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AFC North hit the scheduling jackpot

Pittsburgh Steelers v Arizona Cardinals

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23: Brett Keisel #99 of the Pittsburgh Steelers signal for a safety against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. Steelers won 32-20. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

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Before the season started, we noted that the teams in the AFC North appeared to have an easy schedule.

They face the NFC West and AFC South out of division, which looked soft on paper. Usually “on paper” doesn’t translate to reality, but it did this time around.

The NFC West and AFC South are the two worst divisions in football, despite the presence of the 49ers and Texans. ESPN’s John Clayton notes that if the Jaguars lose tonight, the AFC South will have the worst out of division record in football at 5-16. The NFC West is next worse at 6-15.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that every team in the AFC North is .500 or better. The division is home to one of the league’s biggest surprises (Cincy) and the worst 3-3 team we can remember. (Cleveland)

On top of that, the AFC North has the top four defenses in the league according to yards allowed. This is what happens when every team in the division gets to play the Seahawks, Jaguars, Colts, Cardinals, and Rams.

What does it all mean?

The AFC North division champion is almost a lock to get a playoff bye and could get the No. 1 seed. Second place in the division is very likely to go to the playoffs, and perhaps the Bengals could hang around the wild card race longer than expected.

So much of the NFL comes down to schedule, but it’s rarely talked about. We’ve heard a number of times this year how the Patriots won 11 games with Matt Cassel, but no one mentions how they faced one of the softest schedules in football that year.

It’s not like it’s the fault of the Ravens, Steelers, Browns, and Bengals. These things even out. It’s up to them to take advantage while they can.

Which reminds me: Are you ready for some football tonight? A Monday night blowout!