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AFC North Betting Preview
Odds Favor Ravens to Win Division
The AFC North experienced something new last year when the Bengals dominated everyone else. I don't think the words "Bengals" and "dominated" have ever been used in the same sentence until now. The Steelers had an uncommon bad year, but in the past they have rebounded on those types of seasons to play very well. The Baltimore Ravens advanced to the playoffs with a wildcard bid where they thrashed the Patriots before exiting in the second round. The Browns, as usual, were lacking. They inhabited the basement once again in 2009. Last year is over, and everyone has a chance in 2010. Let's break down the AFC North and its teams this year!
Current Odds to win AFC North Courtesy of Sportsbook.com
Cincinnati Bengals - (Odds to win AFC North +350) It's going to be impossible for this team to improve on last year's 6-0 division record, but they hold a strong hand in terms of repeating as the AFC North champs. Many credible sources say this is the best team in the history of the club. They add Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant, Jermaine Gresham, and Jordan Shipley on offense. They will also have last years first round pick Andre Smith on the offensive line. The defense returns nearly intact after finishing in the top 5 of the entire NFL last year. Pac Man Jones could help on defense, and DE Antwan Odom will be a force on the line after missing much of the last two seasons.
The offense for this team will get much of its power from stud RB Cedric Benson. He literally carried this team on offense last year. He will have a lighter load this year thanks to the signing of several key WRs and a stronger offensive line. QB Carson Palmer posted elite stats the last few years, but was average at best last season. In his defense, he didn't have many weapons, but the front office went out and got him T.O., Shipley, Gresham, and Bryant. Throw Ocho Cinco in the mix and he has no excuses for a nonproductive year. If the offense reaches its full potential and the defense reproduces last year's effort then the Bengals will toy with their AFC North foes. If the offense is lacking then they will struggle.
The Bengals downfall in the playoffs against the Jets last year was plain and simple, a lack of targets to throw to. It was a one dimensional attack that was easy to bottle up. This year, courtesy of a playoff appearance, they have the 4th toughest schedule in the NFL.
Baltimore Ravens - (Odds to win AFC North -145) Despite a 9-7 record in 2009, the Ravens made strides. They earned a wildcard bid to the playoffs and made good use of it when they thrashed a strong Patriots team. The Ravens used their always strong defense combined with a good running effort to win games. They have a very capable QB in Joe Flacco. The young man is the best QB they've had in years and could develop into one of the best in the NFL. He has better weapons this year thanks to the additions of Donte Stallworth and Anquian Bouldin. TE Todd Heap is also going to be a big help. Also note, 5 of their 7 losses a year ago were by a field goal or less.
If the passing game goes cold for this team they can turn to star RB Ray Rice. The Rutgers alum is a small, but very effective runner. The Ravens backfield also includes Willis McGahee, and Le'Ron McClain. The defense for Baltimore is still top notch. Ray Lewis is still great at 35, and Terrell Suggs is no slouch either. They added Terrence Cody in the draft. College football fans will remember him as the guy who blocked a would be game winning FG for Alabama against Tennessee. As the odds indicate, the Baltimore Ravens have got a big chance to take the AFC North.
Pittsburgh Steelers - (Odds to win AFC North +240) - Who would've thought we'd ever get this good of a price on the Steelers this day in age? Given the scandals that have rocked Roethlisburger it isn't very surprising. The star QB is going to miss at least 4 games and perhaps 6 due to suspension by NFL. In his absence Dennis Dixon or Byron Leftwich will be starting at QB. We will lean towards Leftwich given his experience. Regardless of who plays, the Steelers will have to play the Falcons, Titans, and Ravens in Big Ben's absence. There is very little room for error. It's hard to advise a wager with so many unknowns about this club.
It's been said that teammates are tired of Big Ben's behavior. In fact many, including Hines Ward, have criticized him openly, and this goes back to BEFORE the latest incident. He's had to apologize to fans and teammates, and while things may appear to be all rosy right now, don't count on it. Talent is important, but so is team chemistry. The Steelers lack in that department going into 2010-2011.
Cleveland Browns - (Odds to win AFC North +1800) - As hard as it may be to believe, things won't get any better for Browns fans. There are some things they can get excited about though. Colt McCoy will be a nice starting QB in the future. Mike Holmgrem will have this franchise headed in the right direction very soon, but 2010 isn't the year for them.
To review, it looks like the AFC North will be a battle between the Ravens and Bengals. The Steelers have an outside shot, but contending with the loss of Big Ben for the first six games could be too much to overcome, not to mention the lack of team chemistry. The Browns are on the move, but still need a couple of years. If there's a futures play to win the division that has any value, it would have to be the Bengals at odds of almost 4/1 (+350).