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AFC North Overview and Predictions

1: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are as talented as any team in the league and barring injury to Ben Roethlisberger, are the main threat to derail the Patriots in the AFC. The offense is loaded with the “Killer Bs” … Big Ben, Bell, Bryant, and Brown. The team really helped itself in the draft taking T.J. Watt to bolster the LB corps. Five of the Steelers seven picks were on defense and their second-rounder, JuJu Smith adds another weapon to an already loaded offense. The Terrible Towels have a schedule similar to Cincinnati and travel the least amount of “air” miles this year than any team in the NFL. The Steelers figure to be favored in every game but two this year, probably a small home dog to New England and probably a small road dog at Kansas City … a team they’ve handled rather easily in recent years. Spin it any way you want, the Steelers are the second best team in the NFL and an AFC championship game date in Foxboro seems inevitable.

Current Vegas Odds to Win Division: -160
Current Vegas Regular Season Win Total Odds: 10.5, O -135, U +115

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2: Cincinnati Bengals 

The 2016 injury riddled Bengals saw their five year run of one-and-done playoff appearances end last year after the team went 3-5 down the stretch. All five losses were by five points or less indicating that this is a team primed for a bounce-back in 2017. Cincinnati has a number of things going for it including a good draft, a very manageable schedule that includes minimal travel, and a coaching staff the returns in tact from last year when five position coaches and a coordinator were new. The offense figures to be much better with a revamped offensive line and a healthy A.J. Green who missed the final six games of last year with a hamstring tear. RB Joe Mixon was taken in the second round and could turn out to be a 1000-yard back with 50+ catches. The defense will once again be solid and bolstered by free agency pickups at corner and linebacker plus a pass rushing edge player that can play right away. The AFC North plays the NFC North in inter-division play and the teams longest roadie is to Denver, barely 1100 miles. This could be a big year for the Bengals.

Current Vegas Odds to Win Division: 7/2
Current Vegas Regular Season Win Total Odds: 8.5, O -115, U -105

3: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are in a whole lot of trouble, with or without Joe Flacco. They would certainly be better with him but remember that since the Super Bowl win and Flacco signing his monster cap strangling extension, the former Delaware Blue Hen is just 21st in QBR behind the likes of Jay Cutler and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Baltimore’s biggest problem in recent years has been a lack of playmakers and there is little reason for optimism this year. Center John Urschel was a surprise retirement in the spring, Flacco’s No.1 and No.3 receivers (Dennis Pitta, Steve Smith) have retired and deep threats Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman are bottom third of the league and the team’s best back, Kenneth Dixon will be out for the first four game via suspension. Another major problem that the Ravens will have to overcome is the road. Over the last two year, the Black Birds have won a grand total of four road games and two of those are in Cleveland. This year, outside the division, Baltimore visits Minnesota, Green Bay, Oakland, and Tennessee. Your best season wins total prop might just be right here with a play on the under.

Current Vegas Odds to Win Division: +275
Current Vegas Regular Season Win Total Odds: 8.5, O +115, U -105

4: Cleveland Browns 

The nightmare that is the Cleveland Browns continues into 2017 on runs of 4-33 and 1-15 last year. The team finally had a decent draft this year after a terrible job by the front office in 2016. The quarterback situation is borderline Jets but it looks like the much maligned Brock Osweiler has shown enough in camp to earn the starting job with a chance to rebuild a  career he threw away in Houston. It still remains to be seen whether the Brockweiler can even play but he’ll give Cleveland a better chance to win than Cody Kessler or rookie draft choice DeShone Kizer. One of the few bright spots to touch on is the defensive line which will feature run stopping Danny Shelton and top overall pick Myles Garrett who has been a beast in camp and has received nothing but rave reviews this summer. The Browns get Baltimore twice, host Jacksonville and the Jets, and have winnable road games at Detroit and Chicago so with a “Perfect Storm”, Cleveland could win 4-5 games and bring some relief to a deserving fan base.

Current Vegas Odds to Win Division: 40/1
Current Vegas Regular Season Win Total Odds: 4.5, O +115, U -105

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