2016 AFC North Division Odds Preview

The AFC North division wasn’t much of a contest in 2015. The Cleveland Browns were the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens eroded in a sea of devastating injuries and the Pittsburgh Steelers survived suspensions and injuries just well enough to make it into the playoffs.

This was the Cincinnati Bengals’ division a year ago, and it really wasn’t close. Andy Dalton was playing MVP-caliber football, Tyler Eifert was a red-zone menace and the Bengals provided a swarming defense.

A Dalton thumb injury halted a hot run, but the Bengals still finished 12-4, won the division and nearly ousted the division rival Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. Come 2016, Dalton and co. will naturally be out for blood.

Despite that, Vegas doesn’t seem to like their odds to win the division over anyone else. In fact, over at Bovada, they’re not even the favorite. The Steelers, at +130 own that role, with the Bengals close behind at +175.

So, does that mean the Steelers are the team to bet one? Or that this is just a two-team race? Let’s take a look at the entire division and see who is the best bet:

Pittsburgh Steelers +130

The Steelers up-ended the Bengals in the playoffs and were just as good (if not better) than them last year, finishing with just two fewer wins and having a very impressive offense. Pittsburgh might have a little less bite with star wide receiver Martavis Bryant out for the year (suspension), but they’ll be getting a healthy Le’Veon Bell back and really could still be as potent as ever on that side of the ball.

The two keys for the Steelers are obvious: health and a lively defense. Ben Roethlisberger and Bell both need to stay healthy and their active defense needs to keep showing signs of growth. There were positive vibes at times last year, but this was still a unit that did not consistently stop the ball through the air. If they’re better on defense, everything could balance out and give the Steelers a chance to take back the division. It seems that is what Vegas is banking on, at least.

Cincinnati Bengals +175

Vegas is at least giving the Bengals a close second place when it comes to the AFC North odds, as they’re right behind the Steelers to win the division. They should be, too, as Dalton will return at full strength, the defense is returning all of their key players and Dalton still has Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green at his disposal.

There is cause for some mild alarm, of course. The Bengals imploded in that playoff loss to the Steelers and could very well be reeling – both from that and the loss of offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson. The system will likely remain the same, but Jackson was a bright offensive mind and helped Dalton to easily his most efficient season of his career. Along with Jackson, wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones also left town and it’s arguable Cincy didn’t do a great job replacing them.

Still, the Bengals looked like an elite unit just last year and as long as they can get some receivers to help replaced Sanu and Jones, they could be just as good – if not better.

Baltimore Ravens +275

The Steelers and Bengals are playoff teams and are absolutely in the mix. No one is really going to refute it. Where the AFC North odds get fuzzy, of course, is with a healthy and dialed in Ravens team.

Baltimore never had a chance last year, as they lost a bunch of games early on in close, heart-breaking fashion, and then saw their team fall apart with massive death-blow injuries. It really started with stud pass rusher Terrell Suggs going down with a ruptured Achilles in week one, and continued on with crushing losses like Justin Forsett, Steve Smith and even Joe Flacco.

The good news is all of those guys should be back to 100% for the start of the new year, plus the Ravens have a deeper backfield, a focused defense and hopefully second-year receiver Breshad Perriman ready to finally make an impact. There are no guarantees, but the Ravens are a veteran unit, are well coached and just last year looked like a sleeper pick for the Super Bowl.

A Super Bowl win might be a bit ambitious to start things off, but we absolutely expect the Ravens to be competitive in 2016. But does that mean they can sneak up on the Steelers and Bengals and win the division? Maybe, just maybe.

Cleveland Browns +2000

Of the four possibilities in the AFC North, the Browns feel like the one that doesn’t have a prayer. Vegas seems to agree, as Cleveland holds staggering +2000 odds to shock us all and win the division.

A ton is working against Cleveland, too. A restored, young and active defense fell apart in 2015 and probably needs a lot of work before it gets back to even a respectable state. Losing key veterans such as Karlos Dansby doesn’t help matters, either.

Defense was a big problem last year, but with severe offensive talent turnover, the Browns could once again face questions on offense. Josh McCown is giving way to Robert Griffin III and all of the Browns’ main wide receivers from a year ago (namely Travis Benjamin) are gone. That could actually be a good thing – especially with creative offensive mind Hue Jackson now running the show – but assuming his first year on the job ends with a division crown is likely a grave mistake.

Cleveland is facing a major up hill battle here, both because they lack the talent and stability to win even 10 games, or the toughness to fend off three very deep and well-coached teams inside the division.

The only way the Browns pull it off is if the team buys into Jackson fully, RG3 experiences a career renaissance and the defense isn’t awful. With logic suggesting none of that happens in the first season, the better play is Cleveland finishing dead last in the division yet again.

AFC North Prediction

So, who takes the AFC North, then? Our money remains on the Bengals, who give you slightly better odds than the Steelers and still feel, from top to bottom, to be the more complete team. We do suggest you throw a bet at the Ravens and watch out for them at the same time, however, as they’re a veteran group and will be out to redeem themselves for their 2015 showing. Cincinnati┬áhas the most unfinished business to conduct, however, as they looked like a title contender before Dalton went down.

 

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