While the Baltimore Ravens struggled through one of their toughest seasons in the John Harbaugh era, it’s quite possible that Baltimore could bounce back to join both, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh as legitimate Super Bowl title contenders in 2016. Then…there’s the Cleveland Browns.
Stop laughing for a minute because, the fact of the matter is that Cleveland will also improve its NFL odds thanks to the smart hiring of head coach Hue Jackson. Now, let’s find out what’s in store for all four AFC North Super Bowl 51 hopefuls.
NFL Betting Contenders for the 2016 AFC North Title
The Ravens had an injury-riddled season while falling to 5-11 in 2015, but they could bounce back in a big way if all goes well. The good news for Ravens fans and betting backers is the fact that this well-managed and well-coached franchise has had just five losing seasons since 1998, making them an almost certainty to get back to respectability at the very least.
Baltimore added a trio of veterans that will contribute right away in tight end Ben Watson, safety Eric Weddle and wide receiver Mike Wallace. The Ravens also drafted tackle Joe Stanley with the sixth overall pick, but they might have made a mistake by passing up on the gifted Laremy Tunsil, the top-rated offensive lineman in the draft.
The Ravens then grabbed a trio of defensive players with their next three picks and made a wise decision to nab former Navy star Keenan Reynolds in the sixth round. With the AFC North squaring off against four mediocre NFC East teams and two more mediocre AFC East teams, I believe nine or 10 wins could be very reachable.
I like the Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) to get right back into Super Bowl title contention after a late-season injury to starting quarterback Andy Dalton basically derailed their Super Bowl chances a year ago.
Head coach Marvin Lewis has turned this once moribund franchise into perennial winners even if he hasn’t reached or won the ‘big one’.
The Bengals have won 52 games over the last five seasons, making them a virtual lock to reach the double-digit win mark again in 2016. Cincinnati also had a fantastic offseason by adding veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby, wide receiver Brandon LaFell and safety Taylor Mays in free agency before pulling off one of the better drafts of any team in the league.
The Bengals nabbed cornerback William Jackson with the 24th pick in the draft before nabbing two wide receivers (Tyler Boyd and Cody Core), a linebacker (Nick Vigil) and defensive tackle (Andrew Billings) that will all likely see significant playing time in 2016. Call me crazy, but I can easily see Cincy winning 11 or 12 games in 2016 to win the AFC North again.
Pittsburgh Steelers (10.5)
The Steelers (10-6) also saw their legitimate Super Bowl hopes go down the drain late last season because of injuries to key players including Le’Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Bryant. No matter, the Steelers will contend again in 2016 simply because they’re well-coached and have excellent ownership that gives them a great chance to win each and every year.
Pittsburgh added gifted tight end LaDarius Green in free agency while also adding linebacker Steven Johnson, defensive end Ricardo Matthews and tackle Ryan Harris. The Steelers also added a trio of defensive players with their first three draft picks ad grabbed one of my favorite players in all of college football a year ago in former Temple U. star linebacker Tyler Matakevich.
If injuries don’t derail their plans, the Steelers could undoubtedly find their way into Super Bowl 51. I’ve got Big Ben and company winning 11 games in 2016 as they pond the snot out of their AFC and NFC East counterparts next season.
The Browns (3-13) may not be laughingstocks much longer NFL fanatics!
Cleveland made a great hire by nabbing widely-respected offensive coordinator and former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson in the offseason and I expect the culture in Cleveland to change immediately behind the no-nonsense Jackson.
Not only that, but the Browns had what many believe is the No. 1 draft in the league this season. Cleveland nabbed gifted Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman with the 15th overall pick before going on to add defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib, offensive tackle Shon Coleman, quarterback Cody Kessler and former Arizona star linebacker Scooby Wright III, a playmaker that should have never last as long as he did in my opinion.
Cleveland also made a smart move to bring in RG3 and give him another shot to prove he can be a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL and he’ll have every chance working under the offensive genius of Hue Jackson. The Browns also added linebacker Demario Davis, offensive lineman Alvin Bailey, safety Rahim Moore and linebacker Justin Tuggle in free agency.
Right now, I see no reason why the Browns can’t reach six wins in 2016.