Any of the four teams could win the AFC North this year, although the NFL odds tell us the Cleveland Browns have the most uphill battle of this Rust Belt foursome.
Which of the eight NFL divisions is the best division? If you judge by which division won the most games last year, it's the AFC North. Three of the four teams posted double-digit victories, and the only one that didn't, the Cleveland Browns, went 7-9. The AFC North was a good source for NFL picks, too, finishing the season at a combined 33-27-4 ATS.
We should also mention that the AFC North has produced four Super Bowl winners this millennium – two by the Baltimore Ravens, and two by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Which team will rule the Rust Belt in 2015-16? According to our projections, based on the regular-season win totals and our favorite nerdy stat projections, it won't be the Steelers.
Without further ado, here's our “prediction” of the regular-season standings for the AFC North this year:
Looks like another three-way dogfight brewing. If the Steelers appear underrepresented to you, you're not alone; they've got a win total of 8.5 with the OVER favored across our NFL odds board. In this case, the stat-based projections at TeamRankings think otherwise, and we're siding with the nerds over the marketplace, as we did when we put together our dual forecast bets for each division.
No need for our highly fashionable Steelers fans to get too riled up, though. The point of this exercise is to see which teams are likely to exceed or fall short of these projections, and if anyone in the AFC North is going OVER this year, it's probably going to be Pittsburgh. The Ravens and Bengals as we know them look more like 10-6 teams, but there's not as much room for improvement over 9-7. The Steelers, on the other hand, could certainly win 11 games again like they did last year.
You Ain't Got Dick
Or they could go 8-8 again, like they did in 2012 and 2013. We don't mean to paint the Steelers as wildly inconsistent – they haven't had a losing season since Ben Roethlisberger took over as quarterback in 2004. But compared to the Ravens and Bengals, it's a little harder to tell what you're going to get from Pittsburgh. There are serious question marks on defense after the departure of longtime co-ordinator Dick LeBeau, who is now the assistant coach with the Tennessee Titans. And the offensive line took a big hit when center Maurkice Pouncey broke his left leg/ankle – he might not be back until Week 12.
The Cleveland Browns? M'eh. Not that QB Brian Hoyer was their savior or anything, but there's only so far you can go with Josh McCown as your No. 1 guy. The one coach that did have some success with McCown was famed Quarterback Whisperer Marc Trestman, two years ago when they were both Chicago Bears. Trestman is now the offensive co-ordinator for the Ravens. Cleveland, sorry about your damn luck.