Our 2013 AFC North preview is probably one of the more interesting ones that you’ll have to pay attention to if you want to beat the NFL Futures odds. This is the toughest division in the league, and odds to win the AFC North are as tight as could be, as at least three of the four teams are expected to challenge for the division title.
Normally speaking, the year after winning the Super Bowl, you’re an overwhelming favorite to win your division. In the AFC North though, you’re barely a favorite, and at many online sportsbooks, the Baltimore Ravens (2013 AFC North Odds: 1.80 to 1 @ 5Dimes Sportsbook) aren’t even the definitive choice. QB Joe Flacco had one of the best postseasons that any quarterback has ever had, and he was paid in the offseason as a result. However, GM Ozzie Newsome had a lot of tough decisions to make after winning the Super Bowl, and the purge was certainly on right away. WR Anquan Boldin was traded for virtually nothing to the San Francisco 49ers, LB Ray Lewis retired, and S Ed Reed was allowed to walk to the Houston Texans. LB Paul Kruger was a salary cap casualty as well. Now, FB Vonta Leach, who paved the way for RB Ray Rice and RB Bernard Pierce to have great seasons last year, has been cut. Granted, there are some new faces to help fill the gaps, namely LB Elvis Dumervil, who should be a prototypical mean and angry Baltimore defender. This unit should be good once again, but will it be nasty? If so, it needs a bona fide leader that can strike fear into opponents like Reed and Lewis used to. We aren’t optimistic that the Ravens are going to get back to the playoffs to have a chance to defend their Lombardi Trophy.
The team to watch out for is the Cincinnati Bengals (2013 Odds To Win AFC North: 2 to 1 @ 5Dimes Sportsbook). The Bengals have been growing over the course of these last two seasons, and they should be proud of the fact that they have gotten to the postseason twice in that time in spite of the fact that it was beaten in both games by the Houston Texans. QB Andy Dalton is quietly a very good young quarterback, and the Bengals have a good combination along the front with RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis and WR AJ Green. The defense is improving, and bringing in LB James Harrison will only help build the intensity of this very underrated defense. We think that the Bengals could be a team to watch out for this year, and if we had to guess between the three best teams in the North, this is the team.
It’s odd to see the Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL Odds to win the AFC North: 2 to 1 @ 5Dimes Sportsbook) as the third choice in the division title race in the AFC North. This team though, was all sorts of average last season. Going 8-8 wasn’t going to cut it for a team that was expected to do well, but that might be the end result again this year. The team cut ties with both WR Mike Wallace and LB James Harrison, and though the core is still good, it is younger than you would think and might take some time to gel. The offensive line is going to be the key for this season. QB Ben Roethlisberger can’t be forced into errant throws time and time again, and he is going to need some help from his rushing attack, something that he just didn’t get at all last season. We aren’t worried about filling the voids of the players that are gone, but we are worried about finding a running back that can really carry the load for 1,000 yards. Perhaps RB Le’Veon Bell could be that man if he has himself a good summer.
Rebuilding is still the key for the Cleveland Browns (Current AFC North Odds: 7.50 to 1 @ 5Dimes Sportsbook). However, we really do like what Cleveland has started to assemble. QB Brandon Weeden probably isn’t the long term answer at the quarterback position, but the team didn’t panic in the NFL Draft and is staying the course. Instead, the club has built a defense that all of a sudden looks pretty darn formidable. The receivers are okay, but they aren’t overwhelming by any stretch of the imagination. We know that there is a lot of work to do for RB Trent Richardson and company to become one of the best teams in this division, but with a new coach, new ownership, and essentially a totally new direction to travel in, the Browns might be ahead of schedule. We don’t think that Cleveland can win this division, but to finish 8-8 isn’t out of the question with a relatively easy schedule to work with.
Cincinnati Bengals Win AFC North +200
Field Wins AFC North -230
Pittsburgh Steelers Win AFC North +200
Field Wins AFC North -230
Cleveland Browns Win AFC North +750
Field Wins AFC North -950
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