2013 NFL Regular Season Win Totals: AFC North

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Summer is a funny time of year for me. I don’t handle the humidity well. I’m usually more sluggish. And of course, there’s almost nothing good in the way of sports to watch, in my humble opinion. I enjoy parties and barbeques like anyone else, but by the time we get to this point in July, I long for the cooler fall days full of NFL Sundays. Fantasy drafts that go deep into the night. Nailing a three-game parlay. The constant immersion that is football season.

I took a few weeks off from sports following the Bruins’ utterly heartbreaking loss to the Blackhawks in game 6. Nothing quite like taking what some people consider the most boring four days in the sports calendar to start digging into the upcoming football year. And what better way to kick it off than a high-level view of each division in the NFL? More specifically, the over/under totals for regular season wins.

We’ll be going over this division by division, starting with the AFC North, a competitive division in a conference that has fallen off in the last few seasons. All over/under totals are being taken from 5dimes.eu.

Baltimore Ravens // 2012 Record: 10-6, Won Super Bowl XLVII
Key Additions: Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty
Key Departures: Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Anquan Boldin
2013 Win Total: 8 ½ (Over -140, Under +120)

Probably the trendiest pick to regress this year, Baltimore will have a very different look. The turnover on defense is undeniable, and Baltimore has never been a flashy offensive team, finishing 16th in total offense last year. I think this team will need time to get it together, and without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed back there, I think the younger defense makes more mistakes. The offense is largely unchanged save for Anquan Boldin, and they will still beat the bad teams in the league. Problem is, there aren’t many bad teams on their schedule after they won the division last year; their prize is playing at Denver in the opener and vs. Houston.

I think the number for Baltimore is 8 this year. They have tough games at home, and they’re not a good road team. Take UNDER 8 ½ at +120, which is good value for a team in partial rebuilding mode.

Pittsburgh Steelers // 2012 Record: 8-8, 3rd AFC North
Key (Free Agent) Additions: None
Key Departures: Mike Wallace, James Harrison
2013 Win Total: 9 (Over-135, Under +115)

Here’s the team poised to take back the AFC North. Yes, they lost their big play threat in Mike Wallace, but a dirty little secret, he wasn’t all that great last year. I’m not a fan of vertical receivers anyway. This team is returning more of its core than you may think, and I think they hit it out of the park with their first two draft picks in Jarvis Jones and Le’Veon Bell, two guys who could start right away. This team is hard hitting. Those two games against Baltimore will be akin to an old school WWF Hell In A Cell match. Timmons, Woodley, Worilds at LB, Polamalu and Taylor in the secondary, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I think they’ll have a more consistent identity, run to set up the pass, and with guys like Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, they have downfield threats and middle of the field plays to work with. The issue with this team is health, but I don’t make bets based on that.

I think OVER 9 is a steal. You only lose if they repeat last year or worse, and I think this is a team trending up. Take the -135 juice and don’t look back. The schedule is on the easy side, getting to play the Titans, Jets and Raiders in the first half, and Buffalo, Detroit, Miami, plus both Cleveland games late, with 5 of their last 8 at home.

Cincinnati Bengals // 2012 Record: 10-6, 2nd AFC North
Key Additions: James Harrison
Key Departures: Jason Allen, Andre Smith
2013 Win Total: 8 ½ (Over -140, Under +120)

Arguably the most underrated team in the league as the previous two teams usually get all the headlines in the division. They have studs on defense, one of the best young receivers in the game, but not much else that stands out. That said, they’re at least in the conversation in January. They’ve won 10, 4, 9 and 10 games over the last four years, not making it past round 1 of the playoffs since 1990.

I think AJ Green will only get better, and this defense is very solid up front. My biggest concern is the schedule. They start and end with difficult runs, with a brief reprieve mid-season. The problem is, they don’t get a bye week until week 12. They will need to be very mentally tough even though the Bills/Lions/Jets/Dolphins stretch of the schedule. I’m also not in love with the running game, as they drafted Giovani Bernard high, so one wonders if it will be the rookie, or the veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis getting carries.

I think Cincinnati benefitted from their cupcake schedule last year, and this year they have the second highest increase in strength of schedule (based on 2012 records). I once again like the UNDER at +120 for Cincinnati, and a lot will depend on if they can repeat their 6-2 record on the road.

Cleveland Browns // 2012 Record: 5-11, 4th AFC North
Key Additions: Paul Kruger
Key Departures: None, really. All their 2012 WRs and TEs?
2013 Win Total: 6 (Over -135, Under +115)

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t watch much Cleveland Browns football in 2012. There’s very little marquee talent on the team, and some of the interesting players like Josh Gordon, are already suspended for a few games this year. However, they have their QB and some competent backups, their Running Back of the future in Trent Richardson, and a revamped receiving corps with some also-rans like Davone Bess and David Nelson looking for another shot, to go with guys like Josh Gordon and Greg Little. The defense is very underrated, now with former Raven Paul Kruger and 6th overall pick Barkevious Mingo as OLBs to go with a heavy defensive line and stud corner Joe Haden.

If I’ve put you all to sleep by now I apologize, I never said I’d finish strong. The 2012 Browns had flashes of competent play and some tough losses. I like the OVER for Cleveland, only because I think they will be better than last year. That said, this is the least confident I think I’ll be all year. They could very easily win 5 games and lose a lot of close ones. After losing 5 games by 7 or less points in ‘12, swinging any of those in your favor could be an easy win for the over.

I’ll be back by the weekend with the AFC South!

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