Win totals, over or under: The top-heavy AFC North

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 27, 2011



By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Northern Light


Our look at over/under season win totals continues as we wrap up the AFC with the North.

With the NFC West on their schedule this year, life should be pretty sweet for at least a quarter of the season. In a division marked by obvious haves (PIT, BAL) and have-nots (CLE, CIN), success is relative.

If you missed the rest of the AFC: EAST, SOUTH, WEST. You're welcome.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (Over/under: 10.5)

Last year: O/U 8.5 (OVER, 12-4)

THE CASE FOR OVER

They’re the Pittsburgh Goddam Steelers.
No team has been as good for as long as Pittsburgh. From 1972, when they broke out with an 11-3 record and playoff berth, they have had exactly one stretch where they weren’t good: 1985 to 1991. Even then, their worst season was 5-11 and they were over .500 in three of the seven years. Since 1992, they’ve been in the mix every year, and this year’s team appears to have no obvious flaws. Hall of Fame QB? Check. Featured running back and go-to wide receiver? Yes. Do-it-all tight end? Yes. Steeler defense? Always. Their only weakness was a so-so O-line (14th on the Hog Index), and they added second-round pick Marcus Gilbert while re-signing Willie Colon this summer after he missed the entire 2010 season. Tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams are gone but nobody signed them, so there’s probably addition by subtraction going on as well.

They have one of the easiest closing stretches any Super Bowl finalist could imagine.
We looked this over several times to make sure we weren’t seeing things. From Nov. 13 on, here’s the Steelers’ schedule: At Cincy, bye, at KC, host Cincy, host Cleveland, at San Francisco, host St. Louis. That’s five near-certain wins, a week off, and one decent test at Arrowhead. If Pittsburgh is 6-4 through 10 weeks, you can pretty much start spending your betting bonanza.

THE CASE FOR UNDER

Super Bowl hangover.
This feels more like a fluke than a legitimate concern, but the last four times Pittsburgh has gone to the Super Bowl, there have been struggles the year after. In 1980, the Steelers went 9-7. In 1996, they went 10-6 and lost 28-3 in the AFC semis. In 2006, they went 8-8, and they were 9-7 in 2009.  

FINAL ANALYSIS

We detailed why Vegas’ over/under on Indianapolis (-9.5) makes little sense to us; they made the same mistake last year in downgrading Pittsburgh because Ben Roethlisberger was going to miss the first four games. Good franchises win even when their stars are hurt, and the Steelers are certainly one of those. Under Mike Tomlin, they’ve won an average of 10.75 games a year, and there’s no reason to expect this team to do anything but repeat last year’s success. OVER 10.5. Lock it down.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (Over/Under: 10.5)

Last year: O/U 10 (OVER, 12-4)

THE CASE FOR OVER

This team never falls into a "trap game."
Ready for the most amazing statistic you'll read today? Here goes. Since John Harbaugh took over in 2008, the Ravens have played  24 games against teams that finished the season 8-8 or worse (a.k.a. non-Quality Opponents). Their record in those games? How about 23-1? (And 9-15 vs. Quality Opponents.) And the Ravens have 10 games against teams that were .500 or worse in 2010 on this year's schedule, which bodes well for another playoff run.

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed old, but the Ravens aren't anymore.
Ozzie Newsome is one of the league's best GMs, and like all of the good ones he manages to rebuild without anyone really noticing. Lewis is still a huge key to this team's success at 35, but he doesn't have a whole lot of company in the AARP set. Most everyone on the starting roster is in their prime, in the sweet spot between 27 and 30 years old, and Joe Flacco is in his fourth full year as a starter.

