successful division over the past six years. Only one team reached the playoffs — Cincinnati, which lost in the opening round for the third year in a row. The Bengals' response? Give the coach and the quarterback contract extensions.

Defending champion Cincinnati has undergone the fewest offseason changes, aiming for a franchise-record fourth straight trip to the playoffs.

Andy's time? • No quarterback in the division will be under more scrutiny than Andy Dalton, who has been as good as it gets during the regular season and at his very worst in the playoffs. The Bengals gave him a six-year contract extension even though he's 0-3 in the postseason. He fell apart during the second half of a 24-10 playoff loss to San Diego last season.

Let Ben be Ben • The Steelers went 6-2 down the stretch to stay in playoff contention last season before finishing 8-8 and missing out on the postseason for the second year in a row. The Steelers gave two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger more freedom in a no-huddle offense during the late surge and will be looking for more of the same.

Run Ravens run • The Ravens had one of those miserable Super Bowl follow-up seasons. After beating San Francisco for the Lombardi Trophy after the 2012 season, they lost linebacker Ray Lewis to retirement, then won only eight games as their offense fell apart.

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Predicted order of finish

1. Ravens

2. Bengals

3. Steelers

4. Browns