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AFC North Betting Preview
Odds and Analysis
The Baltimore Ravens went 6-2 in their first and last eight games of the season en route to posting a 12-4 record, winning the AFC North division and earning the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. Ravens running back Ray Rice was their workhorse and focal point of the offense as he rushed for 1,364 yards and racked up 2,068 yards of total offense to go along with 15 touchdowns. They also had a top-notch defense that was ranked in the Top 5 in all the major defensive categories. Baltimore managed to win its first playoff game at home against the Houston Texans 20-13 but then proceeded to lose a heartbreaker to the New England Patriots 23-20 on the road in the AFC Championship Game, preventing the team from reaching the Super Bowl.
The Ravens lost an important component of their team in the offseason to a scary injury, as Pro Bowl linebacker and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles' tendon in early May. While Suggs insists that he suffered the injury while doing conditioning drills, many witnesses are adamant that he did it while playing basketball. Suggs then had surgery for the injury and is targeting a November return. Baltimore also recently inked Rice to a new contract extension that will pay him $40 million over the next five years and prevent him from becoming a free agent. Starting quarterback Joe Flacco could be next in line for a contract extension for a Ravens team that is +130 to win the AFC North, 7/1 to win the AFC Championship and 18/1 to win Super Bowl XLVII.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were blown out 35-7 in their first game of last season by divisional rival Baltimore, but they quickly reeled off wins in six of their next seven games to reestablish themselves as one of the league's elite teams. Pittsburgh's defense had a lot to do with that, as the team ranked first in the NFL in total yards allowed, passing yards allowed and points allowed, giving up an NFL-low 14.2 points per game. After their bye week, the Steelers won five of their last six games to close out the season with a 12-4 record. They lost the playoff tiebreaker with the Ravens for the division title and settled for the Wild Card. That would end up playing a major role in how their season would end, with Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos pulling out a miraculous 29-23 overtime playoff win. Pittsburgh is +120 to win the division, 7/1 to win the AFC Championship and 16/1 to win the Super Bowl.
The young, upstart Cincinnati Bengals were a pleasant surprise last season under the leadership of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who was drafted out of TCU, and fellow rookie wide receiver A.J. Green. The Bengals started 6-2, and despite faltering a bit down the stretch, they were still able to post a 9-7 record that was good enough for the final Wild Card playoff spot in the AFC. Even though they did get blown out by the Houston Texans 31-10 in the playoffs, their season was still viewed as a tremendous success. Dalton started all 16 regular season games and threw for 3,398 yards while Green topped the 1,000-yard mark and was on the receiving end of seven of his QB's 20 touchdown passes. Two other keys to Cincy's success were a defense that was ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL as well as the efforts of veteran running back Cedric Benson, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the third straight season. Benson has since been replaced by former New England RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis heading into this season, and the Bengals are +400 to win the division, 16/1 to win the AFC Championship and 40/1 to win the Super Bowl.
The Cleveland Browns continued their struggles last season, proving they are still very much in a rebuilding phase. They actually got off to a decent start, going 3-3 in their first six games, but they quickly fell apart, losing nine out of their last 10 to finish with a 4-12 record. The good news for Cleveland came in the 2012 NFL draft, when the team traded up to the third overall pick and selected running back Trent Richardson out of Alabama. The Browns are hoping Richardson develops into a franchise player, although former star and current Hall of Famer Jim Brown has his doubts. Cleveland will count on him to carry a big load right away this year along with 28-year-old rookie QB Brandon Weeden, who was drafted late in the first round out of Oklahoma State. Weeden is expected to compete with current Browns starter Colt McCoy in training camp for the top spot, and many NFL experts seem to feel he was picked to take over the offense. Regardless, Cleveland remains a serious longshot at +2500 to win the division, 75/1 to win the AFC Championship and 200/1 to win the Super Bowl.