The AFC North was again a tough division last year, with both the Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) making the playoffs. These fierce division rivals faced off in the Wild Card round too, with the Steelers winning a gritty game.
The Baltimore Ravens (5-11) had a disappointing season, accumulating too many injuries to be competitive in such a tough division. But they’re expected to bounce back this year and feature another strong team.
It’s déjà vu for the Cleveland Browns (3-13), who once again suffered a terrible season that included cutting ties with first-round pick Johnny Manziel. Now coached by former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, Cleveland hopes to turn things around this year.
Can the Browns finally have a productive season in 2016? Find out as we cover the AFC North along with each team’s betting odds.
AFC North Betting Odds to Win Division (from GTBets)
1. Pittsburgh Steelers: Projected Record 12-4
Few teams have been as lucky in the head coaching department as the Pittsburgh Steelers, who’ve been coached by either Bill Cower or Mike Tomlin for the past 25 years. Tomlin has won a Super Bowl (2008) and guided the team to a 92-52 record in his nine-year tenure.
This history of success doesn’t look to change much in 2016, with a number of offensive weapons back for Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger once again headlines the unit, while he’ll be throwing to Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton – arguably the league’s most-skilled trio of wide receivers.
One potential problem is that Bell, who tore his MCL last year, is suspended for the season’s first four games. Lucky for Pittsburgh, they have D’Angelo Williams to step in if Bell’s appeal isn’t successful.
Like always, the Steelers will have another good defensive unit. This starts with Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward at defensive end, while the secondary looks to be the strongest that it’s been in years.
As long as Pittsburgh stays healthy, they’ll feature an explosive offense that can’t be stopped. Moreover, look for the Steelers to improve upon last year’s 10-6 record and win the division.
2. Cincinnati Bengals: Projected Record 10-6
Once again, Cincinnati turned in another good regular season under coach Marvin Lewis, only to lose in the postseason again. This makes Lewis 0-7 lifetime in playoff games, including an 0-5 mark over the last five years.
Perhaps Cincinnati would’ve ended this winless streak last year if quarterback Andy Dalton hadn’t gotten injured. After years of being blamed for Cincy’s postseason struggles, Dalton had his best year ever with 25 TD passes, just 7 interceptions, and a 106.3 passer rating.
Dalton should again have a strong year with the weapons at his disposal. A.J. Green is one of the best receivers in football, while Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill form an elite one-two running back punch. The only question mark is tight end Tyler Eifert, who’s on the PUP list right now.
The defense looks strong all-around, with a good front seven, and Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick locking down opposing receivers.
Expectations are high again in Cincinnati, and fans will expect the team’s first playoff win in the last eight tries. Anything less than this will be considered a failure that might cost Lewis his job.
3. Baltimore Ravens: Projected Record 8-8
As mentioned earlier, last year was a big disappointment for Baltimore since they’ve been a perennial playoff team under John Harbaugh. In fact, last season marked just the second time in Harbaugh’s eight-year career that the Ravens failed to make the playoffs.
Injuries were the biggest culprit, as even franchise quarterback Joe Flacco couldn’t stay healthy for more than half the year. His favorite target, Steve Smith, also missed half the year after racking up 670 receiving yards and four touchdowns in just seven games. Add in a season-ending injury to stalwart DE Terrell Suggs, and Baltimore lost most of their leadership on both sides of the ball.
Baltimore hopes to stay healthy this year, and they’ve added some talent just in case. This includes left tackle Ronnie Stanley, a top pick out of Notre Dame, and All-Pro safety Eric Weddle.
The Ravens have a good opportunity to start fast, given that their first four opponents are Buffalo, @Cleveland, @Jacksonville, and Oakland. If they don’t go at least 3-1 in this stand, they could miss the postseason for a second-straight year.
4. Cleveland Browns: Projected Record 4-12
This begins with new coach Hue Jackson and starting QB Robert Griffin III. After flaming out in Washington, Griffin is looking for redemption in Cleveland, and he has the stage to do so with a rebuilding Browns team. Unfortunately, he won’t have a good offensive line to protect him, outside of left tackle Joe Thomas. The main hope for this offense is that Griffin’s legs can save the team some sacks.
Griffin’s job won’t be any easier considering that the team’s top receiver, Josh Gordon, will miss the first four games of the season. At least the Browns used their top pick on receiver Cory Coleman, who should help fill in while Gordon is gone.
The defense could certainly stand to improve after giving up 27 points per game and ranking dead last in point differential (-9.6). Of course, this could be improved simply by the offense staying on the field to give the defense some rest.
In any case, Cleveland needs improvement in a lot of areas. Hopefully they get this improvement and can be competitive by 2017.