Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ramblings and Gambling Series: Regular Season Over Under – AFC North
The AFC North is the next division in our evaluation of regular season over/unders. Overall, the division is strong, with Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh all having reasons to believe they can win the division this year. Just as there are positives for each of these teams, there are also questions… Will Pittsburgh survive for games without Ben Roethlisberger? Can Cincinnati improve on last year’s surprising division title? Will Baltimore’s defense be able to withstand offseason injuries? Time will tell. Cleveland, however, looks like they are in for a long season (or three) as they continue to rebuild their roster and search for a quarterback, and likely doesn’t have much to look forward to this year. The one question I have for all of these teams is will they cover the over or under? Read on to find out!
Ramblings and Gambling:

By Erik Laurinovics, for The Football ERA

AFC North

AFC North Non-Division Opponents: AFC EAST (NE, MIA, BUF, NYJ), NFC South (TB, NO, CAR, ATL)
Baltimore Ravens Over/Under: 10.0
Pick: Under

This pick isn’t so much based on the schedule as it is on Baltimore’s injury-riddled secondary. With two corners coming off knee injuries last season, and now the loss of Dominique Foxworth, the secondary is going to be vulnerable, which will likely wear down the run defense. While Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin, and Ray Rice will lead a dynamic offense under Cam Cameron, the offensive line is beginning to look a little suspect due to injuries, and the offense may not be able to rely on the defense to create as many turnovers (32 in 2009, 5th overall) which could lead to fewer opportunities.
Moreover, division opponents Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have solid defenses of their own, which leaves me questioning if Baltimore is the surefire division winner everyone is picking them to be. The division should be extremely competitive, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give Baltimore two losses. Trying to find 7 wins outside of the division is a challenge. Both the AFC East and NFC South present at least two difficult games, and Baltimore drew Denver and Houston as its “wild card” games this year. I don’t see 7 wins happening with their schedule.
Personally, I’m staying away from this one, but I’ll take the under if I have to. The best I can see Baltimore is doing is pushing at 10.

Cincinnati Bengals Over/Under: 8.0
Pick: Over

I believe Cincinnati to be the most well rounded team in this division. They possess a solid ball-control offense (9th overall rushing in 2009), an excellent pass defense featuring Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall (6th ranked pass defense in 2009), and a promising front-seven (7th ranked run defense in 2009). As much of their defense is young, there is reason to think these numbers will improve in 2010. Enjoying a relatively healthy offseason, the Bengals should be able to take advantage of a tumultuous offseason for Pittsburgh and an injury-plagued offseason for Baltimore, and take control of the division again. I expect the Bengals to take at least 4 games in the division.
Finding at least 4 more wins against non-division opponents isn’t that difficult, as Tampa Bay, Carolina, Buffalo, and Miami are very good matchups for the Bengals. 8 is the minimum number of wins I expect from Cincinnati this year, making them a relatively easy over, in my opinion.

Cleveland Browns Over/Under: 5.5
Pick: Under
Ah, the Browns… A strong candidate for worst record of the year, they enter the season with Jake Delhomme at quarterback, and are already missing a few key players due to injuries. With Delhomme under-center, the Browns will likely be sporting a turnover prone and one-dimensional offense in 2010, just as Carolina did last year (Delhomme went 4-7 prior to being benched). Not much was done to improve their defense, where they ranked 29th against the pass and 28th against the run.
With the numbers on both sides of the ball looking bad for Cleveland, they will likely fare poorly within the division, and a 0-6 finish is not at all out of the question. Outside of the division, fellow cellar-dwellers Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City are their best shot at a win, but the Browns are easily over-matched by any other team on the schedule. Unless Jake Delhomme unexpectedly reverts to a previous version of himself, say circa 2004, I do not see how the Browns can pick up the requisite 6 wins to cover the over. Give me the under.

Pittsburgh Steelers Over/Under: 8.5
Pick: Over

Disclaimer: I am staying as far away from this one as I can. Pittsburgh is impossible to predict this year. With Big Ben out the first 4 games, Pittsburgh has yet to reveal who the week 1 start will be. With Leftwich down, most think it will be Dennis Dixon, though there is speculation Charlie Batch may get the call. It’s an ugly situation, and combined with offensive line injuries, it could be a rough start for the Steelers in 2010.
Quarterback and suspension issues aside, Pittsburgh has a rough schedule as well. Division rival Baltimore gets one game against Pittsburgh while Ben Roethlisberger is suspended, and Cincinnati will be a tough matchup for Pittsburgh this year. A 3-3 division record seems likely.
Outside of the division, the Steelers have the pleasure of facing several quality teams. Getting 6 wins will be tough, but it is doable as the Steelers matchup well with Buffalo, Miami, Tampa, and Carolina. Oakland and Tennessee are also beatable opponents, and are one the schedule as “wild card” matchups. The Steelers also have a reasonable stretch run to end the season, as their last 6 games are OAK, @BUF, @BAL, CIN, NYJ, CAR, @CLE.
Again, I find this one to be very, very tough, but I’ll take the over. I think if the Steelers start Dennis Dixon, they have a shot at going 2-2 to start the season. After that, they would need to go 7-5 for the rest of year, and I think that’s doable given the schedule at the end of the year.

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