February 22, 2024

2023 NFL season: Scouting the AFC North, key facts to know about Bengals, Steelers, Ravens, Browns

To get you ready for the 2023 season, we will dive into every team in the NFL, including the four teams in the AFC North, which could be the tightest division in the league. All four have a preseason win total of at least nine at Caesars Sportsbook. There’s never been a division in NFL history to have every team finish with a winning record, so buckle up!

Below we look at the scouting report for every team in the division along with one interesting fact for each as well as the best and worst fan moments in each of the franchise’s history.

Team’s most important players:

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Scouting report for 2023: An offseason of drama surprisingly ended with Lamar Jackson signing the richest contract in NFL history (at the time) to stay with Baltimore. Now the Ravens next challenge is translating their regular-season success to the playoffs in the Jackson era. The hiring of OC Todd Monken and additions of WRs Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr. represent their best shot at creating a championship contender with Jackson, one focused on the passing game.

Interesting fact to know for 2023: The Ravens have never had a WR make a Pro Bowl in their franchise history, the longest active drought (27 seasons) of any team without a Pro Bowl WR. Jackson has the most touchdown passes (95) of any player since 2019 without the help of a Pro Bowl WR. It’s not even close. Daniel Jones is second with 60.  

Best fan moment – Super Bowl win: The Ravens have two Super Bowls, Super Bowl XXXV against the Giants and Super Bowl XLVII against the 49ers. Jacoby Jones had two incredible touchdowns against San Francisco, the first was a 56-yard catch, his only reception of the night, and the second was a 108-yard kick return, tied for the longest in NFL history at the time. The Ravens’ goal-line stand sealed the deal at the end of the game. To add to all the drama, there was a blackout in the middle of the contest. 

Worst fan moment – Billy Cundiff kick: Ending a season with a missed field goal is certainly a heartbreaking way to go out, especially when it is a very makeable kick. The Ravens were facing the Patriots in Foxborough in the 2011 AFC Championship and set themselves up for a 32-yard field goal to take the game into overtime. Cundiff had made kicks from this distance tons of times, so everyone was expecting the game to continue. The ball went wide right and as the Ravens watched their Super Bowl hopes disappear, the New England crowd went wild (I can attest to this, as I was at the game). This is forever known as one of the worst missed field goals in NFL history. 

Team’s most important players:

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Scouting report for 2023: The Bengals are once again a Super Bowl contender, although Joe Burrow’s calf strain suffered in training camp could prove to be a hurdle to begin the season at least. Their biggest free agency move was signing Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. This should help their offensive line issues that have been present for years. They also re-signed linebacker Germaine Pratt, a major player to keep around. 

Interesting fact to know for 2023: Burrow has already won five playoff games, as many as all other QBs in Bengals history combined. Burrow’s five playoff wins are tied with Ben Roethlisberger for the second-most by any QB through three seasons in NFL history. Only Russell Wilson (six) has more.

Best fan moment – 2021 AFC Championship game comeback: Cincinnati was in its first conference championship game since 1988 and had to face the dominant Kansas City Chiefs on the road. The Bengals started off slow, going down 21-3 midway through the second quarter. Despite the rough start, they managed to hold Kansas City to just three more points for the rest of the game and had the lead with mere seconds to go. A Chiefs field goal tied it up and sent it into overtime, but the Bengals won the game with a field goal themselves. The final score was 27-24. 

Honorable mention – The Freezer Bowl: The AFC Championship between the San Diego Chargers and Bengals took place in January 1982 with a temperature of -9 degrees and the wind chill making it feel -59 degrees. The Bengals won 27-7 in what should have been a closer game. The win earned them their first Super Bowl ticket. 

Worst fan moments – 0-3 in Super Bowls: The Bengals are 0-3 in Super Bowls, including a heartbreaker in Super Bowl XXIII to cap the 1988 season. The 49ers trailed 16-13 with 3:10 left on their own 8-yard line before Joe Montana marched San Francisco 92 yards capped by a game-winning touchdown pass to John Taylor. 

Honorable mention – Eight straight playoff losses: As a fan, it can be hard to be too optimistic about making the playoffs if the last eight times you went ended in an early exit. From losing the divisional round in 1988, the team had eight losses, spanning until 2021 it won the wild card game against the Raiders. 

