The AFC North might be one of the tougher divisions in the AFC this season, and while there looks to be two strong favorites, could this be the division that produces the AFC champion?
Pittsburgh Steelers (+120 AFC North, +500 AFC)
The Steelers had one of the best offenses in the NFL last season, and while they will be getting back Le’Veon Bell next season, they will have to deal with being without standout receiver, Martavis Bryant. He was suspended for the entire season due to multiple failed drug tests, but while the Steelers will be without him this season, their offense might be one of the best units in all of football next season.
Pittsburgh still has some holes to fill, especially at left tackle, and if Ben Roethlisberger were to get injured, their season might go down with him. Other than that, this team is going to be able to put up 30-plus points per game next season, and in a top-heavy AFC, they could easily find themselves getting a first round bye if they stay healthy and have the type of upside myself and others think they can. Don’t sleep on Pittsburgh for your NFL picks.
Cincinnati Bengals (+150 AFC North, +650 AFC)
The team that will easily be Pittsburgh’s biggest competition in the division next season is the Bengals. Cincinnati is coming off a 12-4, division-winning season in 2015, but they are behind the Steelers in the AFC North Futures Odds despite winning two more games than the Steelers last year.
They brought in Karlos Dansby to give them some depth at linebacker this upcoming season, and while they lost some receiving depth, if second round pick, Tyler Boyd turns out ok, they will be fine for pass catching options with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. However, losing Hue Jackson is going to hurt.
I believe he was one of the main reasons Andy Dalton saw his play skyrocket over the last few seasons, and filling his shoes is going to be hard. The Bengals are easily still capable of double-digit wins, but with how good the Steelers are, I think Cincinnati might have to settle for a wild card spot this season.
Baltimore Ravens (+300 AFC North, +1600 AFC)
Baltimore is the next tier down in the AFC North this season according to top rated sportsbooks such as Intertops, as well as the future NFL odds. They had a good draft, and got some nice pieces on offense including Benjamin Watson and Mike Wallace, two players who could really help an offense that was banged up beyond belief last season. If Steve Smith can come back and have even close to the season he was having before going down with an Achilles tear, the Ravens are going to be undervalued next season on offense.
Their main issue this offseason was being in a very bad place against the salary cap. They weren’t able to resign some key guys, and their defense is going to have some holes in it that they might not be able to fill before training camp starts. While they might make a play for a playoff spot in a thinner AFC, it’s going to be hard to win more than eight games if they can’t stay healthy.
Cleveland Browns (+3300 AFC North, +8000 AFC)
Oh, the good ole Cleveland Browns. Cleveland is easily one of, if not the worst team in the league, and it might show next season. Their season win total is only 4.5, and if they get over that I’ll be surprised. They did make nice moves in the draft by trading down from the second and eighth overall picks, but that isn’t going to help them much in the short term.
The signing of Robert Griffin might end up helping if he can resurrect his career in Cleveland, but they also let Travis Benjamin, Alex Mack, Tashaun Gipson and Mitchell Schwartz walk for nothing, which is a lot of young talent to let go. It’s obvious the team is starting another long and painful rebuilding process, but in the end they didn’t need to let all of those guys walk for nothing.
It’s going to be a long winter in Cleveland, but they are still riding high after the Cavaliers won the championship, and with how good the Indians are playing lately, the city of Cleveland might care less about the Browns in 2016.