This is the first installment of a series of weekly NFL Divisional betting previews that I will provide for the upcoming NFL season. I’ll take a brief look at each team and what I consider to be positive expectation wagering opportunities on the futures and regular season win totals markets in each division.
This week, the AFC North
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the defending AFC North champs after an 11-5 season last year and they should be able to retain their title in 2017 barring any massive injuries. QB Ben Roethlisberger seriously contemplated retirement this spring but decided to return for at least another season leading the Pittsburgh Steelers offense.
Pittsburgh is lined at 10.5 wins shaded to the Over. I would lean to the Over on the Steelers win total as an 11 or 12 win season is not out of the question.
The Baltimore Ravens finished 8-8 last year and second in the division. They made a massive investment in QB Joe Flacco prior to the 2013 season signing him to a six year, $120 million deal but he has not been consistent since the Ravens Super Bowl victory in 2012. Flacco has 80 TD’s but an alarming 61 INT’s in four seasons since that Super Bowl campaign. The problem for Baltimore is that huge contract has hamstrung the team from improving the talent and depth of the roster in other areas. The offensive line is a massive question mark.
On defense, the secondary has been upgraded and will be better, especially if No. 1 CB Jimmy Smith avoids injury. The LB corps should be solid but it’s up front where the team has the biggest question marks with Terrell Suggs now at 35 years old and the rest of the line littered with youth. Baltimore has an easier schedule too, which should aid their cause, but there are depth concerns everywhere on both sides of the ball so injuries could derail things quickly. Baltimore is lined at 9 wins shaded to the UNDER and is probably the way I would lean to betting that win total.
The Cincinnati Bengals fell to 6-9-1 last season and I’m not sure they are primed for a bounce back season in 2017. The Cincinnati offense fell off as their points per game output dropped. QB Andy Dalton remains plagued by red zone execution problems and turning the ball over at the most inopportune times. Yes, it didn’t help that Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green (their two biggest receiving weapons) missed time with injuries but this year the Bengals must overcome two very important losses to their offensive line with left tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler no longer there, and the Bengals didn’t do much to upgrade the OL.
The LB corps could be the strength on defense but the secondary has holes to fill behind Dre Kirkpatrick and the great unknown is how 2016 first round pick William Jackson will play after his rookie season was derailed last year by injury. Betting the Bengals UNDER 8.5 is my favorite win total recommendation in this division.
The Cleveland Browns suffered through a 1-15 SU, 3-13 ATS season in 2016 in what was a complete rebuilding year in Hue Jackson’s first season as head coach. The QB spot is the biggest area of weakness for this team with no clear cut starter on this roster between the trio of Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler and DeShone Kizer, which will lead to an open competition for the starting spot in training camp. The offensive line is strong.
On defense, top overall draft pick Myles Garrett at DE has immediate impact in the NFL written all over him and should bolster the Browns’ pass rush in a big way up front. They also drafted Jabrill Peppers out of Michigan in the first round and he will help improve a bad secondary last season. Cleveland’s win total at 4.5 wins looks to be very accurate.
I did not bet nor will I recommend anything in the division futures market for the AFC North. This should be Pittsburgh’s division.