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In the AFC North, defense wins divisional games

In the age of high-scoring offense in the NFL, AFC North games have come down more to defense.

NFL: JAN 01 Steelers at Ravens Photo by Charles Brock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the most recent episode of The Scho Bro Show podcast, we were tasked with determining five things for Steelers to return as Kings of the North. Tackling things from various standpoints, I came up with an interesting discovery when looking over the last several seasons. Although the NFL has moved to be much more of a scoring league, AFC North matchups have come down more to defense.

Just a couple seasons ago it appeared the AFC North was moving away from defensive driven games. In December 2021 when the Ravens and Browns squared off to a 47–42 thriller on Monday night, it appeared that high-scoring matchups with both teams was ready to become the norm. Earlier in 2020 with games such as 37–34 against Cleveland and Cincinnati as well as 35–30 in their first matchup of the year, putting points in the board looked to be of the utmost importance as shootouts seemed to be the way the division was heading.

But the 2021 season slowed things down tremendously. Despite there being four separate games were a team scored 41 points, it was not in shoot-out fashion as the closest of these games was a 41–21 matchup the day after Christmas between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. So while points scored were impressive in several games, they were in blowout wins. When it came to the point total of the losing team, 10 of the 12 AFC North games in 2021 saw the losing team scoring less than 20 points with the other two matchups being 21 points and 22 points in the loss.

Now looking at the 2022 season, defensive struggles versus shoot outs took center stage. Yes, Steelers fell in defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals 37–30, but this game showcased two of the three times an AFC North team scored 30 points or more in a divisional game. The other 11 games in the NFC North saw the team on the losing end scoring 20 points or less with nine of those games being 17 points or less.

In one-third of the games in the AFC North in 2022, the winning team did so without reaching 20 points. So last season, there were twice as many AFC North games were the victor scored less than 20 points then there were ones which the winner scored over 30 points. The league average in 2022 of points scored by a winning team was 26.5 while the winner in AFC North matchups averaged 23.8 points scored per game. In 2022, 32.8% of NFL games had at least one team scoring 30 points. But in the AFC North, only 16.7% of games featured a team scoring 30 points, almost half the league average.

Perhaps the 2022 games in the AFC North were a bit of an anomaly. Maybe scoring will be on the rise in division matchups moving forward. But for the last two seasons, the majority of games were decided by keeping teams from reaching 20 points more than offenses putting up 30 points on their opponents. While the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl may rely more on offensive output, the best way for an AFC North team to put themselves in position to reach the ultimate goal is by first winning their division which very well may still rely on solid defense.

To check out the full rundown of all of our top things for the Steelers to return as Kings of the North, check out The Scho Bro Show podcast below: