How far are the Browns away from taking this division from Pittsburgh?
The AFC North should be the Steelers' playground once again although the teams behind them are at varying stages of catching up. The Browns are making the right moves while the Ravens and Bengals stay close to status quo. Cleveland is getting the Hard Knocks treatment so we are learning more about their organization. The big question is can the Steelers parlay this success into a Super Bowl berth even or will they continue to fall short. With that, let's take a look at the win totals provided by the South Point sportsbook and see if there's any value with the over/under for each team.
Over 8.5 wins -110...Under 8.5 wins -110
Offense: There could be a little pressure on Joe Flacco to perform this season with Lamar Jackson also in the quarterback room. Jackson has the talent to run the offense, but the Ravens won't just push the veteran out of the job. The running backs are serviceable with Alex Collins, Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon leading the way again. The wide receivers are new for the most part with Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead all coming over from other teams. We'll see who takes over as the top target after all three weren't the lead guy on their former squads.
Defense: The secondary figures to be pretty strong if it stays healthy. Jimmy Smith can be a really good cornerback, but he's coming off an Achilles injury. Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr aren't bad with some younger support players waiting in the wings. C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs are staples at linebacker while the front line needs to provide a better pass rush. The names are there on this side of the ball, but the depth behind them needs some work. Justin Tucker is a huge difference-maker in a close game, which is what this team seemingly always plays in.
Verdict: Baltimore's offense is going to be very hit-or-miss considering they don't have that game-breaker that will scare defenses. Plus, if Flacco struggles, the cries for Jackson will grow louder and louder. The Ravens have four of their first six games on the road, but also three straight at home in November. I think the under is worth a look here. This team screams 8-8.
Over 7 wins EVEN...Under 7 wins -120
Offense: The offense features the usual suspects of A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Andy Dalton and Giovanni Bernard. Green is still one of the best wide receivers in football even though he has been handicapped by poor quarterback play. Jeremy Hill is gone so the backfield work will be split between Joe Mixon and Bernard although Mark Walton will try and edge his way in there. Tyler Boyd, Josh Malone and John Ross are the leading candidates to be opposite Green at wide receiver. There's just no excitement on this side of the ball as the Bengals continue to try and win with the same guys.
Defense: There's not a lot of turnover here either. Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson provide the most pressure up front. Preston Brown joins Vontaze Burfict at linebacker while Dre Kirkpatrick will man one cornerback spot alongside William Jackson. Much like the offense, the names still seem to be the same. The defense did add Chris Baker on the front line and spent several early picks on this side of the ball.
Verdict: There is truly nothing sexy about this team entering the 2018 campaign. Cincinnati starts and finishes with three road games over a four-week period. Getting the NFC South and the AFC West means there could be more struggles. Maybe another poor year will get the team to make some changes. Marvin Lewis is only 125-112-3 in 16 years with the Bengals. His seat has to be getting really hot along with their mediocre quarterback.
Over 6 wins +105...Under 6 wins -125
Offense: The Browns could be extremely competent on offense this year. Tyrod Taylor figures to start at quarterback, but it's only a matter of time before Baker Mayfield takes over. The team spent a high draft pick on the kid who looked alright in his early preseason action. Depending upon if Josh Gordon returns in time, the wide receiving group is very good with Jarvis Landry taking over as the No. 1 guy. Antonio Callaway is an intriguing prospect if he can keep out of trouble. Carlos Hyde leads the way at running back, but we know that Duke Johnson and maybe Nick Chubb will get some work.
Defense: It was bound to happen with all the high picks, but this side of the ball is going to be really good eventually. Myles Garrett is a grade-A pass rusher while the linebacking group now features former Eagle Mychal Kendricks as well as veteran Jamie Collins. Damarious Randall came over from Green Bay to pair off nicely at safety with Jabrill Peppers. Cornerback could be better, but drafting Denzel Ward is a good way to start fixing that. Overall, this is a young group, but with proper coaching, they will improve.
Verdict: With Baltimore and Cincinnati going in the opposite direction, there's a small chance that Cleveland could leap to second place. That's if things break right. I still think there's an opportunity for the Browns to get out of the cellar at least and pass one of those two squads. Cleveland has a couple of road back-to-backs, but the schedule isn't too terrible. Probably no play here, but this team is on the rise.
Over 10.5 wins +115...Under 10.5 wins -135
Offense: For the second straight year, Le'Veon Bell will not be joining the team for training camp, but does plan to play Week 1. It took the running back a few weeks in 2017, but he eventually rounded into form. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are back as well as an improving JuJu Smith-Schuster. Roethlisberger didn't seem too thrilled with the team drafting Mason Rudolph, who many view as his eventual replacement. The offensive line is fantastic and they dodged a bullet that Ramon Foster wasn't that seriously hurt earlier in training camp.
Defense: Last year it seemed like this defense lost its teeth when Ryan Shazier got hurt. Tyson Alualu was a real good pickup from Jacksonville, adding depth to a defensive line that tired down the stretch. The Steelers need Stephon Tuitt to play better than he did last year when he was bothered by injuries. T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree form a solid young pair of linebackers, but the middle needs some work. Replacing Mike Mitchell with Morgan Burnett at safety is an upgrade because Mitchell was really just a big hitter. Cornerback Joe Haden has to recapture his talent from his days in Cleveland and Artie Burns needs to grow up as well.
Verdict: This division should be Pittsburgh's and by quite a few games. No one has the talent to keep up with the Steelers. They've put up some gaudy records the past four seasons, but have no Super Bowls to show for it. Kansas City and New England both have to come to Pittsburgh. I think the over is worth a look.
-- Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo by John Reid/Cleveland Browns, courtesy of www.clevelandbrowns.com)