Team’s most important players:

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Scouting report for 2023: Death, taxes … and the Steelers finishing with a non-losing record. Pittsburgh has never finished with a losing record under Mike Tomlin in his 16 seasons, so a competitive season seems inevitable. They looked poised for more, though, as Kenny Pickett is a popular pick to make the Year 2 QB leap thanks to an overhauled offensive line and blossoming group of skill players. 

Interesting fact to know for 2023: The Steelers went 7-2 in the final nine games of the 2022 season to keep their historic streak of non-losing seasons alive. They’ve gone 19 straight seasons without a losing record, the second-longest streak in the Super Bowl era and one shy of matching the Cowboys’ 20-year streak from 1966-85.

Best fan moments – “Immaculate Reception” and six Super Bowls: The “Immaculate Reception” was picked as the greatest play in NFL history during the NFL’s 100th anniversary season. During the AFC divisional game between the Steelers and the Raiders, history was made with an unlikely catch. It was 7-6 Raiders and the Steelers faced a fourth down with less than 30 seconds to play. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw’s pass intended for John Fuqua bounced off the helmet of Raiders safety Jack Tatum. Steelers running back Franco Harris saved the play, and the game, by catching the loose ball inches off the ground and running it in for the game-winning touchdown. 

The Steelers are tied with the Patriots for most Super Bowls won by a franchise with six. Their wins are: A 16-6 win over the Vikings in 1975, a 21-17 win over the Cowboys in 1976, a 35-31 victory over Dallas in 1979, a 31-19 win over the Rams in 1980, a 21-10 win over the Seahawks in 2006 and a 27-23 victory over the Cardinals in 2009.

Worst fan moment – Losing in Super Bowl to Packers: The 2010 season ended with Super Bowl XLV between the Steelers and Packers. On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Steelers had their third turnover, a fumble by Rashard Mendenhall. The Packers recovered and scored a touchdown off the Steelers mistake. The Packers went on to win 31-25. 

Team’s most important players:

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Scouting report for 2023: The Browns will go as far as Deshaun Watson takes them in 2023. He struggled mightily in six games with the Browns last year after missing nearly two seasons. Cleveland can make some noise in the AFC North if Watson can return to form and live up to his NFL-record deal ($230 million guaranteed). Additions Dalvin Tomlinson, Juan Thornhill and Za’Darius Smith can also bolster a Browns defense that performed below expectations in 2022.

Interesting fact to know for 2023: Nick Chubb is the first player in NFL history with at least 5 yards per rush in five straight seasons (min. 100 rushes each season) and he’s done it in the first five years of his career. The last player (prior to Chubb) with even 6,000 rushing yards and at least five yards per carry across his first five NFL seasons also played for the Cleveland Browns. Jim Brown. 

Best fan moments – Hail Mary on Halloween: The Browns came back to the league as an expansion team in 1999 and only had two wins that season. One of their wins came in dramatic fashion on Halloween against the Saints. With two seconds left and on the 44-yard line, Tim Couch went with a Hail Mary to Kevin Johnson, who made the catch after defender Sammy Knight fell to the ground. The Browns won 21-16, shocking the Saints and getting their first win back in the NFL. 

Honorable mention: The Browns stunned the Steelers in the 2021 wild card game, scoring four unanswered touchdowns in the first quarter. Four members of the Cleveland defense had interceptions and the offense also spread the wealth, with four players getting into the end zone. The 48-37 victory marked the team’s first playoff win since 1994. 

Worst fan moments: Browns move out of Cleveland: The move from Cleveland to Baltimore came with a lot of controversy. The owner of the Browns at the time, Art Modell, announced he wanted to move the team to Baltimore in the middle of the season. The next day, Cleveland voters approved to remodel Cleveland Stadium. The Browns were deactivated in February 1996. There were lawsuits, protests and Congress hearings over this move. 

Honorable mentions: 0-win season in 2017: The 2017 season was a disaster for Cleveland under head coach Hue Jackson. The team finished 0-16, becoming the first team with multiple and consecutive seasons with 15 or more losses. The team did win all four preseason games, but the optimism ended there. Browns fans could be found in the stands with a paper bag over their head, in utter embarrassment of the team. 

“The Drive” and “The Fumble”: The Browns lost the 1986 and 1987 AFC Championship games in devastating fashion, both to the Broncos. John Elway engineered a 98-yard drive to win the 1986 AFC Championship and Earnest Byner’s fumble at the goal line near the end of the 1986 AFC Championship proved to be the pivotal play

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