Divisional Breakdown : AFC North Teams

In the coming weeks we’ll talk more about how the league is organized in Basics posts. But just so we’re all on the same page right now, let’s do a quick overview of NFL teams.

  • There are 32 teams in the National Football League
  • There are two conferences within the National Football League: the AFC (American Football Conference) and the NFC (National Football Conference). There is a long and confusing history behind this establishment but here’s the gist of it: the NFL and the AFL were two separate football-playing organizations until 1970 when they merged and became two parts (the NFC and AFC) of one whole (the NFL). Though changes have been made to the teams and the divisions within each conference since the merger, the current setup has been in place since the 2002 realignment.
  • Did you survive that bullet? It was kind of a long and wordy one. It’s easier from here on out!
  • Each Conference (AFC and NFC) has four geographic divisions: North, South, East, and West.
  • (4 teams x 4 divisions) x 2 conferences = 32 teams.

Make sense?

(Let’s also take a moment to note a phenomenon: I can’t believe I remember how to use parentheses in multiplication. Wonders never cease.)

SO: on Tuesdays/Wednesdays in August we’ll be learning more about each division in preparation for the start of the 2012 season. Today we’ll dive right in and start with the AFC North.

AFC North

The Baltimore Ravens

History: The Ravens actually used to be the Cleveland Browns, but in 1996 then-owner Art Modell tried to move the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore. After lots of legal dispute it was decided that the Browns franchise was to stay in Cleveland but the “team” – players, coaches, etc – would be allowed to move to Baltimore as an expansion team. The new team name was actually chosen by a fan vote. They opted for the Ravens as a tribute to Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, The Raven, penned in Baltimore.

Current Players to Know: Joe Flacco is entering his 5th season as the team’s starting quarterback. He’s led his team to the playoffs every season of his career so far. Ray Lewis is the fiery emotional leader of the team. He’s a linebacker entering his 17th season in the league. Ed Reed is every quarterback’s worst nightmare – he’s one of the best safeties in the league.

Head Coach: John Harbaugh

2011 Regular Season Record: 12-4

What to Watch For in 2012: Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon last April so his playing status for the season remains doubtful. His absence on defense will be noticeable. Ray Lewis is in better shape than ever after getting slim and trim in the off season, but questions will undoubtedly arise as to whether or not this will be the veteran’s final season.

The Cleveland Browns

History: The Browns are named for Paul Brown, a football pioneer and the team’s first coach and founder in 1944. The Browns originally played in the AAFC, then moved to the NFL, then were deactivated from 1996-1999 due to the aforementioned relocation attempt to Baltimore. The NFL decided that the franchise would stay in Cleveland but would be inactive for 3 years in order for a new stadium to be built. While the Browns had early success in the Paul Brown era, they’ve been lackluster in the modern era.

Current Players to Know: Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden – both quarterbacks vying for the same starting position. Trent Richardson is a Heisman-nominated running back and first round draft pick starting his first year in the league. Joe Haden is a force to be reckoned with at cornerback.

Head Coach: Pat Shurmur

2011 Regular Season Record: 4-12

What to Watch For in 2012: The Quarterback Battle between incumbent starter Colt McCoy and 28 year old rookie Brandon Weeden. McCoy has not been the franchise quarterback the Browns had hoped for when they drafted him in 2010, and all signs point to Weeden being named the starting quarterback in Week 1.

The Cincinnati Bengals

History: Remember Paul Brown? Art Model fired him from the Browns in 1960. In 1966 the governor of Ohio convinced Brown that Ohio needed a second team to rival the Browns. The Bengals, a name chosen to create a link to a former professional football team of the same name in Cincinnati, were born.

Current Players to Know: Andy Dalton had a stand-out first year as the Bengal’s QB. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a running back with one of the most fun names to say in football, will spend his first season in Cincinnati after leaving the Patriots during the off season. A.J. Green is an exceptional wide receiver who makes the most unbelievable catches you’ll ever see.

Head Coach: Marvin Lewis

2011 Regular Season Record: 9-7

What to Watch For in 2012: The Bengals have a lot of talent on their roster this season. The big question will be whether all of that talent can come together cohesively. And without tweeting, which Head Coach marvin Lewis just banned – at least through training camp.

The Pittsburgh Steelers

History: The Steelers were founded in 1933 by Art Rooney. The Rooney’s still own the franchise and are one of the most well-respected owners/families in all of sports. The Steelers were originally named The Pirates but Mr. Rooney changed the name to the Steelers in 1940 to reflect the heritage of Pittsburgh. (My favorite part of Steelers history? They needed to merge with the Philadelphia Eagles during World War II. The merged team became the “Steagles.” That never gets old.)

Current Players to Know: Ben Roethlisberger, the team’s quarterback, is the source of legend (for his toughness) and controversy (for his wild ways). James Harrison is a linebacker best known for getting fined by the NFL for his punishing, and often illegal, hits. Troy Polamalu, apart from being the face of Head & Shoulders, is one of the best safeties in the game.

Head Coach: Mike Tomlin

2011 Regular Season Record: 12-4

What to Watch For in 2012: The Steelers had a rough end to last season with an embarrassing playoff loss to the Denver Broncos. In the off season they lost star wide receiver Hines Ward to retirement and are currently entertaining trade offers for another star receiver, disgruntled hold-out Mike Wallace. They are hardly bereft at the position but it will be an adjustment all the same. Another adjustment: Todd Haley as the new offensive coordinator.

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