We’ll be providing a betting preview for each NFL division this week leading up to the first set of full games on Sunday. We continue today with the AFC North. Click here for a list of all the major offseason moves by each AFC North team.
Not much has changed in the AFC North since a year ago. Or the year before that. Or, really every year before that.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are almost identical teams and the main threats to win. The Cincinnati Bengals have an outside chance. The Cleveland Browns are irrelevant.
It’s pretty much the same story every year.
The Ravens, defending champions, are the slight favorites over the Steelers, who also finished 12-4 in 2011 but lost both meetings with Baltimore.
The AFC North’s divisional futures odds listed at 5Dimes:
Most value: In this division, it usually seems like a good idea to just pick whichever team has the better payout out of Pittsburgh and Baltimore. But 2012 could be different, because the Steelers have a significant schedule advantage over the Ravens. They’ll probably go 2-0 in their “swing games” (see below), while the Ravens could very well go 0-2. That’s too much of a leg up for two relatively even teams, so we’ll go with the favorites.
Steelers: 10 (over -120)
Ravens: 9.5 (over -105)
Bengals: 7.5 (over -120)
Browns: 5 (over -110)
Best bet: The Bengals have one of the toughest schedules in the league, but it’s remarkably easy at the start. Five of the team’s first six games are more than winnable, meaning Cincinnati could conceivably start 5-1 despite opening the season at Baltimore on Monday night. A hot start should propel them enough through a murderous back half to get to at least .500.
AGAINST THE SPREAD
Welcome to Mediocre-ville. None of these teams have done anything significant against the spread over the past six seasons, and all four finished right around .500 ATS in 2011. Even the Bengals—one of the biggest surprise teams in the league—only managed to post an 8-6-2 ATS record.
Here’s a look at each team’s record ATS since 2006 (with last year’s record in parentheses):
Steelers: 46-48-2 (7-9)
Ravens: 49-46-3 (8-7-1)
Bengals: 48-44-4 (8-6-2)
Browns: 43-50-3 (7-7-2)
The AFC North is matched up with the AFC West and the NFC East, leaving one opponent each from the AFC East and AFC South as the only differences in the schedule.
Here are the two “swing games” on each team’s schedule:
Steelers: vs. New York Jets, at Tennessee
Ravens: vs. New England, at Houston
Bengals: at Jacksonville, vs. Miami (Weeks 4 & 5)
Browns: vs. Buffalo, at Indianapolis
Analysis: Baltimore has the curse of the first-place finish, drawing the Patriots and Texans instead of the Jets and Titans. That’s a gigantic advantage for the Steelers that will be tough for the Ravens to make up. Cincinnati is the biggest winner, though, drawing the Jaguars and Dolphins—probably the two worst teams out of all eight listed above—in the first five weeks of the season.
WHO TO FOLLOW
A Twitter follow list for beat writers covering each team.
Steelers | Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Mark Kaboly, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; Scott Brown, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; James C. Wexell, Steelers Digest