Future Bets - AFC North
June 26, 2018
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Is Pittsburgh's Reign of Dominance Continuing in the AFC North this year?
Last week it was the NFC North who got my attention as that division appears to be a two-team race for all intents and purposes, but this week it's on to the AFC North and wondering whether or not anyone can dethrone the Steelers.
Outside of the Patriots to win the AFC East, Pittsburgh is laying the most chalk in terms of division futures this year (-275) and rightfully so.
All three of their division rivals have significant questions to be answered at the QB position – among others – which could make it a runaway for Pittsburgh this year.
Odds to Win AFC North per BetOnline.ag
Pittsburgh Steelers (-275)
Baltimore Ravens (+450)
Cleveland Browns (+900)
Cincinnati Bengals (+1000)
Pittsburgh will be looking for their third straight and fourth division crown in five years this year and I really don't think they'll meet much resistance. Oddsmakers are inclined to agree given the prices they put out on the other three squads as neither of them really have better than an outside shot to claim a division crown.
Cleveland is continuing on with their rebuilding plan as the Baker Mayfield era is now upon us, and asking him to go out there and win a division title in his first year is a big ask. That's on top of it being the Cleveland Browns, a team that win winless a year ago and hasn't won much of anything this century – Cleveland has not won a AFC North crown since realignment happened prior to 2002 – so really it's just way too big of a leap to ask the Browns to make.
All you need to know about Cincinnati's chances this year is the fact that they are actually listed as having less of a chance than Cleveland to win this division. Bengals fans are going to have to endure yet another campaign with the likes of Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton at the helm and while there is an outside shot they could regain their division-winning caliber of play from 2015, the fact that a winless team from a year ago like Cleveland is more favored than Cincinnati in that regard is a telling sign. Bengals fans better be prepared for a lot of misery this year and for their sake, I hope it's the last time they've got to deal with Marvin Lewis and his winless playoff record in 15+ years at the helm.
Which leaves Baltimore as the lone “legit” contender to dethrone the Steelers and just a few years after making QB Joe Flacco the richest QB in the NFL at the time, they went out and drafted QB Lamar Jackson in the 1st round of this year's draft just to “plan for the future.” Making that draft pick could light a fire under Flacco's ass this year – probably what Baltimore is hoping for – but they aren't sold on Flacco's talent anymore as evidenced by that Jackson pick, and have already begun plotting a way to get out from underneath that bad contract. So in the end, this could be a solid series for this Baltimore organization, but in all likelihood it's going to be a year of transition for the Ravens where they have a little more than one eye on the future and what that may bring. That leaves us with Pittsburgh again and while the -275 price tag looks like quite a bit of chalk to swallow at first, I actually believe it should be much higher.
The Steelers have to be looking towards the future as well with QB Ben Roethlisberger not getting any younger, but backup Landry Jones has played significant minutes for this team in the past and is more than capable of stepping in should he be needed this year. He's got plenty of weapons around him in Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and others, so another Roethlisberger injury won't derail the Steelers season as a starting QB injury would for many other teams in this league.
Then, despite it being a “1st place” schedule for Pittsburgh in 2018, the way their games have been laid out, this year could be a runaway for Pittsburgh by the time Halloween arrives.
Pittsburgh starts the year by facing Cleveland, Kansas City (who begin the Patrick Mahomes era), Tampa Bay (with QB Jamies Winston likely still suspended), and the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore games are never easy, but that could end up easily being a perfect 4-0 SU start for the Steelers right off the hop. From there, they host a tough Atlanta team, followed up by three straight division games against Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Baltimore again. That's five of the six AFC North games the Steelers have this year done by the first week of November and if all goes well the division should be wrapped up for them as well.
Things do get tougher for them down the stretch with games against Carolina, Jacksonville, L.A Chargers, Oakland, New England, and New Orleans, before finishing with the Bengals again, but even a .500 mark during that stretch should be more than enough for the Steelers to win this division going away.
As much as I like to searchand argue for reasons that a changing of the guard may be coming in a particular NFL division and backing an underdog team with a chance, making a case for anyone other than Pittsburgh to win the AFC North in 2018 just doesn't seem to be anything but a pipe dream.
Odds per - BetOnline.ag
Best Bet: Pittsburgh to win AFC North
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