The 2017 NFL season begins at the start of September and the teams are finalising their rosters ahead of the new campaign.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the returning AFC North champions, although they missed out on a trip to the Super Bowl having been crushed by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Last season was the first time in seven years that the division failed to send two teams into the playoffs. The Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens were unable to click into gear, with the former suffering a major setback having won the AFC North crown in 2015.
Bringing up the rear were the Cleveland Browns, who just avoided becoming the second team in NFL history to go 0-16. A win over the San Diego Chargers saved them the indignity of joining the 2008 Detroit Lions, although they still face another tough campaign ahead.
The defending AFC North champions will be difficult to remove from the summit as injuries and a lack of talent will hold the rest in check.
The Steelers enjoyed their best campaign since they last reached the Super Bowl in 2010. However, even though Mike Tomlin’s men won 11 regular-season matches and two playoff games, they were hammered by the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
There were worrying signs emerging from Ben Roethlisberger after the defeat, hinting that he could retire. He has extended his career, but the 35-year-old has suggested that his time in the NFL could be nearing an end. As a result, the Steelers have a short window to win another title with Roethlisberger as their signal-caller.
Pittsburgh have kept the majority of their roster together, with minimal departures. More importantly they retained the services of All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell for another term at least on the franchise tag, while Martavis Bryant has returned from a one-year suspension.
Bryant’s absence loomed large in the AFC Championship game as Antonio Brown was double-teamed by the Patriots, while Bell suffered an injury early in the game. Without quality firepower outside the duo, Roethlisberger could not match the prowess of Tom Brady.
With Bryant restored and the selection of Juju Smith-Schuster in the 2017 Draft – the Steelers now have the players to score 30 points per game with regularity. Defensively they’ve made progress with the selection of TJ Watt, while Bud Dupree, Javon Hargrave, Sean Davis and Artie Burns should take the next step forward in their development.
It will be more than enough to win the AFC North at odds of -125 with Bet365, but again the Patriots seem too invincible for them to return to the Super Bowl.
The Ravens endured a second-straight season outside of the playoffs. The club made significant moves make a bid to return, although Joe Flacco’s back injury could derail those plans.
Flacco suffered the injury during training camp, thrusting Ryan Mallett into the starting role during pre-season. He has looked poor to say the least, while the front office have thus far resisted making a move for Colin Kaepernick.
Baltimore splashed serious cash during free agency to sign Tony Jefferson, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Carr and Danny Woodhead. Those four players could make a significant difference this term, but if Flacco’s problems persist it will be nothing.
The Ravens had been hit hard by injuries across the board as Tavon Young, Kenneth Dixon and Crockett Gillmore are already sidelined for the campaign. Starting guard John Urschel chose to retire at the age of 26 to pursue an academic career, increasing his side’s woes.
Should Flacco return to fitness there is hope that Baltimore will be able to return to the post-season. However, his form has not been great over the past few years and an injured back will only exacerbate those issues.
If the 32-year-old returns to his 2012 form then the club have the ability to surge all the way to the Super Bowl given the talent on their roster along with their habit of playing the Patriots tough.
Although that’s looking unlikely at the present moment, with a battle to remain at .500 on the agenda at odds of -115 at Bovada sportsbook to win over eight matches.
The Bengals took a huge step back in the 2016 campaign, dropping from 12-4 to 6-9-1. Their defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2015 playoffs seemed to have a huge affect on the club after coming so close to pulling off their first post-season win under Marvin Lewis.
Like the Ravens, Cincinnati had issues with injuries last term. Quarterback Andy Dalton was not good enough to overcome his side’s problems, resulting in their poor campaign. The club added speed at the wide receiver position by selected John Ross in the 2017 Draft, while they also picked running back Joe Mixon in the second round.
Those players should bring life to the offense that struggled immensely for large periods of the campaign, although the departures of linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler will put Dalton under pressure.
The defense looks solid enough, but will not be good enough to cope with the Steelers at their best along with the other elite teams in the AFC. The Ravens’ issues could see them finish in second place in the AFC North, but whether they have enough talent to make a charge for the playoffs is another matter.
With fortune on their side the Bengals have enough talent to win over eight matches and that could be enough to challenge for a wildcard berth. At odds of +160 with TopBet sportsbook they’re decent value to reach the playoffs.
The Browns were extremely poor last season and were so close to becoming the second side in NFL history to go 0-16, only to be bailed out by the Chargers. Hue Jackson and the front office managed to remain in their positions, but there is a desperate need for improvement this term.
Cleveland had the worst record in the NFL and received the first-overall pick in the 2017 Draft. They selected defensive end Myles Garrett and he should be able to make an impact immediately to help a struggling defense. Jabrill Peppers was also selected in the first round, while Jason McCourty was added to the secondary during free agency.
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has plenty of talent to scheme with after Jamie Collins was handed a lucrative new deal. The unit has potential to be one of the strongest defenses the club has put on to the field in recent history, especially if their younger players Danny Shelton and Emmanuel Ogbah take the next step forward in their development.
The offense is very much a work in progress as the club’s search for an answer at quarterback continues. They drafted Deshone Kizer in the second round and he could start ahead of Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler, who was acquired from the Houston Texans. Kizer has more potential than the other two men, although immediate success should not be expected.
As a result, backing the Browns to finish fourth in the AFC North at odds of -300 with Coral is the bet to take.
Pittsburgh Steelers To Win AFC North
Baltimore Ravens To Win Over 8.5 Matches
Cincinnati Bengals To Qualify For Playoffs
Cleveland Browns To Finish Fourth AFC North