The best division in the NFL this season? One could make an argument for the AFC North as it has three likely very good teams in the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. True, the North also houses probably the NFL’s worst team in the Cleveland Browns. But the top trio is likely be better than any other division’s, and selecting a winning NFL pick seems like a hard task for pro football fans. So who will win the North? The Steelers are +120 favorites on the existing odds. The AFC North is the only division in the AFC that does not contain a charter team from the original American Football League. However, the Bengals were an AFL expansion team in the 1968 AFL season (the Steelers and Browns joined the AFC from the NFL in 1970).
A Look At the NFL Odds & Winning Picks for AFC North
The Smart Pick: Cincinnati Bengals
Last year, the Bengals became the first team in the AFC North (or when it was called AFC Central) to ever start the year 8-0, finishing the season 12-4 and winning the division for the second time in three years. Cincinnati clinched the division title in week 16 when the Steelers were upset by the 4-10 Ravens in Baltimore, quarterbacked by backup Ryan Mallett because starter Joe Flacco had been lost to a season-ending injury.
Cincinnati is a +220 second-favorite to repeat as division winner. This looked like a potential Super Bowl team last year with QB Andy Dalton having his best season of his five-year career until breaking his thumb on Dec. 13 against Pittsburgh. Dalton wouldn’t be back in 2015. The Bengals lost 18-16 to the Steelers in the wild-card round — the fifth straight year the Bengals have lost in that round. Chris Boswell kicked a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining. Pittsburgh moved into field goal position thanks to consecutive and really stupid 15-yard penalties on the Bengals, one on linebacker Vontaze Burfict and another on cornerback Adam Jones. Burfict dropped his shoulder and hit a defenseless Antonio Brown in the helmet as the All-Pro receiver came across the middle, and Jones lost his cool after getting into it with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter. Basically, the team melted down on a national stage.
Thus the pressure is really on Coach Marvin Lewis this season. Lewis is 0-7 in his playoff career with Cincinnati and I don’t believe he survives another one-and-done. Cincinnati owner Mike Brown has been notoriously patient with Lewis, maybe to a fault. Only the Patriots’ Bill Belichick has been with his team longer than Lewis has been with the Bengals. The six longest-tenured coaches in the NFL (Belichick, Lewis, Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh), all have Super Bowl rings, except Lewis.
The Favorite: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers could have the best offense in the NFL this season even though No. 2 receiver Martavis Bryant will miss all of it. He violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy again — Bryant was suspended the first four games of last year. After returning from his four-game suspension, Bryant had a productive 2015 season for the Steelers, hauling in 50 receptions for 765 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games. With 17 total touchdowns over two seasons, Bryant’s value to the Steelers won’t easily be masked over. But as long as QB Ben Roethlisberger, Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell are healthy, this offense will be dynamic.
The Longshot: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are +300 on NFL odds to win the division. The plummeted to a 5-11 record last year, their worst ever under Harbaugh. But no team was hit harder by season-ending injuries and nearly every game the Ravens lost came down to the final possession. They were really, really unlucky. Harbaugh says his offensive players have made tangible strides under second-year coordinator Marc Trestman.
The Ultimate Darkhorse: Cleveland Browns
The Browns are +2800 on NFL lines to win the division. That’s just throwing your money away. They will finish last again.
I believe the Bengals have the most all-around talent in the AFC North so they are the choice on NFL picks.