There have been three different division winners in the AFC North over the past three seasons with Cincinnati capturing the title in 2009, Pittsburgh winning it in 2010, and Baltimore finishing first last season. All three teams believe they will end-up on top this season and if you ask the Cleveland Browns even they think they have a shot.
Pittsburgh Steelers +120
Pittsburgh fully understands that the key to winning the North is beating the Ravens at least once in the regular season, but hopefully twice. Last season the Steelers lost both games to Baltimore and made an early exit from the playoffs via the wildcard route. A new offensive system along with a revamped defense could be the key to getting back on top in the division, but Pittsburgh has to hope that running back Rashard Mendehall is fully recovered from a torn ACL. It also has to hope that some of its veteran players on defense can hold-up for the entire 16-game season.
Baltimore Ravens +130
Baltimore won the North last season and went all the way to the AFC Championship Game, but the loss of All-Pro linebacker Terrell Suggs for the season with a torn Achilles tendon is a major blow to a defense that has been the heart and soul of this team over the past several seasons. You also have to question how much gas do players such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed really have left in the tank. The good news on offense is that the team reached a long-term deal with running back Ray Rice, who is easily this team’s MVP.
Cincinnati Bengals +400
Not too many people expected much from Cincinnati last season with a rookie quarterback at the helm for the disgruntled and then departed Carson Palmer. Former TCU stand-out Andy Dalton did not miss a beat as the team’s new starter and ended the season with 3,398 yards passing and 20 touchdown throws. His favorite target was another rookie, AJ Green, who hauled-in 65 receptions for 1,057 yards and seven TD’s. If both these players can continue to develop, they have the potential to become one of the top QB-WR combo’s in the league. The Bengals’ vastly improved defense is another reason the team made it back to the playoff last season. This unit finished the regular season ranked seventh overall in the NFL and ninth in points allowed.
Cleveland Browns +2500
The perennial doormat in the AFC North over the past few seasons appears destined to end-up in the basement at least one more season in light of the competition it faces from the three other teams. Cleveland went 0-6 in the division last season on its way to an overall record of 4-12. The Browns added running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weedon in the first round of this year’s draft, which could automatically help improve an offense that was ranked 29th in the NFL in total yards and 30th in scoring. The biggest thing that the Browns have going for them moving forward is a defense that ended 2011 ranked second against the pass and fifth in points allowed. It still needs to tighten-up a run defense that yielded an average of 147.4 yards a game.
DJ is a freelance writer that concentrates on his true passion in life; the world of sports. He produces a number of articles each week for BangTheBook.com as well as a select group of other websites that specialize in providing the most up-to-date information for the sports gaming industry. His goal is to write insightful articles on a wide variety of sporting topics that can provide an edge to today's sophisticated online player.