Mike Ivcic’s AFC North Division Preview & Predictions

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Mike Ivcic’s AFC North Division Preview & Predictions ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>


Welcome to the Ultimate Capper’s NFL Season Preview. Below is the schedule for the division-by-division breakdown for the upcoming season. Also, we’re enhancing our NFL coverage this year with Mike Ivcic’s regular column every Wednesday and a full game-by-game breakdown every Saturday, in addition to our regular features and free picks. The best place for information on the 2013 NFL season is right here at the Ultimate Capper!


AFC West – Tue, 8/13 NFC North – Wed, 8/14 NFC East – Thu, 8/15
AFC South – Fri, 8/16 NFC South – Tue, 8/20 AFC North – Wed, 8/21
NFC West – Thu, 8/22 AFC East – Fri, 8/23 Playoffs – Wed, 8/28

Baltimore Ravens
Record Last Season: 10-6
Over/Under Win Total: 8.5
Odds to win AFC North: 19/10
Odds to win AFC Title: 10/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25/1
Outlook: It’s often said that repeating as champions is more difficult than winning the first title, mostly because the rest of the league puts the bulls-eye right on the champion. In this case, though, it will also be because that champion will look dramatically different, at least on defense, than the one that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy last February. Gone are Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the inspirational leaders for more than a decade of one of the fiercest, nastiest defenses ever assembled. Because their influence defined not just the defense but also the team as a whole, their absence will also be felt by the entire group, even though the offense should be just as formidable as they were in the past with Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, and Jacoby Jones all still in the fold. Plus, it’s not like the defense is now full of a bunch of no-names – Terrell Suggs is more than capable of being an on-field leader, and CB Lardarius Webb, S Michael Huff, and DT’s Haloti Ngata and Marcus Spears will all be aided by the addition of Elvis Dumervil. But this season will be more about the identity of the Ravens, something that will be significantly more difficult to determine without Lewis and Reed. Try as they might, this Baltimore team will just be different when compared to previous teams – and so, too, will be the end result of the season.
Prediction: 6-10, 3rd place

Cincinnati Bengals
Record Last Season: 10-6
Over/Under Win Total: 8.5
Odds to win AFC North: 2/1
Odds to win AFC Title: 12/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 33/1
Outlook: Most pundits thought Cincinnati was a flash in the pan two seasons ago when they captured the 6-seed in the AFC and lost to Houston in the first round – until they duplicated that exact same script last year, too. At this point, it’s safe to say that Andy Dalton, while certainly still outside of the “elite QB” club, is efficient and productive enough to lead a fairly explosive offense. This isn’t Mark Sanchez or Christian Ponder – Dalton can really play. He’ll be aided by another year in the system for RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, though it’s still vital for the Bengals offense to find a suitable second receiver to play opposite A.J. Green, whether that’s the continued development of Andrew Hawkins or the surprise play of one of the four rookie wideouts still competing for a roster spot. The defense was exceptional against the pass last season, ranking 7th in yards per game, which if repeated gives this team a great shot at a third straight playoff berth. They also have a front-loaded schedule that should allow them to make a last season run, with four of their last six games at home and a week 12 bye, leaving just a week 15 trip to Pittsburgh on Sunday night as the only game where they should be an underdog. If they can emerge relatively healthy from a brutal first five games (at Chicago, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, at Cleveland, New England) things should set up nicely for a Bengals wild card spot.
Prediction: 9-7, 2nd place


Cleveland Browns
Record Last Season: 5-11
Over/Under Win Total: 6
Odds to win AFC North: 13/2
Odds to win AFC Title: 50/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 150/1
Outlook: For such a football-crazed city, it’s a shame that once again we’ll likely be using words like “potential,” “upside,” and “future” with regards to the Browns. For starters, they have the opposite schedule from Cincinnati, with a closing four games of at New England, Chicago, at NY Jets, and at Pittsburgh, meaning any early season momentum and possible playoff hopes could quickly evaporate down the stretch. They also still have to determine if Brandon Weeden is truly the long-term answer at quarterback, an analysis made significantly more difficult by the absence of a true number one wide receiver. Trent Richardson is a very good back, but he can only shoulder so much of the offensive burden. The defense has added a lot of young talent over the last two years, so they should be athletic and aggressive, but they also lack a true veteran presence to serve as the unit’s leader and rallying point. Overall, it’s hard not to see this roster and recognize the positives that have come from the last couple of drafts, but it’s also very difficult to see this as a team that could jump up and surprise everyone by making the playoffs. I see improvement along Lake Erie, but not enough to consider this one of the top six teams in an admittedly weak AFC.
Prediction: 6-10, 4th place

Pittsburgh Steelers
Record Last Season: 8-8
Over/Under Win Total: 9
Odds to win AFC North: 19/10
Odds to win AFC Title: 12/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 28/1
Outlook: The last time the Steelers missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons was 1999 and 2000, right the middle of the franchise’s transition from the team that lost to Dallas in January of ’96 to the team that captured Pittsburgh’s fifth Super Bowl championship in February of ’05. Thus, to say this team should once again reach the postseason is, by no means, a stretch. The critical thing here is for Ben Roethlisberger to stay healthy. Big Ben has been Banged-Up Ben over the last few seasons, and except for 2010 the Steelers have failed to win a postseason game when he’s missed even one start. In fact, Roethlisberger hasn’t started every game since 2008, the year Pittsburgh topped Arizona for their sixth title. As such, everything else surrounding this team is secondary to their QB’s health. The running game might struggle unless Isaac Redman or LaRod Stephens-Howling emerges as an every-down back, but the loss of Mike Wallace will be mitigated if Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders continue in their own development. The defense will still be ferocious – LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Ike Taylor, and especially Troy Polamalu (if healthy) will see to that. The ingredients are here for a rebound year and a division championship with the Bengals still growing and the Ravens losing so much of their heart and soul, but all of that becomes moot if the offensive line can’t keep Roethlisberger on the field for every game this season.
Prediction: 10-6, 1st place


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