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October 25, 2014

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NFL betting primer: Vegas odds, picks and preview of the AFC North

Competitive balance once again the story at the top of one of the NFL’s best divisions

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) and quarterback Andy Dalton (14) celebrate after the Bengals scored against the New York Jets in the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Cincinnati.

Note: For the next two weeks, Talking Points will go division by division to preview every team in the NFL. This is part three. Find part one here and part two here.

William Hill sports books Director of Trading Nick Bogdanovich posted the future odds that paint the AFC North as the most evenly matched division in football.

That doesn’t mean he has to agree with them. Bogdanovich’s personal opinion conflicts with the public perception that forced him to open lines that imply the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens all have somewhere between a 24 and 35 percent chance to earn a home game in the playoffs.

In Bogdanovich’s mind, one team stands above the rest.

“I think Cincinnati is the team to beat for sure,” Bogdanovich said. “But let’s face it, Baltimore and Pittsburgh aren’t chop liver. Those are two year-in, year-out physical teams.”

In the last decade, the AFC North has presented a strong case for being called the NFL’s best division. Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati have each won the league three times since 2005.

It’s the only division in the span to propel two separate franchises to Super Bowls — the Steelers in 2006 and the Ravens in 2012. Aside from the Browns, which sports books again see lagging behind this year at 13-to-2 to win the division, it’s wide open again this year.

Most bettors at William Hill digress with Bogdanovich’s opinion. The shop has taken more money on Pittsburgh and Baltimore to win the division.

The two runner-ups to the Bengals last year have also attracted action on their “over” win totals.

“People like to bet on teams that have won Super Bowls,” Bogdanovich said. “Pittsburgh and Baltimore are always drawing respect.”

The Steelers got enough volume to push them into the favorite at plus-150 (risking $1 to win $1.50) to win the division. The Bengals and the Ravens trail close behind at plus-210 and plus-250, respectively.

Read below for a full betting preview on all four teams.

    • Baltimore Ravens players leave the field as play was suspended for a severe thunderstorm blowing through Soldier Field during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, in Chicago.

      Baltimore Ravens

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 7-9 (8-8 straight-up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Favorites in seven games, underdogs in six games with two pick’ems

      Average spread: Ravens minus-1 (biggest favorite: Week 15 minus-10 vs. Jaguars; biggest underdog: Week 12 plus-6.5 at Saints)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 30-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win AFC: 14-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the AFC North: plus-275 (risking $1 to win $2.75)

      South Point over/under win total: 8.5 (over minus-120, under Even)

      Bogdanovich’s report: “Baltimore’s getting some tickets for the Super Bowl, but how about some consistent play out of Flacco? One game, he’ll look like a superstar and the next game, he’ll look like a JV high school quarterback. He’s making huge money, and he needs to play like he’s making huge money.”

      Keefer’s take: Flacco’s 11-touchdown, zero-interception run through the 2012 playoffs will go down as one of the greatest outliers in NFL history. He’s not nearly as good as he was in the run to the Super Bowl, but also not nearly as poor as his 19-touchdown, 22-interception performance last regular season. The Ravens haven’t gone two straight years without a winning record since 1998 and 1999. That’s worth remembering before slotting Baltimore into third in the division like the betting market. The Ravens also posted their first losing record against the spread under coach John Harbaugh last season, having gone an outlandish 51-38-4 in his first five years. With one of the NFL’s best defenses, Harbaugh and the Ravens should discontinue the slide in 2014.

      A bet: Ravens minus-2.5 vs. Bengals Week 1. Baltimore has beaten Cincinnati four straight years at home, and covered in each of the last three. Motivation will run high as the Ravens will want to show last year is behind them.

    • Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) hands off to running back Giovani Bernard (25) in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the New York Jets, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Cincinnati.

      Cincinnati Bengals

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 10-6-1 (11-6 straight-up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Favorites in eight games, underdogs in five games with two pick’ems

      Average spread: Bengals minus-1.5 (biggest favorite: Week 9 minus-11 vs. Jaguars; biggest underdog: Week 11 plus-4 at Saints)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 18-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win AFC: 8-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the AFC East: plus-210 (risking $1 to win $2.10)

      South Point over/under win total: 9 (over minus-110, under minus-110)

      Bogdanovich’s report: “I was shocked last year when they were upset in the first round by the Chargers. I think Cincinnati is pretty good. I like Andy Dalton; he’s a gamer. I think Giovanni Bernard could be special. A.J. Green speaks for himself.”

