AFC North Futures: Can Cincy Hang On?
Just a short time ago it seemed the AFC North was already spoken for, but a red-hot surge combined with one broken thumb has put a lot of different scenarios on the table. With a two-game lead after Week 14, the Cincinnati Bengals are rightfully the heavy -1500 favorite to win the division with the Pittsburgh Steelers being listed as +700.
Andy Dalton broke his thumb in Week 14 when these two teams met and forced A.J. McCarron into the starting lineup. The sophomore signal caller will likely start the final three games of the season for the Bengals, but will get a break in two of those contests as the Ravens and 49ers both rank in the bottom third in passing defense. However, the Bengals also play the top defense in the NFL in the Denver Broncos in Week 16.
The Steelers lone loss since Week 9 has come against the surging Seattle Seahawks. Pittsburgh enters the stretch run with the fifth ranked passing offense in the NFL and will face two bottom feeders in terms of passing defense as well as the previously mentioned Denver Broncos.
The Steelers are red-hot, but their slow start has put them behind the eight ball now. Pittsburgh will need to continue their fantastic play and will need A.J. McCarron to end up more like Ryan Mallett than Tom Brady.
2015 AFC North Odds
Odds as of December 15 at Bovada
- Cincinnati Bengals -1500
- Pittsburgh Steelers +700
The AFC North has perennially been one of the tightest divisions in the NFL, but the 2015 edition has been a one horse race at the halfway point of the season.
Through eight weeks, the Cincinnati Bengals have gotten off to their best start in franchise history and sit atop the division at 7-0. As a result, online sportsbook Bovada has tabbed Andy Dalton and company with a -5000 shot of capturing the AFC North at the end of the season.
The only other team with a realistic chance of challenging Cincy is the Pittsburgh Steelers. It won't be easy for the Steel Curtain (4-4), however, as standout running back Le'Veon Bell suffered a knee injury in Week 8 and has been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign. If you think Pittsburgh can give the Bengals a run for their money, they're currently +1200 at the shop -- no shortage of value for black and gold futures bettors.
Here's a look at the book's full list of odds.
2015 AFC North Odds
Odds as of November 5 at Bovada
- Cincinnati Bengals -5000
- Pittsburgh Steelers +1200
- Baltimore Ravens +10000
- Cleveland Browns +15000
The AFC North was one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL last season and figures to be fairly wide open again in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens all battling for the title at comparable betting odds.
Baltimore and Pittsburgh are both at +170 (bet $100 to win $170) to win the division title at Bovada, with Cincinnati as the +250 third choice at the sportsbook.
The Steelers edged the Bengals and Ravens by one game to win the AFC North in 2014 with an 11-5 record but lost to Baltimore at home in the playoffs without leading rusher Le’Veon Bell due to a knee injury. Bell will also miss the first two games this season due to a suspension stemming from possession of marijuana last August.
The Ravens have moved on past the Ray Rice situation that followed them into last season and hope to continue getting great production from running back Justin Forsett, who signed a three-year contract extension after rushing for 1,266 yards in 2014.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco remains one of the league’s top signal callers and will need to adjust to some new targets with wide receiver Torrey Smith leaving the team as a free agent to sign with the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason.
Cincinnati was a bit of a disappointment last year following an impressive start to the season. However, Cincy’s struggles are nothing compared to those of the Cleveland Browns, who are +1200 to win the division at Bovada and are expected to go with Josh McCown as their starting quarterback for this season.
The Browns drafted former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in 2014 but saw him fail miserably in limited action, prompting them to sign veteran McCown, who is leading the team's quarterback competition even though he bombed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after signing a free-agent deal with them before last season.
2015/16 AFC North Champion
Odds as of August 22 at Bovada
- Baltimore Ravens +170
- Pittsburgh Steelers +170
- Cincinnati Bengals +250
- Cleveland Browns +1200
2015/16 AFC North Champion
Odds as of July 20 at Bovada
- Baltimore Ravens +190
- Pittsburgh Steelers +190
- Cincinnati Bengals +220
- Cleveland Browns +900
2015/16 AFC North Champion
Odds as of May 5 at Bovada
- Baltimore Ravens +160
- Cincinnati Bengals +220
- Pittsburgh Steelers +220
- Cleveland Browns +900
2014 AFC North Odds Preview
The Cincinnati Bengals weren't the favorites at the sportsbooks on the odds to win the AFC North division heading into the 2014 season, despite being the defending champions of the division after they went 11-5 last year.
But that has changed as the season nears and they are now +160 chalk to top the division.
Cincinnati sits as the favorite at Bovada on the odds to win the AFC North after they won the division by three games over both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens last year. Cincinnati went 3-3 against the AFC North in 2013.
Cincinnati Bengals Odds to Win AFC North +160
Pittsburgh Steelers Odds to Win AFC North +200
Baltimore Ravens Odds to Win AFC North +275
Cleveland Browns Odds to Win AFC North +650
It's Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, however, that are the +200 second favorites on the AFC North odds at Bovada, after they finished last season on a three-game winning streak but still missed the playoffs at 8-8. Pittsburgh went 4-2 against AFC North opponents last year.
