Spark Sports’ AFC North Season Preview

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As unfortunate as Ryan Shazier’s injury was last season, this defense was not anywhere near where it was when he was on the field.

Odds: 

AFC NORTH DIVISION WINNERS: -250 (Bovada)

AFC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS: +450 (Bovada)

SUPER BOWL 53 CHAMPIONS: +1000 (Bovada)

Team Win Total: O/U 10.5 (Westgate)

Schedule:

Week 1 @ Cleveland (-7)
Week 2 vs. Kansas City (-7)
Week 3 @ Tampa Bay (-4)
Week 4 vs. Baltimore (-6)
Week 5 vs. Atlanta (-4)
Week 6 @ Cincinnati (-4)
Week 7 BYE WEEK
Week 8 vs. Cleveland (-10.5)
Week 9 @ Baltimore (PK)
Week 10 vs. Carolina (-6.5)
Week 11 @ Jacksonville (-1)
Week 12 @ Denver (-3)
Week 13 vs. Los Angeles (Chargers) (-4.5)
Week 14 @ Oakland (-3.5)
Week 15 vs. New England (-1)
Week 16 @ New Orleans (+1)
Week 17 vs. Cincinnati

Schedule Outlook

Chiefs, Falcons, Panthers, Jaguars, Patriots and Saints all made the playoffs last year and Chargers and Oakland we also dang close. This schedule is a gauntlet.

Key Team Additions and Subtractions 

Additions – LB Johnathon Bostic, and S Morgan Burnett

Subtractions – T Chirs Hubbard, WR Martavis Bryant, S Mike Mitchell, and CB William Gay

Draft – S Terrell Edmunds, WR James Washington, QB Mason Rudolph, T Chukwuma Okorafor, S Marcus Allen, RB Jaylen Samuels, and DT Joshua Frazier

Offense

Ben Roethlisberger can still sling it with the best of them. However, last year he looked disengaged and at some points in consistent towards the end of the year. After week seven Ben threw ten touchdowns and nine interceptions. His QB was just 52.75 in those weeks which would rank him as an average starter. A Super Bowl contender can’t have that.

Le’Veon Bell is arguably the best running back in the league. However, he has only played 1 full season. The Steelers need him to be a work horse. James Conner strong running through the tackles and is a good power back to compliment Bell.

The best wide out in the league may be on this team as well as most versitle player in the NFL in Antonio Brown. Consistently averaging over 1200 yards a season and nine touchdowns, Brown is a tough task for any team to guard. To pair with Brown is JuJu Smith-Schuster who had a breakout rookie year with over 900 yards and seven touchdowns. Vance McDonald will be the receiving tightend and has some vertical upside.

All five starters on the line are above average. David Castro was a All Pro First team last year. The only thing holding this group back may be injury issues.

Defense

Cameron Heyward plays a pivotal role in this defense, as he recorded 12 sacks last season. Jason Hargrave and Stephon Tuitt don’t bring near as much to this line and its not very deep after Heyward.

Losing Shazier was a huge lose for this unit. Vince Williams and T.J. Watt (All Rookie) are solid contributors but the leadership and role he played won’t be replaced. Bud Dupree and newcomer Bostic are still strong contributors but that is all they are.

Many thought Joe Haden would return to his dominate self once he left Cleveland. He did not. Morgan Burnett, and Artie Burns will also start in this secondary but don’t offer much. Their best secondary player was slot/nickel corner Mike Hilton.

Special Teams

Chris Boswell is one of the best in the business. Eli Rodgers and Smith-Schuster should handle kickoffs while Brown manages punt returns.

Outlook

This is one of the best offensive teams. Bell and Brown are the best 1-2 punch on any team without question. However, Big Ben needs to be the rock and be a steady performer and the defense has to be better than it was post Shazier’s injury.

Plays

Under 10.5

The division got better and will not be as much of a push over. There wasn’t many additions and they have some tough test this year. There are 10 playoff caliber teams they will play which doesn’t bode well for any team. Roethlisberger looked like he was slowing down in the second half. His age may show again in the second half this season.


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The Ravens missed the playoffs in a game that hosted their own destiny to end the year. Harbaugh and gang are reloaded and ready to make waves to the playoffs.

