The AFC North is a tough division and has been for some time. The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have taken turns running the division. Since the founding of the division in 2002, those three teams have at least won the AFC North six times with the Steelers leading the way with nine division titles.
For the Cleveland Browns, the rare occasion of not being in the cellar of the division has created hope that their first AFC North division title could be just around the corner.
Since the hiring of HC Kevin Stefanski in 2020, the Browns have finished third in the division twice and were last in 2022. Somewhat surprisingly, Stefanski is an even .500 versus the AFC North during the regular season. The home/road splits are polar opposites:
- Home: Cleveland is 7-2 under Stefanski at home against the AFC North
- Away: Cleveland is 2-7 under Stefanski on the road against the AFC North
Home teams have an obvious advantage in the NFL but the stark difference in the above records is concerning.
With the difficult start to the 2023 NFL schedule laid out in front of us, having two of the first three division games at home should be helpful based on the above information.
It might be simple to blame Stefanski for not having his team prepared for the difficulties on the road but it is important to note the quality of the other teams in the division as well. In the same way that the Browns have been tough to beat at home, the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers all have quality teams with long-standing cultures of winning.
The road to the playoffs goes through the division. With a loaded AFC this season, the wild card chase could be overloaded with multiple quality teams missing the playoffs despite winning records. For Cleveland to get another taste of the playoffs under Stefanski, the team’s first AFC North crown is the best route. Keeping a quality home record while improving the road mark is a strong way to get there.
Does the home/road split surprise you? What do you think is the cause?