Divisional preview time! – The AFC North

So it’s finally time to start my preview of the divisions, starting with the AFC North. It’s the division my team plays in, so it’s the one i’m probably the most switched on about, it will also be the one with most bias, although I do honestly do my best to try and keep my love of the Bengals and dislike of the Steelers out of it as much as possible. It’s not easy though. The filthy cheating twats… (yes I know, Burfict, Pacman, Mixon etc… bla bla bla)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the most likely winners of the division (Best priced Evens on Unibet and 32red, 10/11 most other places) And with good reason, they’re probably the second best team in the AFC. They were horribly (and satisfyingly for me), out-coached by the Patriots in the championship game last year in a 36-17 defeat. They certainly won’t be the last team that Bellichek out-coaches, and who knows, if Lev Bell hadn’t have injured his groin early on it may well have been a different scenario (If he had played the whole season he would have finished with 1,690 rushing yards and 821 rec. yards – extrapolated out from his record for 12 games…) On paper they have a probably have a more talented group of players than the Patriots do, they have Ben Roethlisburger, a top 10 QB (according to most) the second best RB in the league (imo behind David Johnson… May be a little bias there) and one of the 3 best receivers in the league in Antonio Brown. Add to that one of the best offensive lines in the league, and a young improving defence that came together nicely in the second half of last year and they are worthy favourites to win this division, and I’ll be honest, Even money for them is very good! I’d have them at odds on. This year they should welcome Martavis Bryant back, a dynamic TD machine who has scored 14 TDs in 21 games for the Steelers, but has a propensity to smoke weed on the odd occasion so he’s yet to play a full season for them, he’s reportedly looking very good this year, and has put on a stone of muscle. Get him back opposite Antonio Brown and CBs will have a tough time stopping them. Eli Rogers isn’t bad in the slot, and JuJu Smith-Schuster has had good reports as a rookie coming into the team. At tight end they have Jesse James who can do a job, and Big Ben likes to target his TE when possible. The problem for the Steelers is their home/road splits, they’re 7 points worse off on the road compared to at home. Add to that the fact that the Ravens and the Bengals usually play them close, and they always seem to have a shocker on the road to someone during the season, and at the moment I think they’ll be perennial runner ups to the Patriots if they make it that far. Also, I know full well how hypocritical this sounds as a Bengals fan whos team never wins a playoff game, but Coach Tomlin isn’t that good. The players he’s got they should be winning Superbowls. I have them finishing 10-6 this year. That will get them the three seed so they’ll be away in the divisional round of the playoffs and the championship round should they get that far, the same route that had this year actually.

Second place in the division, I believe, will go to the Cincinnati Bengals (67/20 whatever the hell that is, with marathonbet, generally 10/3 or so) with 9 wins! Now I may well be blinded by bias with their results this year, and I’m sure i’m probably over-looking just how bad that offensive line is going to be this year after allowing 40 sacks last season, and releasing the 2 best players on it in free agency… It’s not exactly a recipe for success, I know the Nflgirluk AFC guy thinks they’re going to stink it up this year (@Cumbleton) My theory is such… Cedric Ogbeuhi and Jake Fisher surely can’t be as bad as last year?! The team surely wouldn’t ruin themselves to such an extent without having a plan of action… would they?! The Bengals struggled to 6 wins last year and didn’t score much, not surprising after losing Mo Sanu and Marvin Jones in FA and then Tyler Eifert missing half the season and AJ Green sitting out the final quarter of it. The truth of it is, the Bengals have a loaded offence on paper. AJ Green with quickest 40 guy in history, John Ross opposite, Brandon LaFell had a quietly decent season, Tyler Boyd will improve again in the slot, then there’s Cody Core, Alex Erikson (although I fear he may be the odd man out) and Josh Malone if they need to mix it up or cover the seemingly inevitable injuries. Even at tight end they’ve got depth behind Eifert when he gets injured again, Kroft and Uzomah aren’t on his level, but are adequate. Then there’s the running game. Jeremy Hill was not very good last year yet still got TDs, and Gio Bernard suffered and ACL injury and is expected to miss the first couple of game, but they got Joe Mixon in the draft (you may have heard of him…Mixon story) He was arguably the most talented back in the whole draft and is dynamic on the ground and through the air. All of this could prove a moot point if Dalton doesn’t get time to release the ball, but he had one of the quickest release times in the league last season and they will surely gameplan to take out the issue of a likely sieve of a line in front of him?! And talking of Dalton, I have no delusion of grandeur with him, he’s not a player who can change the game on his own, but he is an above average QB in the league, and has all the weapons he could ask for around him this season. On the other side of the ball they have all the cornerbacks in the world, some of them need to stand up and be counted this year… Geno Atkins is still one of the best in the league at his position and Vontaze Burfict had a cracking season last year, and is going into a contract year looking in better shape than ever in OTAs. Add to that Andrew Billings and William Jackson who sat out their first seasons through injury and it seems like a good unit on the whole. They also have a kicker battle going on… Randy Bullock should probably lose his job to the rookie, but we’ll have to eagerly wait and see on that one! Who doesn’t love a kicker battle?! – Sidenote: We won’t have to wait long to see whether the offensive picks of Cinci of the defensive picks of Baltimore seem the most sensible, they face each other in week 1 with Cinci the 2.5 point home favourites (meaning that the bookies think the Ravens are actually half a point better than them in general)