Odds: 

AFC NORTH DIVISION WINNERS: +400 (Bovada)

AFC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS: +2000 (Bovada)

SUPER BOWL 53 CHAMPIONS: +4000 (Bovada)

Team Win Total: O/U 8.5 (Westgate)

Schedule:

Week 1 vs. Buffalo (-3.5)
Week 2 @ Cincinnati (PK)
Week 3 vs. Denver (-5.5)
Week 4 @ Pittsburgh (+6)
Week 5 @ Cleveland (+2.5)
Week 6 @ Tennessee (-2.5)
Week 7 vs. New Orleans (PK)
Week 8 @ Carolina (+2)
Week 9 vs. Pittsburgh (PK)
Week 10 BYE WEEK
Week 11 vs. Cincinnati (-6)
Week 12 vs. Raiders ( -5)
Week 13 @ Atlanta (+3.5)
Week 14 @ Kansas City (-2)
Week 15 vs. Tampa Bay (-6)
Week 16 @ Los Angeles (Chargers) (+3.5)
Week 17 vs. Cleveland

Schedule Outlook

The schedule looks tough but the Ravens will catch two out of division games with two pretty weak opponents at home. There is a few playoff teams they will have to beat but another 9-7 season is very realistic.

Key Team Additions and Subtractions 

Additions – QB Robert Griffin III, WR Michael Crabtree, WR John Brown, and WR Willie Snead

Subtractions – RB, Danny Woodhead, RB Terrance West, WR Mike Wallace, TE Benjamin Watson, G Ryan Jensen, and T Ryan Howard

Draft – TE Hayden Hurst, QB Lamar Jackson, T Orlando Brown, TE Mark Andrews, CB Anthony Averett, LB Kenny Young, WR Jaleel Scoot, WR Jordan Lasley, S DeShon Elliott, T Greg Senat, C Bradley Bozeman, and DE Zach Sieler

Offense

Joe Flacco seemed to have lost some arm strength last season. His total yards and touchdowns was second worst in a full season since his rookie year. He didn’t have great tightend options or wideout options however.

In 15 games, Alex Collins barely missed the 1000 yard club. He was ninth in yards per attempt at 4.6. He finally got a solid look as the cow-bell back and he should improve now that there is a better pass game.

Michael Crabtree didn’t quite have the year that many expected him to have in Oakland. He still had eight touchdowns which is one shy of his career high. In his tenth year, he can still be productive. John Brown is a high upside player who has struggled with weak quarterback play the last two seasons. He could prove to be a strong pick up. Willie Snead had a rough season after being suspended he never got a chance to see the field. If he can get close to 70 receptions, he will have another solid year.

Marshal Yanda is on the PUP list which is rough. Ronnie Stanley, will be in his third year as a solid tackle. Jermaine Eluemunor was an All Rookie and should slide into Yanda’s position. This line allowed the seventh fewest sacks last season, it should take a small hit with Yanda but still a strong line. Orlando Brown looks like he could be a key contributor after a bad combine.

Defense

Even though this defense ranked 15th in the league, it only allowed three 100 yard rushers. Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce combined for one sack and that will need to improve. This team manages getting to the QB by zone blitzing from the linebackers level.

C.J. Mosley was a Second Team All Pro while Terrell Suggs continues to dominate in his 16 seasons, he managed eleven sacks. Patrick Onwuasor had over 90 tackles while Matt Judon looks like he could be a future All Pro.

This team had a league lead in interceptions and also held opponents to the second lowest passer rating in the NFL. Eric Weddle is a savvy veteran as well as Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith. Marlon Humphrey should continue to develop and become a starter. Fellow Tide, Anthony Averett, should give the Ravens solid depth in the secondary.

Special Teams

Justin Tucker arguably the best kicker in the NFL, was All Pro Second Team. Chris Moors will handle both return roles and Sam Koch is back to punt.

Outlook

The Ravens missed a chance at playoffs in a win and in game. They choked and then reloaded. They didn’t lose many pieces and added a ton in free agency and the draft. A sneaky strong team, the Ravens look like a playoff team yet again.

