2011 AFC North Predictions and NFL Futures Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 8/23/2011
You know exactly what you’re going to get from the AFC North each year:
Blood and pain.
Pittsburgh will again be a Super Bowl threat. Baltimore will again be the able challenger led by a violent defense. Cleveland and Cincinnati? Yeah, they suck just as badly as they have for the past 20 years.
In a way it’s comforting, especially as an NFL handicapper. Not much is secure and stable in pro football and in NFL betting. So being able to rely on the physicality of the Steelers and Ravens and the ineptitude of the Browns and Bengals is like that quiet cup of coffee in the morning while watching the sunrise.
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Or a bit like watching a dog maiming a squirrel.
Here are my AFC North predictions and NFL betting odds for my 2011:
Pittsburgh Steelers Predictions
2010 Record: 12-4 (5-3 home, 7-1 road)
2010 Against the Spread: 10-6 ATS, 7-9 vs. Total
2010 Rankings: 14th offense (14th pass, 11th rush); 2nd overall (11th pass, 1st rush)
2011 Odds: 14/1 to win SB, 6.5/1 to win AFC, 1/1 to win AFC North, 10.5 wins O/U
Offense: This unit had no cohesion last year. Big Ben missed the first four games of the season due to suspension. The offensive line had just one guy start all 16 games. The receiving corps was constantly in flux. Well, the offense appears all systems go this season. Yes, they have legit questions about their offensive line depth. But who doesn’t at this point? Rasher Mendenhall looks great. Pittsburgh has excellent depth at receiver. And Big Ben looks healthy and focused. They can beat teams a variety of ways. And as long as their line holds up then this unit should return to the Top 10.
Defense: There isn’t much to say that you shouldn’t already know about this crew. Pittsburgh has had the best defense in football over the course of the last five years and they brought everyone back to inflict more punishment upon the rest of the league (rule changes be damned). Health is the lone concern for this group. They need Troy Polamalu to stay healthy if they want to maintain their elite, Super Bowl champion-caliber status. And if they can get 16 games out of their corners and defensive ends (their linebacking corps is ridiculously durable and deep) then this unit should continue to dominate.
Skinny: These are the same Steelers that we have seen win two Super Bowls and play in three overall over the course of the last six years. They have continuity in system, scheme and on the roster, and this group understands what it takes to win in January. With the rest of the division still in flux, and with their primary AFC contender (New England) still trying to shore up some issues (toughness, playoff experience), I don’t see a single reason that the Steel City couldn’t be hosting Super Bowl parties again this season.
Baltimore Ravens Predictions
2010 Record: 12-4 (7-1 home, 5-3 road)
2010 Against the Spread: 8-7-1 ATS; 7-9 vs. Total
2010 Rankings: 22nd offense (20th pass, 14th rush); 10th defense (21st pass, 6th rush)
2011 Odds: 16/1 to win SB, 7.5/1 to win AFC, 1.2/1 to win AFC North, 10.5 wins O/U
Offense: The Ravens are hoping that some addition by subtraction will help boost this group, as Baltimore cleared out some aging and/or underperforming players to clear the way for some young bucks. Todd Heap, Derrick Mason and Willis McGahee are gone. The offensive line has also been reshuffled. But now all of the pressure on is on Joe Flacco after the Baltimore brass had been shielding him through his first couple seasons. Ray Rice is still a stud and this team is still going to hammer the ball on the ground in order to set up play action. But if this team can’t find a playmaker – a guy that can break one on his own – then I think they will still be left to grind out wins.
Defense: This unit is still the foundation of this franchise. But free agency has been a jackhammer the last two years, with many of Baltimore’s starters departing for other teams. This summer it was Dawan Landry, Josh Wilson and Kelly Gregg heading for greener pastures. The Ravens lost three of four starters from a weak secondary and their two leaders – Ed Reed and Ray Lewis – have clearly started to slow down. General Manager Ozzie Newsome has done an excellent job of building up the talent pool on defense. But their depth is not where it was. And if they don’t get better secondary play from a weaker cast of players I see the Ravens dropping out of the Top 10 in total defense for just the second time since 1999.
Skinny: I have bad vibes about the Ravens this year. I think they lost too many veterans and their depth on defense has been demolished through free agency the last two years. They had six close wins last year and their Pythagorean wins mark pegged them as one of the league’s biggest overachievers. I am still not a big John Harbaugh fan and I think that the Ravens are an injury or two away from having a season like 2007 (they went from 13 wins to five) or 2009 (11 wins to nine).
