It's anyone's game atop the AFC North
The AFC North is always one of the most intriguing divisions in the NFL. The Ravens have taken a step back with the Bengals and Steelers always in the mix. Heck, the Browns have shown flashes of competitiveness. One thing is for sure, that every divisional game will be a battle in 2015.
Much like I did with the college football win totals, I will break down the schedules in terms of home and road opponents outside the division. In most situations, I'll give a split to each team in divisional play with them winning at home and losing on the road. Vegas is much more on the ball in the NFL compared to college football so the numbers are a lot sharper.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
(Over 9 wins -135, Under 9 wins +115)
Record Last Year: 10-6
Offense: The biggest change on this side of the ball may be the installation of Marc Trestman as offensive coordinator. Many believe he's going to make a difference in Joe Flacco, who will have to get used to some changes. Wide receivers Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith are gone with first-round pick Breshad Perriman in line to replace them. The offensive line is strong, having allowed just 19 sacks all of last season.
Defense: Another vital cog is out on the defensive side of the ball with Haloti Ngata going to Detroit. He'll be missed as well as Pernell McPhee, who went to the Bears in free agency. Still, the pieces that are there are pretty solid with Terrell Suggs leading the way. There can only be improvement in the secondary where Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith hope to stay healthy.
Schedule: Baltimore plays five of its first eight on the road before the bye week. The Ravens have three straight home games in Weeks 14-16 with Seattle, Kansas City and Pittsburgh coming to town. The Ravens are the road team for two MNF games (Arizona, Cleveland).
Prediction: Slight lean to the over. Baltimore has some rough stretches, but the Ravens will do enough to make the playoffs. It'll take some time for this offense to click, but by the end of the year, this will be a team that will make waves in the AFC.
(Over 8.5 wins -130, Under 8.5 wins +110)
Record Last Year: 10-6
Offense: Another year and the Bengals' offense stays relatively intact. There's excitement about year two with Jeremy Hill, who was a solid runner to go with Giovani Bernard. These two helped take the pressure off Andy Dalton. Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert being healthy will be a big help as well as they provide targets to help A.J. Green not be the sole focus of opposing secondaries.
Defense: This is the side of the ball with the bigger changes. Coming in are A.J. Hawk, Michael Johnson and Pat Sims while Robert Geathers, Taylor Mays and Terrence Newman depart. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins will be particularly happy to see Johnson, as the two accounted for 11 of the team's league-worst 20 sacks in 2014.
Schedule: Cincy has road games at Buffalo, Arizona and Denver as challenges outside of the AFC North. The Bengals don't have too many menacing stretches nor are they home or away for more than two straight tilts.
Prediction: I like the under for Cincinnati. I'm not a Dalton fan and think defenses will stack the box to make him try and beat them. One of my early upsets is that the Bengals loses their season opener at Oakland. It's going to be an end to the four-year streak of playoff appearances.
(Over 6.5 wins +125, Under 6.5 wins -145)
Record Last Year: 7-9
Offense: There are some new weapons on this side of the ball. It all starts with Josh McCown under center, who will have to fend off Johnny Manziel. Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe come over to try and give the passing game a boost, as Josh Gordon is suspended for the season. Jordan Cameron is gone at TE, but Cleveland brought over Rob Housler. The backfield battle is intriguing with Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson and Terrance West all hoping to get carries.
Defense: This was an underrated group in the division and maybe across football. The Browns finished ninth in scoring defense while checking in eighth against the pass. Joe Haden gets help with Tramon Williams joining the secondary to go along with Justin Gilbert, who should only improve after a rough rookie season. Kicker is a huge question mark and could be a factor in close games.
Schedule: Cleveland has three straight home games from Weeks 13-15. The Browns also have three stretches of two straight road games. ESPN's "Monday Night Football" comes to the Dawg Pound on Nov. 30 when the Browns host the Ravens. The Browns have road matchups at Seattle, Kansas City and San Diego.
Prediction: There are a lot of question marks with Cleveland. How crisp will this offense be with McCown, who didn't do much in Tampa Bay, with more weapons? I just can't make a selection for this squad until some of these questions are answered.
(Over 8.5 wins -130, Under 8.5 wins +110)
Record Last Year: 11-5
Offense: There's no reason to think this side of the ball won't be even better than last year. Martavis Bryant should get more snaps and will provide a nice complement to Antonio Brown. DeAngelo Williams is a solid backup to Le'Veon Bell, who is slated to miss the first three games of the season. Ben Roethlisberger put up almost 5,000 yards through the air. This is the best offense in the division.
Defense: For as good as the offense is, the defense is almost that bad. Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Jason Worilds have all departed, leaving a very young unit behind. Pittsburgh hopes first-round pick Bud Dupree can step in at linebacker to go with Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones. Teams will be able to throw on the Steelers, who will play a lot of high-scoring affairs in 2015.
Schedule: Three of Pittsburgh's first five are on the road and are on days other then Sunday. It doesn't get much tougher then an opener in Foxborough against the Patriots. Weeks 8-10 are at home while the season finishes with three of four away from Heinz Field.
Prediction: Slight lean to the under. A stretch of Indianapolis, Seattle, Cincy, Denver and Baltimore will crush a defense still trying to find its identity without longtime coordinator Dick LeBeau. Almost every Steelers game has a chance to go over the total even if it's a high one.
— 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.