Today we examine the AFC North looking at the football futures betting lines at Bodog.
Baltimore Ravens: 5-6
The Ravens enter 2010 looking ripe for a division title...and much more. They upgraded their one true weakness in the offseason—the receiver position—with the addition of WR Anquan Boldin, and RB Ray Rice and QB Joe Flacco are both on their way to becoming Pro Bowl players. Defensively, while there's uncertainty surrounding S Ed Reed's health, MLB Ray Lewis is still playing at a high level in his 15th season and there's more than enough talent to get the job done.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 11-5
Pittsburgh was fortunate to receive a favorable early season schedule and this should allow them to overcome the loss of QB Ben Roethlisberger for the first six games. They'll lean on RB Rashard Mendenhall early on and become more balanced once Roethlisberger is back. The Steelers will also be getting a healthy S Troy Polamalu back, and this will be a boon to the defense. His absence in 2009 turned a devastating unit into an ordinary one. With a healthy S Polumalu manning the secondary, DC Dick LeBeau will once again harass opposing offenses, and this team will be making noise in the Wild Card race come December.
Cincinnati Bengals: 3-1
The surprise AFC North Champs of a year ago enter 2010 with high hopes. The main obstacle they'll have to overcome is the first-place schedule they'll have to play. This offseason has seen the Bengals upgrade its passing game significantly and teams will no longer be able to key on WR Chad Ochocinco. They'll now have to contend with WR Terrell Owens (signed today), WR Antonio Bryant, TE Jermaine Gresham, and WR Jordan Shipley, all of whom make this potentially one of the best passing games in the NFL. Defensively, expect DC Mike Zimmer to lead another stingy unit which will be tough for opposing offenses to score on.
Cleveland Browns: 13-1
You can pen them in for last place right now. The Browns in time will be competitive, as Mike Holmgren has a track record of turning around programs, but it won't come in 2010, in what should be Eric Mangini's last as head coach. The organization is devoid of talent relative to the rest of the league and QB Jake Delhomme has been named the opening day starter. Enough said.
Pro Football 101 Betting Strategy:
Baltimore looks like the best bet , but this division, along with the AFC East, is clearly more open than others. However, the fact that they'll play a second place schedule means we'll put the lion's share (~80%) of money on the Ravens, and hedge our bets by placing 20% on the Bengals at 3-1. The latter is solid up and down the roster and capable of repeating after their offseason moves.