2019 AFC NORTH PREVIEW
By Marc Lawrence
Welcome to the 2019 AFC North division preview, with excerpts from the 2019 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine.
In addition to the previews outlined below, these interesting scheduling statistical notes merit consideration, compliments of the 2019 MTI Regular Season NFL Win Report:
Baltimore – Ravens have not played ‘under’ their regular-season win total in any of the last five years… -3 net turnovers in 2018 regular season.
Cincinnati – Bengals have played ‘under’ their regular-season win total 3 straight years …+1 net turnover in 2018 regular season.
Cleveland – Browns suffered 4 losses by 1-3 points last season … +7 net turnovers in 2018 regular season.
Pittsburgh – Steelers went ‘under’ their regular-season win total last season for the first time since 2013 … -11 net turnovers in 2018 regular season.
TEAM THEME: MAVERICK IS THE NAME
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 (over -120)
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 129
The Ravens become the fourth team since the NFL switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978 to receive a perfectly balanced schedule, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Over the past 41 years, the only other teams to alternate home and away every game of the season were the 1985 Atlanta Falcons (finished 4-12), the 1991 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13) and the 2012 Falcons (13-3). Digging deeper, four of the Ravens’ first six games are against losing teams last year that changed head coaches, including their first two. And for the first time since 2006, neither game between Baltimore and Pittsburgh is slotted for prime time – despite the fact that only 7 of the last 25 games in this series have been decided by more than 7 points. Furthermore, the Black Birds will tackle 6 foes this season that amassed double-digit losses in 2018. Thus the question begs: will the arsenal of wide receivers Baltimore acquired in the offseason be enough to keep Lamar Jackson in the pocket where he belongs? Or is his instinct to run-first and pass only out of necessity embedded in his DNA? It’s apparent the Ravens are all-in with Jackson, making them mavericks in the current pass-crazy NFL. Then again, Bret Maverick constantly found himself in and out of life-threatening trouble during his time as a TV gambler on the run.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Ravens are 9-1 SU and 8-2 ATS at home following its bye week since 2002.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. New England (11/3)
INSIDE THE STATS: After going 3-9 ITS in division games the Ravens went 4-2 in 2018.
TEAM THEME: STRIPE HYPE
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 6 (over -130)
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 129
It took three successive losing seasons for the Bengals to show HC Marvin Lewis the door. Now Zac Taylor, the former LA Rams quarterbacks coach, assumes the reins. And because the NFL is a copycat league, Cincinnati is hoping he can do for the Bengals what Sean McVay has done for the Rams. McVay, though, inherited a good defense and a blossoming offense. Unfortunately, Cincinnati does not check either box. Despite finishing last in overall defense last season, only ONE of the Bengals first four picks in this year’s draft were defensive players. Go figure. They’re going to need production from TE Tyler Eifert who has played more than half of a 16 game schedule only three times in his 6-year career. If the talented tight end is healthy and plays to his level, he can help lift the offense to new heights. A lot more offensive production will need to come from suddenly aging Andy Dalton. The Red Rifle is listed as the 34th favorite to win the MVP award at +10000, and that likely tells you all you need to know about Taylor’s chances for success this season. Nonetheless, Cincinnati wants to believe Dalton’s sterling 17-11 SU and 17-8-3 ATS career record in September (3-1 last year) is a building block they can lean on. Good luck with that.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bengals own the NFL’s longest winless drought in the playoffs: 28 years.
PLAY ON: at Cleveland (12/8)
INSIDE THE STATS: Since it bye week in 2017, the Bengals are 6-19 ITS in their last 25 games.
TEAM THEME: HUMBLE PIE
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9 (over -130)
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 124
No team has appeared in fewer prime-time games over the past 10 seasons than the Browns (11). That’s about to change this season when Cleveland breaks through in four main attraction affairs. It’s safe to say the Browns have elevated excitement about the team. After inserting quarterback Baker Mayfield into the starting lineup and then winning five of its final seven games in 2018, they won the offseason, too, with trades for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., pass-rusher Olivier Vernon, and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Coupled with another strong draft, and a roster stockpiled with talent, the Browns are suddenly the “it” team in the NFL this season. But before being anointed as Super Bowl champions, they would serve themselves well to remember they enter 2019 with 11 consecutive losing seasons, as well as missing the playoffs 16 years in a row. The last playoff victory was in 1994 (when they were last coached by Bill Belichick). In fact, according to Jarrett Bell of the USA TODAY, since the NFL realigned divisions in 2002, the AFC North title scorecard reads: Steelers 8, Ravens 5, Bengals 4, Browns 0. The thinking here is they would be better served approaching the season as a hungry underdog rather than the “new Patriots”, as OBJ declared. For a team with a whole new persona, let’s hope they adhere to Mayfield’s “Humble Over Hype” reminder bracelet.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: In going from zero wins to seven wins last season, the Browns defense regressed 65 YPG.
INSIDE THE STATS: The Browns are 1-28 SU and 2-27 ATS the L29 games in which they are minus in net TO’s.
TEAM THEME: FADING STARS
Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 128
While many Steelers fans mourn the loss of star WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell this offseason, the hardest defection of all may be one that doesn’t show up in the stat sheets. After five years coaching the Steelers offensive line, Mike Munchak took the same job with the Denver Broncos, only his third NFL coaching stop in 25 years. His job was to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright and to create holes for the running game. Both Bell and Brown’s production benefited mightily from Munchak’s know-how. With all three gainfully employed elsewhere, there will certainly be a new learning curve this season. Running back Benny Snell (Kentucky) was tapped in the 4th round of the draft and will likely compete with James Conner to fill Bell’s shoes. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson (Toledo) heard his name called in the 3rd round and will team with Ju-Ju Schuster and James Washington to somehow spell Brown. On the other side of the ball, LB Devin Bush (Michigan) was the Steelers No. 1 choice to fill a big gap left by the unfortunate blow suffered by Ryan Shazier. The 3 stars on the Steelers helmets represent materials used to produce steel: yellow for coal; orange for iron ore; and blue for steel scrap. Understandably, the fans are more concerned about the 3 stars that are no longer visible.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Teams who upset the Steelers are 2-18 SUATS away when coming off consecutive SUATS wins.
PLAY ON: at New England (9/8)
INSIDE THE STATS: The Steelers are an incredible 123-48 ITS in all games since 2009.
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