2012 NFL Season Previews: AFC North
With the NFL season only a month away, training camps have opened as teams prepare to line up for their pre-season games. As part of that, William Hill will be previewing all eight divisions, continuing with the AFC North.
The Ravens have been a powerhouse in this division consistently over the past decade, and last year, it seemed as though the stars had aligned for a Super Bowl run. Of course, a missed kick saw them fall at the AFC Championship hurdle, yet 2012 could be one of regression for the Ravens. The loss of Terrell ‘T-Sizzle' Suggs for the year is a big one, especially as defensive stars Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are ageing. For the first time in a while, it may be the Baltimore offense that is charged with carrying the team's hopes, and in Ray Rice, they have someone who can rush and receive for 1000+ yards.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh has a solid core to his roster, and although there are questions over QB Joe Flacco's status within the elite of his position, he has always supported his man under centre 100%, and whilst that argument continues, Flacco's performance will remain at a strong level.
Prediction: 10 wins, 2nd in AFC North
You can find the AFC North Winner market here
In Marvin Lewis' 10th season at the helm of the Bengals, the team shows a lot of potential to surprise. However, during the past decade they have been one of the most inconsistent, having never had winning back-to-back seasons, and an 0-3 playoff record. On top of that, the potential of a ‘sophomore slump' for Andy Dalton is one to be feared for Cincy fans. A solid rookie year has often proven difficult to repeat, and throughout 2012, A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham and the full receiving corps will need to step up and support their QB.
For the Bengals, the excuse of a tough division is no longer valid, and they will need to pounce whilst the Ravens and Steelers are relatively weaker than in previous years, yet will struggle.
Prediction: 8 wins. 3rd in AFC North.
You can find the money line for their Week 1 MNF opener against the Ravens here
It is usually going to be a tough year when you draft a 28-year old rookie quarter back. In Cleveland, this is made all the more difficult when you take into consideration key injuries on the defensive side of the ball, and instability at the ownership level. A team that are often mired in mediocrity, 2012 promises no change from the norm. A range of average talents across their offense, Cleveland will need to impose themselves defensively, hoping that second year DT Jabaal Sheard can fill the hole left by injured Phil Taylor.
Pat Shurmur heads into his second year as a head coach under severe pressure after opting to draft the aforementioned 28 year old QB, Brandon Weedon. If the move pays off, he looks like a football guru, but if not, he is likely to be fired.
Prediction: 2 wins. 4th in the AFC North, 1st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
You can find the Team Wins Over/Under market here
It's the 80th season of Steeler football and the most successful team of all time, in terms of championships, heads in to 2012 with expectations as high as ever. A 2nd placing in the division last year behind bitter rivals Baltimore was difficult to swallow, especially as they had a 12-4 record. After a dramatic holdout throughout training camp, it is still unknown whether or not Mike Wallace will return to the team, yet if not; Big Ben has a great option out wide in Antonio Brown. An nagging injury to Rashard Mendenhall is likely to place him on the PUP list for Week 1 onwards, meaning young RB Issac Redman will have a big workload for the first time.
The Steelers defense is going through somewhat of a transition as it is out with the old and in with the young, but you can expect them to be as dominant as ever.
Prediction: 13 wins, 1st in AFC North. AFC Champions.
You can find the AFC Winner market here