In third place I am projecting the Cleveland Bro…. nah, that would be really silly. The Baltimore Ravens who I have at 7-9 (best of 3/1 at Skybet, usually a little under that). Now I feel I have to defend this a little, I did the w/l projections a week or two ago… things change in the NFL. The Ravens had 1 WR, they had an ageing TE and QB, they had a very good looking defence on paper, but other than Justin Tucker scoring 7 field goals a game I struggled to see where the points were coming from. Joe Flacco is nothing to write home about at QB, he’s had a good career and definitely made enough money, but nowadays, he’s much of a muchness, he did however throw the ball more than anyone else in the league last year. Now I won’t say they’re now loaded with pass catchers, I mean they only added Jeremy Maclin, and I don’t have a high rating on him to be honest, but he does go into this particular team as a probable 1a, or 1b alongside Mike Wallace. And that’s where my issue is with the Ravens. They’re just not exciting. And it may well bite me in the arse, but I just don’t see them scoring enough to win enough games to make a difference, there’s a little hype on Perriman, mostly from @jayhatton49, but I wouldn’t hang my hat on him doing much this year despite his physical ability. Their running backs and a whole load of average, Dixon is suspended for 4 games and Terrance West doesn’t fill me with confidence, although they’re both passable backs. Tight end is a bit of a mess for them as well, Dennis Pitta broke a hip and has now probably retired, so in my opinion it looks like it will be Ben Watsons to lose, although ‘double x’ Maxx Williams is looking to get involved too. Watson at least has some good seasons behind him, they targetted their TE more than any other team last year, so it’s a position worth keeping an eye on despite the fact that Pitta scored 2 TDs in the entire season. It’s a sad indictment of your team when your kicker is your best player. But in this case, he’s the game changer. So much so that Jay took him ridiculously high in our dynasty league draft. He justification? The guy scores so much more than anyone else at the position… The truth? He was second in fantasy kickers last year…  Anyway, their offence is average. Their defence however, that looks very good indeed, they were a good unit last year and have only strengthened over the summer. Jefferson was a sought after safety, they drafted 4 defensive players with their first 4 picks despite being low at WR. Marlon Humphrey looks an OK CB, if you can sign a guy called Bowser you take it, especially if he’s got a first round grade and is there in the second. They got a decent DE and a good OLB who can create a bit of chaos. It’s safe to say they are zigging when everyone else is zagging, and in such a hard fought division that could prove a good idea.

So, unsurprisingly I have the team that scored themselves one singular win last year as the likely last place in the division (available at 100/1 on MarathonBet?! 35/1 the best of the mainstream places) I have the Cleveland Browns winning 3… Although again that might be a little harsh. They have improved everywhere, which didn’t take much.. They had the #1 overall pick and chose a physical phenom in Myles Garrett the guy has like a 12 pack. It’s ridiculous. They then went with Jabrill Peppers the versatile “safety” and David Njoku the tight end, which triggered the immediate release of Gary Barnidge, so they obviously have faith in him! They did however lose Terrelle Pryor, their leading WR from last year, meaning the pass catching is going to rely on Kenny Britt who got 1,000 yards from Case Keenum and Jared Goff in LA last year, pretty impressive. And Corey Coleman, who, in fairness if he stays fit looks like a darn good player. At running back they have said they are going to lean on Isiah Crowell. He was bloody good (in this team anyway) last season, behind a pretty porous offensive line, if he can repeat that behind a much revamped and improved line then he could be a very good player indeed this year, Duke Johnson as well should do well as the third down/pass catching back. One issue is at QB. They have three choices. I personally think it should, and will be, Cody Kessler, at least he’ s had a season in the team. Brock is a bum, and Kizer is a rookie. I’m sure all three will get games at various points in the season. Kizer especially will take the last few games where the browns will be out of it. They don’t really need the #1 overall pick as they’ve got 75% of the first and second round next year anyway. On to that Offensive line. Joe Thomas is a first team pro bowler most years at LT, they signed Zeitler from the Bengals for a league high guard wage, JC Tretter came in from the Packers to play center, Joel Bitonio re-signed to play left guard. That leaves a probably rotation at right guard which should suffice. All in all it makes them one of the best OLines in the league on paper, and should improve the offence greatly. Being able to keep the QB on their feet is usually a good thing (Something the Bengals may regret) So while they have improved, a fair bit in fact, I still think they’ll struggle this year. 2018 will be their year though! I have actually had them to beat the spread vs the Steelers in week 1… Currently at +9 points in week one.

So there you have it, the first divisional preview of the off season. Plan is to do one a week for the rest of the off-season, but I may well write them all this week while I’ve got the time off so they might be released sooner than that. Or I may start on some other articles as well, more to the betting side of things, that is afterall why a lot of my readers are here!

Cheers,

 

Adam.

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