      Keefer’s take: Talk about a drastic split. As described in the Football Outsiders Almanac, Cincinnati has played terribly in nationally-televised games and outstanding otherwise over the last three years. Since 2011 when Dalton won the quarterback job, the Bengals are 2-7 straight-up and against the spread in their showcase games including their three notorious playoff flameouts. They’re 28-14 straight-up, 25-13-4 against the spread in normal contests. Bettors aren’t cutting as many jokes as the rest of the football-verse when it comes to Cincinnati’s first-round curse because they’re at the window backing the Bengals. For the second straight year, the Bengals have taken enough action to win the Super Bowl to trim their odds from an opening price of 25-to-1 at the Superbook.

      A bet: Giovani Bernard to rush for the most yards at 40-to-1 New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is on record saying he wants to run the ball more. He’s got the perfect candidate for the job in Bernard, who’s worth a shot at this high of a price.

    • Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (91) sacks Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in Landover, Md.

      Cleveland Browns

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 6-10 (4-12 straight-up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Underdogs in nine games, favorites in four games with two pick’ems

      Average spread: Browns plus-1.5 (biggest favorite: Week 8 minus-4.5 vs. Raiders; biggest underdog: Week 13 plus-7.5 at Panthers)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 60-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win AFC: 25-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the AFC North: plus-650 (risking $1 to win $6.50)

      South Point over/under win total: 6.5 (over minus-145, under plus-125)

      Bogdanovich’s report: “There’s not much money there…I don’t know what to think. They could be competitive, I guess, but a lot depends on quarterback play.”

      Keefer’s take: Long considered cursed for playing in what’s perennially one of the NFL’s toughest division, Cleveland hasn’t eked out as much as a .500 record against its AFC North rivals since 2007. The Browns are 6-24 against the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals in the span. They usually put up a fight, however, with a 15-15 against the spread record that looked even better before last year’s 2-4 debacle. The betting market is avoiding the Browns with good reason this year. They go into the season with the rare distinction of not boasting a single positional unit of players that’s above average. If wide receiver Josh Gordon could turn around his act that would change, but alas, that’s not meant to be.

      A bet: Rams vs. Browns under 43 points Week 1 Both defenses should be ahead of both offenses at the beginning of the season.

    • Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin before an NFL preseason football game against the New York Giants on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, in Pittsburgh. New York won 18-13.(AP Photo/)

      Pittsburgh Steelers

      2013 Against The Spread Record: 9-7 (8-8 straight-up)

      CG Technologies weeks 1-16 lines: Favorites in 10 games, underdogs in four with one pick’em

      Average spread: Steelers minus-1 (biggest favorite: Week 5 minus-6.5 at Jaguars; biggest underdog: Week 15 plus-3.5 at Falcons)

      Westgate Superbook odds to win the Super Bowl: 20-to-1

      Westgate Superbook odds to win AFC: 8-to-1

      William Hill odds to win the AFC North: plus-150 (risking $1 to win $1.50)

      South Point over/under win total: 8.5 (over minus-165, under plus-145)

      Bogdanovich’s report:

      Keefer’s take: A somewhat surprising favorite to win the division, pro-Pittsburgh bettors must remember the second half of last season. The Steelers went 7-1 against the spread, 6-2 straight-up down the stretch with both losses coming by less than a touchdown. The offense improved once coordinator Todd Haley ceded more control to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, an arrangement that will reportedly continue in 2014. The bigger concern is the defense, though. It was uncharacteristically rocky for Pittsburgh’s standards, giving up more than 30 points on five occasions — three of which against teams that failed to make the playoffs.

      A bet: Steelers under 8.5 wins The plus-price on the under swayed me towards this wager, as Pittsburgh doesn’t seem any better than last year’s version that required a late surge just to reach eight wins.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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