Plays

Over 8.5/AFC North Champions

This team is solid. Joe Flacco isn’t elite but he can still manage a game. With an improvement in the pass game, the run game should also excel. The defense is one of the best in the league and this team has less glaring holes than the Steelers. They may be less talented but there is huge value in winning the North.


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Many thought the Bengals would be a surprise playoff team to start the year, but they failed to get to a .500 record.

Odds: 

AFC NORTH DIVISION WINNERS: +750 (Bovada)

AFC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS: +3500 (Bovada)

SUPER BOWL 53 CHAMPIONS: +9000 (Bovada)

Team Win Total: O/U 5 (Westgate)

Schedule:

Week 1 @ Indianapolis (-1)
Week 2 vs. Baltimore (PK)
Week 3 @ Carolina (-6)
Week 4 @ Atlanta (+7)
Week 5 vs. Miami ( -2.5)
Week 6 vs. Pittsburgh (-4)
Week 7 @ Kansas City (+4.5)
Week 8 vs. Tampa Bay (-1.5)
Week 9 BYE WEEK
Week 10 vs. New Orleans (+3)
Week 11 @ Baltimore (+6)
Week 12 vs. Cleveland ( -5)
Week 13 vs. Denver (+1)
Week 14 @ Los Angeles (Chargers) (+7.5)
Week 15 vs. Oakland (+1.5)
Week 16 @ Cleveland (+1)
Week 17 @ Pittsburgh (N/A)

Schedule Outlook

Tough tests in the Chargers, Saints, Falcons, Panthers, and Chiefs, not to mention a much improved North division.

Key Team Additions and Subtractions 

Additions – QB Matt Barkley, T Cordy Glenn, DT Chris Baker, and LB Preston Brown

Subtractions – QB A.J. McCarron, RB Jeremy Hill, T Andre Smith, LB Kevin Minter, and CB Adam Jones

Draft – C Billy Price, S Jessie Bates III, DE Sam Hubbard, LB Malik Jeggerson, RB Mark Walton, DB Davontae Harris, DT Andrew Brown, CB Darius Phillips, QB Logan Woodside, T Rod Taylor, and WR Auden Tate

Offense

Andy Dalton is nothing more than average. He is a great game manager but outside of that, he isn’t a game changer. He will have some healthy weapons this season which will help improve the offense.

Joe Mixon looked like the real deal after he was given the head back spot. He can run and catch out of the backfield. Giovani Bernard should get the short yardage plays.

A.J. Green finished right at his career norm in yards and touchdowns, there is no reason to think he can’t continue that again. John Ross was highly touted hasn’t been healthy since he came into the league. His ability to stretch the field could be huge for the Bengals. Tyler Eifert is a great tightend but he can’t stay healthy.

Billy Price should come in and start at the center spot right away which could be a huge bonus. The trade to bring Cordy Glenn in should help but outside of those two, this line is pretty bad. It could be a tough year for the QB and RB’s.

Defense

This young defense starts with a strong d-line. Carlos Dunlap is one of the better defensive ends while Michael Johnson on the other side is a quick player. Geno Atkins and Andrew Billings are run stopping tackles and should continue to be a force. Rookie Sam Hubbard and veteran Chris Baker should rotate in and give this team a jolt.

Carl Lawson was on the All Rookie team last season. Paired with Preston Brown, the NFL’s leading tackler last season, and Vontaze Burfict, this is an intimidating core. Nick Vigil and Vicent Rey should also help keep this team’s legs fresh. Rookie Malik Jefferson could also see some reps in this rotation.

This secondary gave up 6.5 yards per attempt for third best in the league. A young unit lead by William Jackson, who was one of the best corners in the league last year. Jessie Bates pushed his way into the staring safety spot alongside Shawn William. Dre Kirkpatrick is a reliable player on the other corner spot.

Special Teams

Randy Bullock is just an average kicker. Alex Erkickson returns both punts and kicks quite well while  Kevin Huber is one of the better punters in the league.

Outlook

The Bengals are nothing special but they play good enough defense and have enough weapons that they can compete in any game. The Bengals may want to start thinking about the replacement for Dalton.

Plays

Under 5

There isn’t a ton to like here. The division is much better than last year, they face some tough out of conference teams. The Bengals are going under and will be looking for a new QB in the draft.


