The AFC North has certainly been one of the most volatile, though arguably successful thanks to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, divisions in all of football over the last few years. Despite winning the Super Bowl just two seasons ago, the Ravens had a sub-par campaign last year and missed the playoffs. The Steelers were also out of whack throughout the year, which allowed for Cincinnati Bengals to amass an 11-5 record and move on to the playoffs. If you’re a Browns fan wondering why you’ve been left out of the conversation, it’s probably because Cleveland hasn’t won a playoff game since 1994. However, this season could be just as wild for the AFC North and the four teams in it.
Since Andy Dalton has taken over the reigns in Cincinnati, the Bengals have made the playoffs every year. Unfortunately for them, they haven’t been able to win a playoff game during that stretch. Last year the Bengals went 11-5 and had one of the more well-rounded teams in the league. Their defense ranked 5th in both passing and rushing yards allowed, while Dalton led an offense that ranked 8th in the league in passing.
This year, we probably expect a lot of the same from the Bengals. Despite the fact that fans may be not be completely happy with Dalton behind center, he does have AJ Green to throw to and both BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard in the backfield. The Bengals start the season with 35/1 odds, but they may have a much tougher road this season as we expect other teams to compete better than last year.
The Baltimore Ravens went 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs as the defending Lombardi Trophy champions. The surprise may have been that the Ravens shortcomings weren’t on defense, as many assumed that would be the case after losing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Instead, it was their offense that was horrendous, as they ranked 18th in passing yards and 30th in rushing, despite having two guys named Joe Flacco and Ray Rice.
To start their preseason off, the Ravens got a big 23-3 win over the 49ers last weekend. Granted, it’s just the preseason, but this might be a hopeful sign when you consider San Francisco made it to the NFC Championship game last year before being defeated by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. The Ravens currently sit at 40/1 odds and we’ll get to see them play on Saturday against the Cowboys.
Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping that whatever happened at the beginning of last season doesn’t happen again this year. They did finish the season with three straight wins and just barely missed out on the playoffs, but they wouldn’t have had to cut it so close had they not started the season with a 0-4 record. The Steelers look the same as they have when it comes to Ben Roethlisberger as the leader on offense and Troy Polamalu taking on the same role on defense. Antonio Brown will look to succeed in his second year as the go to receiver after the departure of Mike Wallace, and LeVeon Bell had some reassuring signs of brilliance last season as well.
It’s hard to imagine the Steelers having back-to-back seasons that resemble the likes of what they did last year. And with 22/1 odds, bettors can expect a much better campaign. You can check back with sportspicks.com for more insight into all of the Steelers games, as well as the rest of the NFL, this season.
Now the team everyone’s been waiting to talk about; how about the Cleveland Browns? Maybe it’s not the entire team but rather the expectations of Johnny Manziel, who many expect to be the savior of this squad. Ironically, Manziel is only the second biggest athlete to make his way to Cleveland this summer, though the other one is in another sport and is making a return to his home city. Aside from that, the Browns will once again hope to turn around their luck after a 4-12 campaign last year. As to whether or not it will be Manziel or Bryan Hoyer leading that attempt, that’s still left to be seen. In their first preseason game against Detroit, which they lost 13-12 to the Lions, Cleveland used a variety of packages for both Manziel and Hoyer, though neither was incredibly effective.
Another big concern for Cleveland could be the loss of Josh Gordon. Though he is still appealing the suspension, it looks like he could be out the entire season. The Browns aren’t getting a whole lot of love from Vegas, as they currently sit at 75/1 odds to win the 2015 Super Bowl. But if Johnny Football can somehow be what some think, the Browns could be a team to keep your eye on this upcoming season.