Baltimore, also 8-8 last season and 3-3 in the division, is then at +275 on the AFC North odds at Bovada, with the Cleveland Browns last on the betting lines at +650. Johnny Football's new team could use some of the quarterback's magic this season after they struggled to a 4-12 mark in 2013. The Browns were 2-4 in the division last season.
2013 AFC North Odds Preview
The AFC North boasts the most interesting divisional battle in the AFC with three teams legitimately in the running for the title. Since 2005, Baltimore and Pittsburgh have each won the AFC North three times and Cincinnati has won it twice. All three teams made the playoffs in 2011 when Baltimore won the division and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati earned wild card berths.
This year looks more wide open than ever. All three teams look good enough to make the playoffs, but all three enter the season with question marks as well. The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, will likely watch the action from the cellar.
Baltimore Ravens (Odds to Win Division at Bovada +190)
Baltimore finished the regular season on a 1-4 SU and ATS skid, leaving many expecting an early exit in the playoffs. But the return of Ray Lewis from injury sparked the team to go on an incredible 4-0 SU and ATS run through the postseason to claim the Super Bowl title.
Many of the key members of last year’s run will not be returning this season including LB Ray Lewis, S Ed Reed, and WR Anquan Boldin. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice lead what should still be a productive offense in 2013, but can the defending champs deal with so much personnel turnover without taking a step backwards?
Pittsburgh Steelers (Odds to Win Division at Bovada +190)
Before Ben Roethlisberger went down with a rib injury, the Pittsburgh Steelers were 6-3 SU. But following the injury, the Steelers finished the season 2-5 SU and 2-4-1 ATS, missing the playoffs in the process.
Pittsburgh had one of the league’s best defenses last season, and even with some personnel changes that should still be the case this year. The key to the team’s success will be Roethlisberger’s health, especially with Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall no longer on the team. The defense alone makes Pittsburgh a playoff threat, but the play of Roethlisberger and rookie running back Leveon Bell on offense will determine the Steelers’ fate.
Cincinnati Bengals (Odds to Win Division at Bovada +200)
Cincinnati is on the rise with two straight wild card berths, and the team looks even better after a productive draft. RB Giovani Bernard will be a good change-of-pace speed back for the Bengals, and TE Tyler Eifert gives QB Andy Dalton a reliable check-down option when A.J. Green isn’t open.
The Bengals fielded a Top 10 defensive unit last season and should be strong on that side of the ball again this year. A well-rounded team with no noticeable weaknesses, Cincinnati should push for a third straight playoff spot and its first AFC North title since 2009.
Cleveland Browns (Odds to Win Division at Bovada +650)
QB Brandon Weeden and RB Trent Richardson had respectable rookie seasons last year as the Cleveland Browns finished 5-11 SU and 7-8-1 ATS. The defense was good enough to keep Cleveland in games last year, and the addition of first round draft pick DE Barkevious Mingo should make it even better.
The front office didn’t bring in much talent to boost Cleveland’s chances of making a quick turnaround, which suggests that the franchise is content to continue building slowly through the draft. The Browns could take a step forward as their young players gain more experience, but the AFC’s deepest division is a tough place to rebuild.
2011 AFC North Odds Preview
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won the NFC North three times in the last four years, and once again enter the season as the team to beat.They finished with the same 12-4 record as Baltimore last year, but edged out the Ravens due to the tiebreaker of having more in-division wins.
This year, it figures to be Pittsburgh and Baltimore battling it out for the division’s top spot again. Cleveland and Cincinnati will both be looking to build some momentum for future seasons.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Odds to Win Division at Bovada -110)
Pittsburgh fell just short of their third Super Bowl victory in six years last season, losing to Green Bay. The Steelers had one of the most dominant defenses in football last season, giving up a league-low 14.5 points per game and a microscopic 62.8 rushing yards per game.
They return all of the key players on both offense and defense from last year’s AFC Championship winning team, and enter the season as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens (Odds to Win Division at Bovada +120)
The Ravens have finished in second place in the NFC North in each of the last three seasons, a trend they hope to buck this season. Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and Anquan Bolden are all back on offense, and the Ravens signed Lee Evans to replace Derrick Mason.
Baltimore, like Pittsburgh, boasts one of the best defenses in the league. The Ravens gave up only 16.9 points per game last season, finishing behind only Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Baltimore should keep the division race against Pittsburgh interesting right down to the wire.
Cleveland Browns (Odds to Win Division at Bovada +800)
Peyton Hillis emerged as a star running back last season, rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 270 carries. Quarterback Colt McCoy had his share of growing pains, but also looked like a keeper in the backfield.
McCoy and Hillis should be able to build on last year’s experience and take a step forward this season. Cleveland still has a lot of holes to fill, especially on defense (with defensive tackle Shaun Rogers gone), but they seem to be going in the right direction.
Cincinnati Bengals (Odds to Win Division at Bovada +1800)
Cincinnati finished 4-12 last season, and then lost their best three offensive players (Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, and Terrell Owens) this offseason. As a result, it is hard to imagine there aren’t some major struggles in Cincinnati’s immediate future.
Rookie Andy Dalton will learn on the job at quarterback, and rookie A.J. Green will be his primary target. Cedric Benson returns as the team’s go-to running back.