Cleveland Browns Predictions
2010 Record: 7-9 (1-7 home, 6-2 road)
2010 Against the Spread: 8-8 ATS, 7-9 vs. Total
2010 Rankings: 29th offense (29th pass, 20th rush); 22nd defense (18th pass, 27th rush)
2011 Odds: 80/1 to win SB, 40/1 to win AFC, 8/1 to win AFC North, 6.5 wins O/U
Offense: I am absolutely, 100 percent buying into Colt McCoy. I think he is a future Pro Bowler and that he finally gives the Browns the franchise quarterback they have lacked since Bernie Kosar hung them up. The bad news is that McCoy is still surrounded by one of the goofiest cast of skill players in the NFL. Peyton Hillis had a great start to 2009 but really wore down in December. The receiving corps is atrocious and they lack depth at all skill positions behind the starters. McCoy will make plays inside and outside of the pocket. But until he gets something to work with (that’s you, Greg Little) the Browns will be limited on offense.
Defense: Cleveland is changing its defensive system for the third time in four years, moving back to the 4-3 right at the time when they finally had a roster full of guys for the 3-4. How they handle the switch back will be a major theme for this team. Cleveland simply lost too many quality players – Matt Roth, Shaun Rogers, Robaire Smith, etc. – for the transition to go too smoothly. But young, underappreciated stalwarts like T.J. Ward and D-Qwell Jackson give these guys something to build on. Cleveland has zero depth. And they have already been fighting injuries in the preseason. If this unit can hold it together they may be able to build on last year’s promising No. 13 ranking in points allowed per game.
Skinny: There are some signs pointing to the Browns as a spoiler this year. They may not be a full-blown sleeper, but they will be a team that can make some noise. If McCoy stays healthy I think he will win a couple games for this team. And the fact is, the Browns were 6-10 last year but two of their wins came when they delivered ass-kickings to New Orleans and New England. They were the only team in the NFL to beat the defending champions AND the 14-2 Pats. That was a glimpse. The Browns start with four of six games at home and a bye week before one of their road tests. They should get off to a fast start and get some much-needed confidence.
Cincinnati Bengals Predictions
2010 Record: 4-12 (2-6 home, 2-6 road)
2010 Against the Spread: 8-7-1 ATS, 7-9 vs. Total
2010 Rankings: 20th offense (13th pass, 27th rush); 15th defense (14th pass, 19th rush)
2011 Odds: 100/1 to win SB, 50/1 to win AFC, 18/1 to win AFC North, 5.5 wins O/U
Offense: When you have a rookie quarterback, behind a shoddy line, throwing to a rookie No. 1 receiver, your offense isn’t going to pick up a lot of third-and-longs. The Bengals are a disaster on this side of the ball and I simply do not see how they will consistently move the ball. They were disappointing on offense last year, and that was with former Pro Bowlers Carson Palmer, Terrell Owens, and Chad Johnson leading the charge. There is no possible way this group will improve. And I am wincing at the thought of Dalton’s first time up against the Steelers defense. It will be stunning if the Bengals gain more than five first downs in that one.
Defense: I feel bad for the Bengals defense. They have some guys on this side of the ball that deserve more credit. Domata Peko has long been one of my favorite linemen in the NFL. The linebacking corps is strong and athletic. And the secondary, even without John Joseph, should be able to hold its own. Cincinnati still has one of the worst pass rushes in football. As a result, they can’t cover the pass and they can’t get critical third down stops to stall drives. Further, these guys are going to be on the field a ton this year because their offense is so bad. That could make for an uncomfortable locker room as the veteran defenders try to be patient with the young offense.
Skinny: Wow, this team is terrible. Cincinnati is by far the worst team in the NFL right now and there is a great chance that they go 2-14 or 3-13. I was not sold on Andy Dalton even sticking in the NFL. Now he’s starting. They have a terrible line, they lost their quarterback and top two receivers, and they let two of their best defenders walk away. Marvin Lewis is a terrible coach, Mike Brown is a fiendish owner, and all-in-all there is nothing (outside of some underrated defenders) to savor about this team. It is going to be another long year in Cincy and I expect the paper bags to be over fans’ heads before Halloween.
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports and NFL handicapper for Doc’s Sports. In 2009 his NFL picks brought home +62.5 Units for his clients and in 2010 he managed another profitable overall football season (college and NFL). He guarantees a winning football season this year or he will work for free until you turn a profit. You can sign up for his college football and NFL picks and get more information here.
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