The AFC North is always a tough division with Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati usually in playoff contention and at least one of them also being a Super Bowl threat. Last season the division was even more prosperous than normal with all three teams producing 10 wins or more and Cleveland ending the year with a 7-9 mark. There was a point during the middle of the season where all four division squads had a better-than-.500 record, and each looked to be in playoff contention. This year might not be as hyper-competitive, but the division still has four solid teams. Let's take a closer look at the AFC North, go over important games and make a few predictions. All odds come from Bovada.
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Super Bowl Odds: +2500
AFC North Odds: +160
Games of Consequence : Week 1 at Denver; Week 4 at Pittsburgh; Week 6 and 7 at San Francisco and Arizona; Week 8 against San Diego; Week 14 through 17 against Seattle, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and at Cincinnati
Baltimore added multiple pieces on the defensive end during the draft and seems intent on continuing to bolster one of the toughest defenses in the league. Most experts believe Baltimore will win another tight division race, and the oddsmakers have the squad as the slight favorite over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The team will probably need solid offensive production from its top draft picks Maxx Williams and Breshad Perriman in order to take down the AFC North.
Prediction : 10-6
Super Bowl Odds: +2500
AFC North Odds: +220
Games of Consequence : Week 1 at New England; Week 2 against San Francisco; Weeks 4 through 7 against Baltimore, at San Diego, against Arizona, and at Kansas City; Week 12 through 15 at Seattle, against Indianapolis, at Cincinnati, against Denver, at Baltimore.
Pittsburgh is suffering through a transition on defense and will rely on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the offense more than ever. The trouble, however, is that the Steelers will face a brutal schedule with two five-week blocks of tough matchups and could conceivably start the season with a 2-6 record. Pittsburgh will not reach the "soft" portion of its schedule until Week 9 and 10 matchups against Oakland and Cleveland. Expect the team to struggle in 2015.
Super Bowl Odds: +3300
AFC North Odds: +220
Games of Consequence : Week 2 through 5 against San Diego, at Baltimore, against Kansas City and Seattle; Week 8 at Pittsburgh; Week 11 at Arizona; Week 15 and 16 at San Francisco and Denver; Week 17 against Baltimore
Cincinnati will have the same issues heading into the 2015 season as it had in 2014-the erratic play of Andy Dalton. A quarterback is something that can't be fixed, and you either have a good one or you don't. Cincinnati's biggest problems will come from its tough schedule to start the year and after a Week 1 matchup against Oakland could drop four or five straight games. Expect the team to have a sub-.500 record heading into Week 9 where it will finally get a break against Cleveland.
Prediction : 8-8
Super Bowl Odds: +7500
AFC North Odds: +900
Games of Consequence : Week 4 and 5 at San Diego and Baltimore; Week 6 against Denver; Week 8 against Arizona; Week 9 at Cincinnati; Week 15 and 16 at Seattle and Kansas City; Week 17 against Pittsburgh.
Cleveland doesn't have a quarterback and will probably regress after last season's overachieving 7-9 season. The AFC North as a whole seems to have a tougher-than-normal schedule with matchups against Seattle, Arizona, Kansas City and Denver on the docket. Looking at the schedule, finding more than three wins on the season for the Browns will be a difficult prospect. A best-case scenario is the team will start 3-0 against New York (Jets), Tennessee and Oakland then manage to win two or three of the nearly unwinnable games over the next 14 weeks.
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Read more articles by George Monroy
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