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All of our featured sportsbooks have NFL betting odds posted for the 2012 season. Today, our expert NFL handicappers make our AFC North picks and predictions for the season ahead.
2011 AFC North Standings
Baltimore Ravens (12-4) (Lost in AFC Championship Game)
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) (Lost in AFC Divisional Round)
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) (Lost in AFC Divisional Round)
Cleveland Browns (4-12) (Missed Playoffs)
2011 AFC North Recap: It’s not often that the Ravens end up winning the AFC North, but it also isn’t all that often that they miss the playoffs either. Last year was the exception to the former, but certainly not the exception to the latter. QB Joe Flacco got his team into the playoffs once again, and he won a game over the Houston Texans when he got there. That being said, the two wins over the Steelers and the victory over Houston in the playoffs was still wiped away with another loss in the AFC Championship Game. Pittsburgh more or less started to fall apart at the end of the year on the ground, and it paid the end result of having injuries all over the place in the first round of the postseason against the Denver Broncos. The Bengals were the surprisingly good team in the division, capturing nine wins and a playoff spot after being picked to finish dead last in the division and potentially with the worst record in the league. Cleveland had yet another dismal years and never really had all that much of a chance, but it did procure a solid draft choice as a result. Still, it might have cost the job for QB Colt McCoy, who might be on the sidelines in the year to come after a poor season in the West Coast offense.
The 2012 campaign is probably going to be a heck of a lot of the same. The Ravens are going to be quite the team thanks to their defense in spite of the fact that DE Terrell Suggs is out for at least a huge portion of, if not the entirety of the campaign after suffering an Achilles injury in the offseason. Still, S Ed Reed and LB Ray Lewis are back, and the likes of DT Haloti Ngata will be sure to help bring this team into the future. Offensively, the unit will have a full season to get used to WR Anquan Boldin, and of course, RB Ray Rice should once again put forth another 1,500+ yard campaign between rushing and receiving to go with what should be a heck of a lot of touchdowns.
Pittsburgh still has a lot of questions that it needs to answer. Its defense is aging and might not be as good as it has been in years past, and there really aren’t all that many additions that should make a difference either, save perhaps for the team’s third round draft choice, LB Sean Spence, a first round type of talent. Speaking of first round talent though, we have to evaluate the offensive linemen, David DeCastro and Mike Adams that were brought in as well. The Steelers clearly have revamped their offensive line, but they have a real question as to who they will be blocking for with RB Rashard Mendenhall hurting and not a heck of a lot of depth available at the position. QB Ben Roethlisberger has really made this a passing team for a change, and not the team that is just going to run the ball down your throat for the entire outing to run the clock. New Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley should be able to get this team back on the scoreboard more consistently with Big Ben and his young receivers, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders.
2012 Odds To Win AFC North & Super Bowl 47 Odds in the AFC North
Baltimore Ravens (+125 to win AFC North, +1600 to win Super Bowl 47)
Pittsburgh Steelers (+135 to win AFC North, +1700 to win Super Bowl 47)
Cincinnati Bengals (+350 to win AFC North, +4000 to win Super Bowl 47)
Cleveland Browns (+2200 to win AFC North, +15000 to win Super Bowl 47)
Note: All Super Bowl betting lines above courtesy of BetOnline Sportsbook
This will be the year in which we see whether the Bengals are fools’ gold or not. Last season’s team just seemed to sneak up on people left and right, and without a truly notable signing to change the culture of the team, it is really going to be up to QB Andy Dalton and second year OC Jay Gruden to get this offense in gear. Who will run the ball, though? RB Cedric Benson’s career is likely over with, and he certainly won’t be back with the club.
Just as Cincinnati reformed its offense last year with Dalton and WR AJ Green, the hope in Cleveland is that QB Brandon Weeden and RB Trent Richardson can do the same thing. With new ownership, the Browns are hoping for a new direction towards winning more games, but it is most certainly suspect as to whether that can happen or not. The defense is still iffy, and the offense really only has three pieces in Weeden, Richardson, and OT Joe Thomas to build around. There is a real question whether Weeden was really the right choice as the man to entrust with the franchise after taking him in the back end of the first round. The last time that the team traded up into the back of the first round to take a quarterback, it was QB Brady Quinn, and we all know how well that ultimately worked out.
2012 AFC North Final Predictions: This is going to be another year of much of the same for the AFC North. It’s just not going to be a great year for the Browns, and we don’t see the Bengals repeating their level of success with less of a rushing game. Pittsburgh should be good enough to get into the playoffs, and if the offensive line can come together, making the ground game more dominant, it might have the goods to win the division. In the end though, this is Baltimore’s division to lose. Yes, the Ravens have the harder schedule of the two teams thanks to the fact that they finished in first place and not second last year, but in the end, those games against Pittsburgh once again could make the difference.