The question can’t truly be answered until next February, but when the 2021 NFL season is all said and done there may be one particular division throughout both conferences which is head and shoulders above the rest. Will it be the AFC North? Only time will tell.
Honestly, this is more about the word ‘again’. Whether some want to admit it or not, the AFC North was the best division in the NFL in 2020. While many believe that, there is still the question of whether or not it is actually true.
I was asked this question for the Steelers Stat Geek podcast from this past Thursday. So not only did I offer my opinion, I provided numbers to support the claim.
First, the AFC North had three teams in the postseason in 2020. Although this is a big accomplishment, it could vary year to year as teams sneak into the last playoff spot with close to .500 records. But in 2020, the AFC North took care of business easily. Even if there would have only been six teams in the postseason like previous years, the AFC North still would have grabbed three spots.
More importantly, the AFC North had three teams with double digit wins. Even more impressively, they all had 11 wins or more.
To put into perspective how many times a division has had three teams with double digit wins, it has only happened seven times since the NFL went to the current division format in 2002. Most recently since the AFC North did it in 2020 was the NFC South who had three double-digit winners in 2017. In 2014 the AFC North did it once again but with a different combination of teams, and that followed the two previous years where it happened as well in the NFC West in 2013 in the NFC North in 2012. To round out the divisions, the NFC South had three double-digit winners in 2010 and the AFC South had the same accomplishment in 2007.
For those who are keeping a running tally, the AFC North is one of two divisions who have done this twice as the NFC South was the other.
But one thing that is very interesting out of all the other years there have been a division with three double digit winners, 2020 was the first year under the current divisional format were three teams had over 10 wins in their division. In the other six examples, there was at least one team whose win total was 10.
So this is all great and wonderful, but if there is one team that is absolutely a bottom dweller it makes it difficult to say that a division is the best in the NFL. In 2020, it was the Cincinnati Bengals at 4.5 wins who brought up the rear in the AFC North. Notice I counted their tie as a half win as this is how it is calculated when it comes to winning percentage.
Even though the Bengals did not eclipse five wins on the season in 2020, they still came in strong enough to give the AFC North more total wins than any other division. In adding up all the victories, the AFC North had 38.5 wins in 2020. The next closest division was the NFC West with 36 wins.
Does this mean anything for 2021? Not necessarily. It means that teams in the AFC North likely have a strong base in order to carry into the next season.
Some may find it difficult to predict the AFC North to lead the NFL in wins again in 2021 simply because the Steelers and Ravens have the top two most difficult schedules based on 2020 records. While this very well could become a factor, remember it’s mainly based upon the fact that they have to play all the teams in the AFC North twice this season. It was the AFC North’s strength in 2020 which is helping to contribute to their difficult schedules in 2021.
In all honesty, I don’t care if the Steelers play in the most difficult division in the NFL. All I want them to do is to win their games, when the division, and ultimately win the Super Bowl. I don’t care if anyone else in the division wins a single game all season as they could go ahead and just tie every time they played other. But knowing how difficult a division the Steelers are in, partially because they are part of the division, does help to understand the task at hand in having a successful 2021.
Thursday’s episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast be heard below: