As the rest of the AFC North sit down on Sunday and watch the Baltimore Ravens compete in the Super Bowl, they will look on with envy but will have to come to terms with the fact that the Ravens are now the undoubted team to beat in the division.
The simple answer? The draft.
One of my favorite pieces of thinking in the NFL is that you draft to win your division, as simple as that sounds it’s very tough to actually balance out picking a player that “fits” into a division’s mold against getting the right value of talent for the pick you’re spending on him.
The draft is where it has to start, there’s not going to be much you can do immediately with a philosophy change and there’s not a lot of help in free agency to be able to shift power (this year especially if the biggest names get re-signed by their teams), so good drafting is the key.
The AFC North has always been predicated on tough defensive play and a solid run games and throughout the history of the division the team that has done this the best is the Steelers and has thus seen them win the most division crowns with a total of five. Their success has been achieved through the draft process over time, take a look at some of their first round picks: Alan Faneca, Casey Hampton, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller and Lawrence Timmons are just some of the names that have helped carry the Steelers of the past to success.
But in the past couple of seasons the Ravens have supplanted the Steelers as the power in the division through drafting talent that has fit into the mold of the AFC North and been able to mature into dependable players that can go on the road and win at Heinz Field, Paul Brown Stadium and Cleveland Browns Stadium. The best example of this is Baltimore drafting a tall, physically gifted, cold weather player in Joe Flacco, suiting the AFC North down to a tee, very much the same style as the Steelers picking Big Ben.
The challenge for the rest of the division now is being able to also find those players that can not only contribute right away, but who can also become dependable pros that will be able to pull out victories on the road.
Will they be up to this challenge? Only time will tell.