Taking Ravens to fly ‘over’ is sound strategy in AFC North

There have been plenty of NFL-related stories that have made me chuckle this offseason, including Albert Haynesworth, the Redskins’ $100 million defensive tackle, refusing to participate in team activities because the defense is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. (This is the equivalent of your child throwing a tantrum because you switched out his French fries for tater tots.)

And then there was Michael Vick—already on a short leash (no pun intended) in the wake of his dog-fighting scandal—throwing himself a public 30th birthday bash. Who shows up but none other than a former friend/co-defendant with whom Vick is legally prohibited from associating with. (I think at this point I’d pay good money to see Vick’s SAT results).

But the topper has to be Terrell Owens—he of the rapidly declining skills and reputation for napalming NFL locker rooms from coast to coast—recently declaring that he can’t find work because the league is trying to blackball him. (I wonder what the weather is like on Planet T.O.—you know, other than blustery!)

Yet the NFL remains, by far, the most popular sport in this country. Go figure!

On to this week’s breakdown of NFL over/under season win totals, with the spotlight on the AFC North. Once again, note that my recommendations are rated from 1 (just flip a coin) to 5 (hello, college fund for the kids!).

NOTE: I hit both of my MLB All-Star Game picks, pulling in $210 betting on the National League and another $50 taking UNDER the total of 8½ runs, pushing my bankroll up to $5,605.

BENGALS (over/under 8): If this was an over/under on the number of times egomaniacal WR Chad Ochocinco drew attention to himself every week, I’d bet the house on the OVER. But Cincinnati’s schedule is brutal. It will be favored on the road just once all year (at Cleveland), and it has five very difficult home games (Ravens, Dolphins, Steelers, Saints, Chargers). In all, the Bengals face 10 teams that went 9-7 or better last season, including seven opponents that finished with double-digit wins. Plus, the Bengals are just one Carson Palmer injury away from a J.T. O’Sullivan-led offense! Recommendation: UNDER (3).

BROWNS (over/under 5½): Poor Cleveland. It lost LeBron; its baseball team is headed for a 90-loss season; and now all it gets to look forward to is a cold, dreary winter watching Jake Delhomme quarterback its beloved Browns. The good news: The Browns could start out 2-0 (they face the Bucs and Chiefs out of the gate), which would give them six straight wins dating to last season. The bad news: The ensuing seven opponents they face went a combined 75-47 in 2009. Browns coach Eric Mangini might want to consider polishing up that résumé. Recommendation: UNDER (2).

RAVENS (over/under 10): Count me among those who are bullish on Baltimore this year. After posting 10 victories last season (including a first-round playoff win at New England), the Ravens got better this offseason. That’s huge for QB Joe Flacco, who has shown rapid improvement in his first two years and now has former Rams QB Marc Bulger as a mentor. Also, the Ravens figure to finish strong, as four of their last six games are at home, with the only road games at Houston and Cleveland. Recommendation: OVER (4).

STEELERS (over/under 9): Because Ben Roethlisberger allegedly has a hard time keeping his hands to himself, the Steelers will play the entire preseason and at least the first four games of the regular season without him. But Pittsburgh caught a huge break from the schedule-makers, as it starts the season with two tough home games (Falcons and Ravens) and two winnable road contests (Titans and Bucs). Assuming Roethlisberger is then reinstated, he gets a bye week followed by an easy home game (Browns) before the brutal part of the schedule kicks in (road games at Miami, New Orleans and Cincinnati). Know this: Only twice in the last 10 seasons has Pittsburgh finished with fewer than nine wins. Recommendation: OVER (1).

Matt Jacob is a former local sports writer who has been in the sports handicapping business for more than four years. For his weekly column, Vegas Seven has granted Matt a “$7,000” bankroll. If he blows it all, we’ll fire him and replace him with a monkey.