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Odds: 

AFC NORTH DIVISION WINNERS: +1000 (Bovada)

AFC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS: +3000 (Bovada)

SUPER BOWL 53 CHAMPIONS: +7500 (Bovada)

Team Win Total: O/U 5 (Westgate)

Schedule:

Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh (+7)
Week 2 @ New Orleans (+10)
Week 3 vs. New York (Jets) (-2.5)
Week 4 @ Oakland (+7.5)
Week 5 vs. Baltimore (+2.5)
Week 6 vs. Los Angeles (Chargers) (+4)
Week 7 @ Tampa Bay ( +5.5)
Week 8 @ Pittsburgh (+10.5)
Week 9 vs. Kansas City (+3)
Week 10 vs. Atlanta (+3)
Week 11 BYE WEEK
Week 12 @ Cincinnati (+5)
Week 13 @ Houston (+10)
Week 14 vs. Carolina (+2.5)
Week 15 @ Denver (+5.5)
Week 16 vs. Bengals (-1)
Week 17 @ Baltimore (N/A)

Schedule Outlook

Tough tests in the Chargers, Saints, Falcons, Panthers, and Chiefs, not to mention a much improved North division.

Key Team Additions and Subtractions 

Additions – QB Tyrod Taylor, QB Drew Stanton, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Jarvis Landry, T Chris Hubbard, LB Mychal Kendricks, CB T.J. Carrie, FS Damarious Randall, CB E.J. Gaines, and P Justin Vogel

Subtractions – QB DeShone Kizer, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Sammie Coates, G Marcus Martin, and C B.W. Webb

Draft – Qb Baker Mayfield, CB Denzel Ward, OL Austin Corbett, RB Nick Chubb, DE Chad Thomas, WR Antonio Callaway, LB Genard Avery, WR Damion Ratley, and CB Simeon Thomas

Offense

Tyrod Taylor comes in after leading the Bills to the playoffs last season. He is a tough player to game-plan against. First pick overall Baker Mayfield will push him throughout the season. This should drastically help solidify this position, which has been one of the most carousel positions in the NFL.

New lead back Carlos Hyde has been steady the last two years in San Francisco amassing 900+ yards and 6 touchdowns in both seasons. Duke Johnson Jr. is one of the more elusive backs in the passing game managing almost 700 yards. Nick Chubb gives both a rotational player to lean on as well.

Jarvis Landry was the leading wideout in total total receptions last year. He and Josh Gordon should give Tyrod one of the better wideout pairings in the league. Draftee Callaway has the ability to be a top flight guy once he gets personal life in check. David Njoku will be back for his sophomore year after having a breakout year in his rookie campaign.

The three horses in the middle, Kevin Zeitler, JC Tretter and Joel Bitonio are three of the best up the gut. While rookie Corbett should man the left tackle spot. Chris Hubbard cam from Pittsburgh where he had a nice showing. This is overall one of the better units in football.

Defense

Myles Garrett is projected by many as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Ogbah and Carl Nassib will need to become more consistent pass rushers to help relieve Garrett’s double teams. Ogunjobi and Coley should man the tackle spots but are still not the best options.

The linebacking core has a ton of leadership, with Christian Kirksey and Kendricks this unit should be one of the better parts of the Browns D. Joe Schobert and James Burgess are some of the better players at their respected positions and Jamie COllins gives a strong veteran presence.

Rookie Ward hopefully can take the steps that his former college teammates have in the NFL. Jabrill Peppers, Damarious Randall and T.J. Carrie, will likely be better based on the play of ward. Once returning E.J. Gaines is healthy, he should help add depth.

Special Teams

Zane Gonzalez will be this years kicker and is far from being proficient. Antonio Callaway and Matt Dayes should man the return spots.

Outlook

The Browns wont end 0-16 again. The roster is much improved and there is leadership throughout. The offense will improve drastically with Todd Haley and a steady QB. This team team still has a ton of hole but it could shock some teams if they take a week off.

Plays

Under 5

Hard Knocks has given this team too much hype similar to the Buccaneers last year. They will be better than last year but 5 games better is a bit of a stretch. Hue Jackson will most likely be fired this season in favor of Todd Haley. In there 16 listed soft lines, they are favored in two, that doesn’t bode well for any team.


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