The Cincinnati Bengals, the defending Champions of the Northern division of the AFC conference and winners of two of the last three AFC North titles, are coming off one of their best regular-season campaigns in recent history that included eight straight wins through the first nine weeks of the 2015 season. A number of injuries down the stretch of the year derailed their momentum, forcing them to finish with a 12-4 record, but that was still good enough to beat the NFL betting lines and win the AFC North crown, two games ahead of their closest rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Favorite, Smart and Longshot NFL Picks to win the AFC North
Retooled and motivated after such a season, Andy Dalton and the Bengals are hoping to repeat as divisional champs and reach the playoffs for a fifth straight year. But with the Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns to challenge them in the division, it is safe to say that the task will be far from easy. Below, we take a look at how these teams are likely to perform in the NFL Odds to win the 2016 AFC North title.
Favorite NFC North Pick 2016: Cincinnati Bengals
While it is tempting to go with the Steelers as the favorite pick, we feel Cincinnati will be the team to beat in the AFC North. Dalton, despite not starting all games, had a career year in 2015, playing with poise against even the toughest of opponents like Seattle. With the easiest schedule of all AFC North teams (fourth-easiest in NFL at #27); I’d expect a healthy Dalton to prove that last year was no fluke, leading the Bengals to another solid title-worthy season.
Smart NFC North Pick 2016: Pittsburgh Steelers
It is true that the Steelers will hurt from Bryant’s season-long loss and Le’Veon Bell’s prospected suspension, but we must not underestimate the depth and resilience of the Steelers in 2016. Ben Roethlisberger, as you all know, is a top talent while the league leader in reception for the past two straight years and the #4 player in NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2016, Antonio Brown, is virtually unstoppable even on his worst days. Then, of course, the Steelers have solid roster depth and are well-capable of adjusting in the absence of their key players. This was clearly evident in 2015 when they had the second-best scoring offense in the AFC conference and best in the AFC North despite Big Ben missing four games and Bell missing 10 games. Add that to the Pittsburgh defense that is only going to get better with more experience and timely offseason additions, it goes without saying the Steelers make a solid smart pick to win the AFC North title in 2016.
Longshot NFC North Pick 2016: Baltimore Ravens
Hello Cleveland fans? Don’t bet on Robert Griffin to make you a worthy longshot NFC North pick; your team has too many problems to be solved by that mockery of quarterback.
With Cleveland out of the way, the Ravens remain as our sole option for the longshot divisional title pick, and a very strong one at that. Joe Flacco has been pure class at QB—save for last season’s injury-caused catastrophic season—and I don’t expect him and the Ravens to perform that dismally in the 2016 NFL lines. I mean, you’d have to go back to the 2004-05 season to find the last time the Ravens failed to make the postseason games in two straight seasons. With solid investments in the O-line that exposed Flacco to injuries and a good number of high-potential contributors in the offense (Mike Wallace, Steve Smith Sr. and Co.), there is every reason to believe that Coach John Harbaugh will bounce back from his worst season ever in Baltimore, going above the .500 mark and challenging for the AFC North title as a very strong longshot.
2016 NFC North Prediction
The Ravens will make the AFC North interesting just in the same way Cleveland will be a good also-ran, but ultimately the title race here will come down to the Steelers and the Bengals Now, in all truth, Pittsburgh is the more talented and proven team, making them a trendy pick. However, the season is not yet started, but Pittsburgh already has several issues to deal with—like Bell’s possible four-game suspension and the absence of star wide receiver Bryant for the whole season due to suspension. And that is before we talk about the gap left by Pittsburgh’s long-serving TE Hearth Miller. Compared that to a largely healthy Cincy squad and the schedule advantage the Bengals will have in 2016, I am inclined to go with the unpopular but worthy pick of Cincinnati for divisional title.
- My 2016 AFC North Title Pick: Cincinnati