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NFL: AFC North Preview and Predictions

NFL AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers

After taking a look at how easy the New England Patriots have it in the AFC East, I turn my focus to the AFC North.

Truth be told, this is probably another easy division to project, as the Pittsburgh Steelers are far and away the most explosive team the AFC North has to offer.

They’re not without their issues, though, while there is a mild argument for the rest of this division.

After all, John Harbaugh still got the Baltimore Ravens a championship once, the Cincinnati Bengals tend to be pretty annoying on a regular basis and the Cleveland Browns got markedly better on paper.

I’m with you here; Vegas loves the Steelers (-250 favorites at Sportsbetting.ag) to take this division and they’re even your second best bet to win Super Bowl 53 (+1200) out of the AFC.

Still, anytime you plan on betting on a team to do anything of merit, it’s wise to cover all the bases. With that, here’s a look at every team in this division and whether or not they could be worth your cash in 2018:

Cleveland Browns (+1000)

It feels criminal to even discuss the Browns. They were 0-16 a year ago and foolishly retained the guy responsible for “leading” them to a 1-31 record in his two seasons on the job.

Hue Jackson has proven to be a fine offensive coordinator, but a great head coach, he is not. As long as he’s calling the shots, I can’t really take Cleveland seriously.

At this price, given all of the upgrades in Ohio, you may have to.

Tyrod Taylor just got the Bills to the playoffs last year and is a lot better than Buffalo or anyone else ever gave him credit for. He’s not elite, but he’s a good dual-threat passer who can manage games and exploit defenses with the deep ball.

Considering he’s got Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman and Jarvis Landry at his disposal, that isn’t something NFL bettors should dismiss so quickly.

Cleveland got better on the ground as well.

Carlos Hyde came in via free agency and was fairly productive with the 49ers, Duke Johnson remains a viable scat-back option and rookie rusher Nick Chubb seems to be pretty underrated.

Cleveland’s defense is probably the hangup here, but they actually have a lot of talent on that side of the ball. This team quietly got a heck of a lot better and at +1000 is not the worst NFL division betting flier out there.

Of course, getting “a lot” better than 0-16 could still equate to one or two wins. Suffice to say, I like what the Browns are doing here, but that’s like someone saying “they’re okay” when you ask them if they like Maroon 5.

They’re not wrong and that doesn’t really tell me much.

Cleveland is interesting, but I’m not betting on them to do anything in 2018.

Cincinnati Bengals (+800)

The Bengals might have my attention.

They are another franchise that just shrugged their shoulders and re-upped a head coach that probably didn’t deserve his job, but at least Marvin Lewis has a history of sustained mediocrity.

In the name of Jeff Fisher, Lewis at least gets his teams to compete and they sniff the playoffs on a regular basis.

The Bengals have admittedly endured some pretty brutal luck over the last two years. Injuries across the board – namely to Andy Dalton and Tyler Eifert – curbed a pretty solid offense, while they are guilty of routinely shooting themselves in the foot.

On paper, Cincy is actually quite stacked on offense.

Joe Mixon, A.J. Green and the aforementioned Eifert could hand Dalton his best offense yet, while the Bengals continue to push out a viable defense.

I doubt it’s enough to trump the Steelers, but at +800 Cincy is not the worst sleeper pick when betting on NFL division winners this year.

Baltimore Ravens (+450)

While the Bengals intrigue me, the Ravens have better AFC North odds and are admittedly the better overall team.

Not only is John Harbaugh probably the best coach in this entire division, but he’s always put a very good defense out onto the field.

Baltimore has a slew of nasty veterans on that side of the ball and they’ve kept strengthening their most useful asset. I have zero concerns here.

The only issue really is Baltimore’s offense is just so putrid.

Maybe the drafting of Lamar Jackson convinces Joe Flacco to not just coast through the entire season or maybe he just supplants him and takes Baltimore’s lethargic offense to new heights.

That’s like going from The Hangover 2 to The Hangover 3 and saying it got better, I know, but at least Jackson brings dynamic playmaking ability to the table.

If Flacco isn’t done, the Ravens could be good enough to push the Steelers. They’re tough outs most of the time and that defense can be nasty.

I don’t particularly trust their receiving corps or a starless running game, but I do think Harbaugh knows what he’s doing. Hopefully, Jackson steals the starting quarterback job and makes the Ravens a better +450 bet than they already seem to be.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-250)

I’m not sure any of this matters, since Ben Roethlisberger is still playing and has a flat-out loaded offense to work with.

There are lingering concerns, of course.

The departure of offensive coordinator Todd Haley could shake things up a bit, while the team did trade away speedster Martavis Bryant and star running back Le’Veon Bell’s contract has yet to be figured out.

Those are things to address, while the absence of Ryan Shazier hurts a Steelers defense that probably wasn’t elite even with him.

Despite some problem areas, the Steelers remain one of the best offensive teams in the entire league and were a couple lucky breaks from returning to a second straight AFC title game.

Who Will Win the AFC North?

All of this 100% points to the Steelers to win this division, just like everyone expects them to.

That’s been the final result in the AFC North in each of the last two seasons and three of the last four. There isn’t much to suggest that will suddenly change.

Baltimore and Cincinnati are both competitive, but they have glaring issues and neither are close to morphing into some elite powerhouse.

The Browns are better from a talent perspective, but adding cast-offs from the Bills, Dolphins and 49ers doesn’t exactly make them the New England Patriots.

Pittsburgh undoubtedly has their own demons to exorcise, but they’re still well-coached and have the best overall roster in the division.

There isn’t a whole lot of betting value in backing them at -250, but that’s undoubtedly the right wager to make going into 2018.

Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (-250)
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