This week's question from our GMC Playbook series, courtesy of Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, gives us an opportunity to look around the rest of the National Football League a little bit.
As much as I would love to be sarcastic and go with the NFC South. . .seriously, it has to be hard for all four of those teams to be that awful. . .I think the pick for the NFL's toughest division is a pretty obvious one.
If you look at the standings in the National Football League, there's only one division that currently has four teams with records of .500 or better, and that's the AFC North. As we head into Week 14 of action, the Cincinnati Bengals sit atop the division with a record of 8-3-1, with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens all sitting as part of the six-way tie in the AFC of teams with 7-5 records.
In addition, all four of the AFC North's teams have scored more points than they've allowed. A couple of other divisions have three, but the AFC North is the only division where all four teams can make that claim at this point of the season.
To make things more interesting, all four of the teams in the AFC North have their issues, too.
-In Cincinnati, the defense has fallen off quite a bit from the pace they had established over the past couple of years (thanks in part to Mike Zimmer coming to be the head coach of our Minnesota Vikings) and, depending what day it is, either Andy Dalton is a franchise quarterback or should be run out of town on a rail. But they have a 1.5-game lead over the rest of the division as it stands right now.
-Cleveland now, allegedly, has themselves a quarterback controversy, as Brian Hoyer has slipped a bit over the past couple of weeks, opening the door for the potential debut of OMG JOHNNY FOOTBALL behind center. However, they just got receiver Josh Gordon back, and it doesn't appear as though he's missed a beat. That can only help.
-Baltimore has been up and down, and has now lost their best defensive player (in my opinion), as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata tested positive for Adderall and will miss the final four games of the regular season. If the Ravens can fight their way into the playoffs, Ngata would be back
-Pittsburgh has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, as they've beaten some quality opponents and had a stretch where Ben Roethlisberger threw 12 touchdown passes in two games. They've also managed to drop games to the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. . .two teams that are a combined 2-20 against opponents not named the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Like I said earlier, the Steelers, Ravens, and Browns are currently part of a six-way logjam (along with the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and Kansas City Chiefs) for the last wild card spot in the AFC. Not only do all three of those teams have a shot at that, they all still have a chance to win the division. The ability to be able to say that this late in the season is good enough for me to pick them as the best division in the National Football League.