<
>

Recapping division battles

Entering the 2009 season, most AFC North fans felt their teams had a favorable draw against the NFC North and AFC West. But during the year, the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns all had their struggles outside the division.

Here is how each AFC North team finished the season:

Bengals (10-6)

Record vs. NFC North: 3-1

Record vs. AFC West: 1-3

Analysis: The Bengals earned their first playoff berth since 2005 by dominating the AFC North. But they were average outside the division. Cincinnati posted a 4-4 mark against the NFC North and AFC West. Its out-of-division schedule started off poor with a last-second loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 1. It didn't get much better as losses to the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings followed. The Bengals did pickup a key win against the Green Bay Packers in Week 2, which prevented Cincinnati from losing two straight to start the year.

Ravens (9-7)

Record vs. NFC North: 2-2

Record vs. AFC West: 4-0

Analysis: The Ravens had the most success outside the division, posting a 6-2 mark against the AFC West and NFC North. They needed every win as Sunday's victory over the Raiders clinched a playoff berth. Baltimore was the only AFC North team to sweep the AFC West. A 2-2 record against the NFC North is respectable, but the Ravens blew a chance to make a huge statement with a 33-31 loss to Minnesota in Week 6. Former Baltimore kicker Steve Hauschka missed a 44-yard field goal late that could have won it for the Ravens.

Steelers (9-7)

Record vs. NFC North: 3-1

Record vs. AFC West: 2-2

Analysis: The Steelers posted a respectable 5-3 mark, but the losses were not to the teams everyone expected. Pittsburgh beat the Vikings, Chargers and Packers. But surprising losses to the Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs and Raiders are what cost the defending champions another shot at the postseason. It will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh's trend of playing down to its competition carries into next season.

Browns (5-11)

Record vs. NFC North: 0-4

Record vs. AFC West: 2-2

Analysis: Cleveland had a ton of trouble this year against the NFC North. The Browns were the only AFC North team to lose to the lowly Detroit Lions. Cleveland surprisingly played well against the AFC West. It beat the Chiefs and Raiders in back-to-back weeks in December and played the Chargers tough during a 30-23 loss. But at 2-6 against the NFC North and AFC West, Cleveland has to perform better next year outside the division if it wants to turn the franchise around.

Overall numbers

AFC North vs. NFC North: 8-8

AFC North vs. AFC West: 9-7