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The AFC North is home to a lot of storylines this year. There is one team that traded away their best receiver. One team that has high expectations after a Super Bowl appearance last year. Another that traded away last year’s starting quarterback and has one suspended for 11 games. Finally, the last team turns the team over to a new quarterback after years of reliability at the position. Who will take down the division?
Let’s start with the Steelers. I have no hope for this team at all this season. Mitch Trubisky will almost certainly be better than he was as a quarterback for the Chicago Bears. There were some flashes last year with Buffalo when he played in the preseason, and even in regular season games where he showed that he shouldn’t just be dismissed. The problem is I just don’t see him as being a quarterback that you want to trust in this division. I think they go under their win total for the season. They have solid skill positions and their defense could be good, but I’m not depending on them to compete for the division.
The Browns would be a team to watch if Deshaun Watson was playing the full season. I think they have everything you’d need to win the division. They have a tough defense, they have the best one-two combination for running backs in the NFL, and they added Amari Cooper. Their team is actually pretty good, but I can’t take a ticket on them for 11 games of Jacoby Brissett. If Watson only was at the original 6 game suspension, I probably could justify a ticket, but I can’t take them here.
The Bengals are coming off of a surprising Super Bowl appearance, and they were also really close to winning it. Like, minutes away from winning. Joe Burrow is the real deal and their offense probably will be even better next year. The question now is can their defense also step up? It is a lot easier to play as the underdog than it is to play as the favorite, with the target on their back. If Burrow and the offense take it up another notch, I think they are justified in being the choice for division winner. At +170, I think the Bengals are a good choice to take it for back-to-back years.
Lamar Jackson may go off this year, but if he doesn’t it will probably be due to him running around, not to his passing. He will probably target his tight ends quite a bit, but his wide receivers probably wouldn’t be WR2’s on most teams. Defensively, the Ravens have always been strong, and it has been a calling card of the team. Even after Jackson went down with an injury, the defense held their opponents to 24 or fewer points in four of the six games. They lost all six games, but still, they clearly stepped up and showed they can hold their weight.
If you play the Ravens, I wouldn’t blame you. I just think the Bengals are the better team personally. That’s the team I’ll take to win.
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