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AFC North Breakdown
Editor’s Note: Gary Bart joins the VegasInsider.com pro football handicapping roster this season. Don’t miss out on his selections on VI. Click to win!

The AFC North shapes up as one of the most competitive divisions in the entire NFL, which you can see by the future odds listed below.

History

Odds to win AFC North - per Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
Baltimore Ravens 5/4
Pittsburgh Steelers 2/1
Cincinnati Bengals 9/4
Cleveland Browns 15/1

AFC North Win Totals - per Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
Baltimore Ravens - 9 (Over -140, Under +120)
Pittsburgh Steelers - 8.5 (Over -125, Under +105)
Cincinnati Bengals - 8.5 (Over -125, Under +105)
Cleveland Browns - 6.5 (Over +140, Under -160)

Odds Subject to Change – Updated 7.29.15

The Steelers, Bengals and Ravens all made the playoffs in 2014. Baltimore upset Pittsburgh in the Wild Card Round and then lost a close game against the Patriots in New England in the Divisional Round. Cincinnati made their usual first round exit in a loss at home to the Colts. The last place Browns finished with an improved 7-9 record.

Listed below are my notes on all four teams and predicted order of finish.

1) Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are one of the best organizations in the NFL. They are led by head coach John Harbaugh who has seven playoff appearances in eight seasons and a Super Bowl victory in 2012. Ozzie Newsome is an elite general manager and a great talent evaluator.

Baltimore almost upset the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots in last year’s AFC Divisional Round. They were adequate on offense last season but struggled on the defensive side of the ball against the pass. I was surprised they waited until the fourth round to pick their first and only defensive back considering their weakness in this area.

The Ravens have an easier schedule than the Steelers and the Bengals. They added skilled position pieces to their offense by drafting deep threat receiver Breshad Perriman in the first round, tight end Maxx Williams with their second pick and running back Javorius Allen with their second pick of the fourth round. This will give new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman a lot of talent to work with. If the Ravens can resolve their pass defense issues they could be Super Bowl contenders.

2) Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers won this division last season but were upset by the Ravens in the opening round of the playoffs. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an outstanding 2014 regular season. Big Ben threw for 32 touchdown passes with only nine interceptions and a career high 4,952 passing yards.

The Steelers parted ways with long time defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau after the Steelers finished 18th in total defense and 27th against the pass. They address their defensive issues by selecting Kentucky outside linebacker Bud Dupree with their first round selection and unanimous first team All-American Mississippi cornerback Senquez Golson with their second pick. In total, the Steelers took six defensive players in this year’s draft.

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Pittsburgh will have a tough time matching last year’s 11-5 record. They play the toughest schedule in the league, including nine games against playoff teams while playing only four games against teams that had sub 500 records. Their schedule will make it difficult for the Steelers to repeat as Division Champions and they may have a tough time making the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the defense responds to the absence of Dick LeBeau.

3) Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals qualified for the playoffs last season with a 10-5-1 record. They have not won a playoff game in 24 years and set an NFL record by losing an opening-round playoff game for the fourth consecutive year. The outcome of that game was not surprising. The Bengals were not a very good statistical team, ranked 15th on offense and 22nd on defense last season.

Cincinnati tried to address their issues on both sides of the ball by selecting five offensive and four defensive players in this year’s draft. They went big in the first three rounds picking two offensive tackles and a tight end with their first three selections.

Marvin Lewis is 0-6 in the playoffs despite qualifying for the playoffs in six of his 12 seasons as head coach. It will be difficult for this team to make the playoffs this season unless they improve on last year’s offensive and defensive statistics. This statistical problem will be compounded by the fact that the Bengals have the league’s second most difficult schedule. If Cincinnati misses the playoffs or suffer another opening-round playoff loss Lewis’ job may be in jeopardy.

4) Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns were an improved team last season. They added to their talent pool with 12 picks in this year’s draft. Cleveland had two first round choices and seem to have made good selections in this year’s draft. They had a total of seven picks in the first four rounds. The Browns are in the process of building a very strong defensive line and were able to add players at a number of other positions including Florida State offensive centre Cameron Erving with their second first round pick.

The problem with the Browns is at quarterback. They signed 12-year journeyman Josh McCown who has never played a full NFL season. Johnny Manziel is starting his second year with the Browns. Drafting Manziel in the first round last year may be another costly mistake, similar to the drafting of two other first round quarterback busts Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden.

This is general manager Ray Farmer’s second season. He accomplished a lot in this year’s draft. I think this team will have difficulty contending for a playoff spot because of their deficiency at quarterback and as a result of having the ninth most challenging schedule.

  
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