Best Bets - AFC North
August 9, 2012
By Joe Nelson
The AFC North had two 12-4 teams last season, but Pittsburgh fizzled in the playoffs and Baltimore came up short in the AFC Championship. The Bengals also made the playoffs as this division had three of the six AFC playoffs teams, something that will be very tough to repeat in 2012. Here are some predictions for the 2012 NFL season and who will be the best in the AFC North.
Best Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
As usual, Pittsburgh had some of the best defensive numbers in the NFL last season, allowing the fewest points in the NFL with just barely 14 points per game allowed. The Steelers lost both meetings with Baltimore last season to fall to the Wild Card spot, so this should be a motivated team ready to reclaim the title even with an aging roster. Getting the second-place schedule instead of the first-place schedule is a huge advantage as Pittsburgh will face Tennessee and the Jets while Baltimore has to play Houston and New England. The entire division faces the NFC East and the AFC South teams and while getting to 12-4 again this season won’t be easy through a tougher schedule, the Steelers look like the team to beat in this division and a team that can make serious noise in the playoffs.
Best ‘OVER’ Win Totals Bet: Cleveland Browns
In the last ten years, blindly backing the ‘over’ on a team listed at 5.5 or lower has gone 17-11-1 including 4-0 last season. Cleveland has one of the lowest totals on the board, down to even 4.5 at some outlets but commonly listed at 5 or 5.5. The majority of bettors will be scared to play this as the Browns look like they are due for a rough season, planning to go with a rookie QB and having Trent Richardson already battling injury concerns. The schedule is also tough including seven of eight road games coming against teams that were .500 or better last season. There are some winnable games at home and the Browns are not likely to go 0-6 in the division again, even if they will likely be solid dogs in all six of those games. Cincinnati likely overachieved last season and the Browns have often played tough with Pittsburgh or Baltimore once per season. The second half schedule is somewhat favorable for the Browns and going against the grain and taking the ugly team has been a proven profitable strategy.
Best ‘UNDER’ Win Totals Bet: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals were the team in the Browns position last season, expected to be the worst team in the NFL by most. The schedule was incredibly favorable and Cincinnati got great production from its rookie duo at QB and RB. The Bengals went 9-7 to snag the final Wild Card spot and although they lost immediately in the playoffs it was a breakthrough season. This is a team that should fall in the standings this season even with some of the promising pieces in place. The schedule will be much tougher this season and they won’t be favored in many games on the slate ahead. Cincinnati’s schedule starts out relatively light after the opening week with five winnable games, but the second half schedule is absolutely brutal and the Bengals will be a candidate for a late season slide. Cincinnati was only 4-4 at home last season and the home schedule is difficult and getting another winning road season from this team is asking a lot.
Best ATS Performer: Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh is our pick to win the division this season, but Baltimore could be the better ATS performer. The Ravens don’t get as overvalued as the Steelers, in part due to being less popular nationally and also some skepticism with QB Joe Flacco. It is a well-coached team that has now produced four consecutive winning ATS seasons although the Ravens are a little inconsistent, usually getting upset by a losing team once in a while. The Ravens have a very tough schedule this season, particularly early in the year which could lead to a mediocre record in the first several weeks having to play Philadelphia, New England, Dallas, and Houston all before a Week 8 bye. The Ravens could become a play-on team in the second half as they fight for a playoff spot and with a tough schedule Baltimore won’t often be a significant favorite. Baltimore is 17-12-1 ATS as home favorites the last four years and this team can produce another positive ATS season.
Best Team to Fade: Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati figures to take a step back this season and they should be overpriced to start the season. The Bengals open the year at Baltimore in a huge game and then will get five straight games against teams that had losing records last season. This is a team that should be very hard to trust as favorites as Cincinnati has gone 3-12 ATS the last three seasons as home favorites. The Bengals might have a winning record through six weeks because of the easy starting schedule, but they will likely be overvalued going into the rest of the slate which is very difficult. The Bengals did not beat a single playoff team last season through one of the league’s easiest schedules and they are going to have a hard time matching that success with a tougher path this season.
Best ‘OVER’ team: Baltimore Ravens
The ‘over’ was 10-6 in Baltimore regular season games last season as this is not a low-scoring defensive oriented team anymore. The Ravens scored nearly 24 points per game last season, behind only New England, San Diego, and Houston in points scored in the AFC. Baltimore allowed more than 16 points per game on defense, very good numbers but that also came through a very favorable 2011 schedule. Baltimore will have to face several top offensive teams this season and the totals on Baltimore games are going to be shaded low based on the defensive reputation of the team. Ray Rice is the focus of the offense, but Joe Flacco threw nearly 34 passes per game last season and if Flacco improves from a career-low completion percentage last season, the scoring numbers for the Ravens could get even better.
Best ‘UNDER’ team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite low numbers week after week, the ‘under’ was 10-6 in Steelers games last season and Pittsburgh figures to be a good ‘under’ bet again this season. The philosophy of running the ball does not change for the Steelers regardless of the personnel and Pittsburgh may have fewer big plays on offense this season if the Mike Wallace holdout does not get resolved. Pittsburgh’s defense is getting older, but Heinz Field is always a tough place for opponents to play as Pittsburgh allowed just 80 points in eight home games last season. Ending the season with its worst defensive game of the season in the playoff loss in Denver should have the Steelers motivated to clamp down defensively this season, especially early in the year. There will be a few very low totals on Pittsburgh games, but it is hard to look the other way with this team.