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Steelers defensive dominance of AFC North a big reason why they stand on edge of history

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The Steelers have the opportunity to become the first team since the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles to lead the NFL in both rushing and passing defense. A big part of the reason for that is their dominance of their division.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It didn't seem possible just a few weeks ago. After a rough start, the Steelers defense clicked in a Week 7 performance for the ages.

They held the Bengals to just 185 total yards, and shut them down over the last five drives the Bengals offense had, en route to a 24-17 win. Everything rolled downhill from there.

Pittsburgh put up equally impressive defensive performances against Washington (255 total yards), the Giants (182), Kansas City (290), Baltimore (200), Cleveland (238) and the Ravens again (288). The Chargers were able to score on the Steelers, but only gained 294 yards, extending their streak of holding opponents to under 300 yards to eight games.

They took a step back against Dallas while playing with two undrafted rookie defensive backs, but rebounded in Week 16 to keep Cincinnati at 267 yards.

If they hold Cleveland to under 300 yards in this game, it would be the 12th time this year they've done that, and perhaps more impressively, it would mean they did not allow 300 yards in any one of their division games.

AFC North quarterbacks, in five games, are 91-for-151 (56.5 percent) for 893 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions.

Rushing, the AFC North has 360 yards on 115 carries (3.15 yards per carry) against the Steelers.

It's certainly frustrating to see a 2-3 record in the AFC North heading into a meaningless Week 17 game against Cleveland, but rounding out the season not having allowed any AFC North team to gain over 300 yards is an impressive feat nonetheless, and it provides some optimism for next year.