THE CASE FOR UNDER

Too much roster turnover.
While Newsome gets credit for his lack of sentimentality, eleven Ravens that played major time in Baltimore have gone to other teams in the offseason, and that’s an extraordinarily high number. There were some incoming guys as well, but S Dawan Landry, G Chris Chester, WR Derrick Mason, CB Josh Wilson, DT Kelly Gregg and TE Todd Heap were all key players in Baltimore. At the very least, the Ravens have to be thinner than usual and greener than usual outside of the top spots.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Ravens are an excellent football team, and there's little question about it -- even if they're a bit behind where they were in 2010. Joe Flacco has been getting better every year, and the defense has been so good so long that there's little doubt it'll be strong again. Despite the strengths, if the schedule were tougher, a recommendation of under would be more feasible -- there could be problems if injuries strike the offense and some of the low-end guys have to see the field too much and too early. But overall, there are to many softies for that call. Go OVER 10.5, with mild trepidation.


CLEVELAND BROWNS (Over/Under: 6.5)

Last year: O/U 5.5 (Under, 5-11)

THE CASE FOR OVER

Jake Delhomme is retired.
It's still a mystery why Delhomme was allowed to start four games for the Browns a year ago. While he did manage to go 2-2 as a starter, it was with a 63.4 rating that was nowhere near Colt McCoy (74.5) or the always decent Seneca Wallace (88.5). With McCoy a legitimate QB of the future candidate and Wallace a solid fallback, Cleveland won't lose games on passer play as they have so often in their franchise reboot.

THE CASE FOR UNDER

The Browns 2.0 franchise has been good for 10 losses just about every year.
In seven of the last eight seasons, the Browns have been 6-10 or worse, a fairly impressive run of consistent ineptitude. And in all seven of those years, the Browns had terrible offenses -- from 2003 to 2010, excepting their solid 2007, they ranked 29, 27, 32, 30, 29 and 31 in scoring. Ouch. The only major addition is rookie second-round WR Greg Little, who will need to be an upgrade over 2009 second-rounders Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. Good luck with that

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Browns finally forged an identity under coach Rob Ryan last year, but yan promptly departed for Dallas at season's end. He's replaced by Dick Jauron, who has experience aplenty -- but will the Browns have the same edge? That was really all that was good about Cleveland last year -- despite a big season from Peyton Hillis that seems fairly likely not to be repeated, they were No. 31 in points and No. 29 in yards. The only major addition is rookie second-round WR Greg Little, who will need to be an upgrade over 2009 second-rounders Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. Good luck with that. There's some reason for optimism going forward, but not this year. UNDER 6.5.

CINCINNATI BENGALS (Over/Under 5.5)

Last year: O/U 8 (Under, 4-12)

THE CASE FOR OVER

The Bengals weren’t as bad as their record in 2010.
Cincinnati went 2-9 in games decided by eight points or fewer, and that was also their record against Quality Opponents. Despite a league-high 11 games vs. the league’s iron, Cincy was only -5.4 PPG vs. those Quality Opponents, better than the Jets, Chiefs, Bucs, Bears, Cowboys and Giants. They weren't a good team, but they were very competitive, and their defense is only a year removed from being legitimately excellent.

THE CASE FOR UNDER

They might not have a player picked in your fantasy draft.
The Bengals are pretty solidly the team in possession of the least impressive skill players in the league. If they start Andy Dalton at quarterback, rookie A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson at receiver, Jermaine Gresham at tight end and Cedric Benson at running back ... well, let's just say that they're not exactly in the Super Bowl mix this year. There's a chance that everything comes together nicely at some point, but seems like 2012 would be the earliest you could expect such a thing.

FINAL ANALYSIS

At first glance, it seems like going under here is as easy as it gets. But the Bengals do get four shots at the NFC West, plus two against Cleveland, one against Denver, one against Buffalo, plus Tennessee and Jacksonville. That’s nine pretty winnable games. Of course, just because the opponents are bad doesn’t mean you’re going to beat them if you’re bad yourself – and this team almost certainly will be. The offense will have to go back to basics with Bruce Gradkowski or Andy Dalton at QB, but that could be a good thing since they rode toughness to the playoffs in 2009. If the defense plays like it did in 2009, a .500 season isn't out of the question. Still, the pick is UNDER 5.5, but don’t expect it to be that easy.

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