The AFC North appears wide open this season, with Pittsburgh, Cinci & Baltimore all given realistic shots. Maybe even the Browns will surprise behind Johnny Football. Here's a look at each team's NFL odds for a finish of No. 1-4.
NFL odds: first +180, second +225, third +250, fourth +450
The pressure is off quarterback Andy Dalton now that he got his huge extension, which means it shifts to Marvin Lewis, who is on those "first coach to be fired" props at the various sportsbooks, like Bovada. The Bengals are pretty clearly the most talented roster in the division, and if Dalton plays like he did last regular season this will be a very good offense. Second-year running back Gio Bernard is going to have a big season (remember that in your fantasy football drafts). The defense will be the AFC North's best now that star defensive tackle Geno Atkins has been medically cleared after tearing his ACL against Miami on Halloween Night 2013. Plus Cincinnati catches a break in Week 1 at Baltimore in that it doesn't have to worry about Ravens running back Ray Rice. The Bengals could get off to a 3-0 start -- home vs. Atlanta and Tennessee after visiting Baltimore -- and lead the division wire-to-wire.
NFL odds: first +200, second +225, third +250, fourth +450
Oddsmakers are higher on the Steelers than I am, and I happen to know they are taking some decent action at the sportsbooks. For example, at a few Pittsburgh is the AFC North favorite even though it has a smaller wins total and longer AFC title odds than Cincinnati does. I'm not really sure why other than because Pittsburgh simply isn't supposed to be mediocre for too long. Ben Roethlisberger doesn't have a very good group of receivers other than Antonio Brown -- Big Ben was angry at the team for not addressing offense with its first-round pick in May and instead taking Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. The Steelers figure to start 1-2, beating Cleveland at Heinz Field in Week 1 but then losing at Baltimore and Carolina in Weeks 2-3. That could put Pittsburgh quickly two games behind the Bengals.
NFL odds: first +260, second +250, third +220, fourth +320
The Ravens got a major break in that Rice was suspended only two games -- most thought he deserved perhaps six games for assaulting his now-wife. Backup Bernard Pierce has reportedly looked very good in camp so Baltimore may not miss Rice in games at home against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Should Baltimore lose both of those, it is in huge trouble. I was never a big fan of Joe Flacco, and he regressed in a big way last season. If anyone can get the best out of him, it should be new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. New receiver Steve Smith will have one good season left in his 35-year-old bones.
NFL odds: first +650, second +350, third +325, fourth +100
The problem with forecasting the Browns right now is we don't know whether Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer will be the starting quarterback. The answer could come as soon as next Tuesday following the team's second preseason game (Aug. 18 at Washington). Coach Mike Pettine has long said he wants to name a starter before Cleveland's third preseason game, which is Aug. 23 at home against the Rams. I will bet one thing on that Rams game: it will be a sellout because it's Cleveland's first at home. Manziel will sell tickets at a minimum. We also don't yet know whether Josh Gordon's appeal of his season-long suspension will be successful. It seems unlikely that it will be. Without Gordon, the Browns have a worse receiving group than some college teams. You are looking at Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins as the likely starters. The shame of all this is that Cleveland has a very good offensive line and a pretty good defense. It's just so weak at the skill positions (new starting running back Ben Tate can't stay healthy).
NFL picks: The Bengals win back-to-back division titles for the first time since the early 1980s, followed by the Ravens, Steelers and Browns.