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AFC North

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The AFC North is one of the only divisions in which the projections for every team are exactly the same as a year ago. The Steelers are bigger favorites in 2017, mainly because they had three wins more than anyone else in the North last season. The Bengals and Ravens didn’t do much to improve their teams, while the Steelers still have easily the most high-powered offense of the bunch.

Odds to win AFC North

Courtesy of 5dimes (early August)

Pittsburgh Steelers -165 (field wins +145)
Cincinnati Bengals +355
Baltimore Ravens +395
Cleveland Browns +6000

Almost nothing has changed for the Pittsburgh Steelers (over/under 11) on the offensive end with Ben Roethlisberger still leading the charge alongside Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. But even better for this year, Martavis Bryant is no longer suspended and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster could even help in the receiving game. With the offensive line intact, the Steelers will be one of the better offenses yet again. It’s the defensive side that is coming around and making the team a legit threat to win the conference and challenge the Patriots. Tackle Cameron Heyward is back from injury and linebacker Ryan Shazier has another year under his belt. It’s the same on the back end with second-year players Sean Davis and Artie Burns expected to make a jump. If guys like Bud Depree and T.J. Watt also make some noise up front, the defense would be set.

The Cincinnati Bengals (over/under 8.5) have the second-best odds, but it’d be hard to pull the trigger on them with almost the same team as a year ago. Andy Dalton is still lacking major weapons outside of A.J. Green unless Tyler Boyd can improve in his second year or Tyler Eifert stays healthy. Joe Mixon was added to a backfield that’s featured Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill the past few seasons. The defense will be as good as it has been in recent years, but adding guys like Kevin Minter won’t make the unit elite unless youngsters like Nick Vigil and Carl Lawson can give them an added boost. Geno Atkins is great and the secondary is one of the better ones in the league, but this isn’t a dominant defense that can win games by itself.

It’s a similar situation for the Baltimore Ravens (over/under 8.5), unless the addition of Danny Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin turns this offense around. Even then, they lost Kenneth Dixon in the summer and Joe Flacco dealt with a back injury for most of the offseason. The offense could be good, but it’s unlikely they turn great unless their multiple young guys on the line really step up. Otherwise, the defense still isn’t good enough to hold down an offense like Pittsburgh’s. It’s plenty good and better than previous versions with C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs holding things down, but they aren’t as dominant up front. With new guys Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson in the secondary, that unit won’t be a sieve like it was two years ago and it may become a strength throughout the year.

There’s not much to say about the Cleveland Browns (over/under 4.5) as they still aren’t ready to challenge for a division title with a trio of quarterbacks fighting for the starting gig in Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer and Brock Osweiler. Other than that, the offensive line should be decent, but not enough to turn Isaiah Crowell or Duke Johnson into elite running backs. Getting Kenny Britt in the passing game isn’t a huge deal with Corey Coleman needing to take a step in his second year. There’s some excitement on the defensive side with Myles Garrett and Carl Nassib, but there are still plenty of problems outside of Joe Haden at every other position.

Unless major injuries occur, it’s hard to take anyone else in the AFC North than the Steelers. They have the best offense by far in the division and with an improving defense, the other teams will have trouble keeping up in the win column yet again.

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