COMMENTARY | The AFC North was a converted field goal attempt away from having two teams in the playoffs.
The biggest story heading into Week 17 regarding the division was that both Baltimore and Pittsburgh had opportunities to sneak into the postseason. That did not occur, however, as the defending Super Bowl champions folded in the final weeks of the campaign, while the Steelers did not get the help that they needed from the Chiefs (and from the refs). One football team that never has to worry about the playoffs is located in Cleveland.
Maybe the Browns shouldn't have bothered coming back in 1999.
2013 end of season power rankings: AFC North
31. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Truth be told, putting Cleveland at 31 at the end of the 2013 season is a bit generous. The Browns wouldn't, if they had to prep for a contest that would occur this coming Sunday, beat any team in the league. Those players looked thoroughly checked-out in Pittsburgh for what was a regular season finale that could not, for Cleveland, come soon enough.
The new regime of the Browns is, thus far, the same as any other the franchise has had since 1999 in that those running the show are looking for a championship head coach, this time after Rob Chudzinski was given less than a full year to right the ship. No coach. No starting quarterback. No change.
Anybody who gives his time, energy and money to support this franchise deserves much, much better. Shame on you, Browns.
18. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Everything seemed to be going Baltimore's way at the start of the holiday season. The Ravens won four straight games heading into a December 22 showdown at home with the New England Patriots. They were also in the driver's seat in the AFC North title race.
And then it all came crashing down.
The Ravens were run right out of their own stadium by the Pats via a humiliating 41-7 defeat. Week 17 added insult to injury, as the Bengals beat Baltimore to guarantee that there will be a new Super Bowl champion come February 2014.
Baltimore fans have plenty to feel good about at the start of the new year despite the disappointing end to the season. The team has a very good head coach and a solid, if not elite, quarterback. Expect the Ravens to be in the playoff picture next fall.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Talk about an up and down season. Pittsburgh went winless in September, and the Steelers began the campaign at 2-6. There were whispers around the NFL back in October that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could be traded if the team got a tasty offer.
The Steelers, as you would expect from a championship franchise, turned things around in the second half of the season. Pittsburgh twice won three games, and a Week 17 romp over Cleveland put the Steelers at 8-8. One has to think that the team is a solid offseason away from potentially winning the division in 2014.
Offensive line will be a big talking point for the Steelers during the winter months. Big Ben isn't getting any younger, and his body can't take a beating quite like it was able to last decade. Still, at just 32-years old next March, we've likely yet seen Roethlisberger's final run at another Super Bowl win.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): It's "Let's see what ya got" time for the Bengals. Cincinnati ended the season with a perfect 8-0 home record, and the Bengals will host the San Diego Chargers on Wild Card Sunday. This franchise has been on the cusp of being something special for the last couple of years.
For that to end, Cincy has to get the job done in January.
The Bengals remind me of last year's Baltimore team that won it all. They've got a solid defense. They have real weapons on offense. They also have a quarterback in Andy Dalton who hasn't yet taken that next step.
Your time is now, Andy.
Zac has been following Cleveland sports since a little before his birth, and thus his heart breaks a little more with every year. He has been covering the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and the NFL for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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