A Look At the NFL Odds & Winning Picks for AFC North
The Smart Pick: Cincinnati BengalsLast 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.