AFC North Season 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.
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.
Editor Note: AFC North odds preview for 2012, click here
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.