• Andy

AFC North Preview & Predictions

Last but not least for my AFC Preview Series, we will be previewing the AFC North. I have purposely held this division off until now, as the Deshaun Watson situation in Cleveland has really kept a lot of books out of the AFC North betting markets. Now that the suspension has been confirmed for 11 games and Deshaun will be returning against his former team in Houston (surely this was intentional, right?), we can have a better idea of how this division is going to shake out. We are still missing a lot of lines, but the Browns are a weird one to bet on anyways after the suspension news.


The Cincinnati Bengals represented the AFC in the Super Bowl last season as Joe Burrow and company pulled off what many considered to be unthinkable in an amazing underdog run. Coming off their Super Bowl runner-up campaign, the Bengals are still not the favorites to win their division, and are just north of a pick em to even make the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens are looking to wreak havoc on the AFC North after 2021's heartbreaking injury luck. Lamar Jackson has heard the slander from his team and the rest of the country and is poised for a big season returning to MVP form.


While the Ravens and Bengals will be taking charge of the division, the Pittsburgh Steelers are turning the page to a new chapter post-Big Ben, with all eyes on the quarterback position. Mitchell Trubisky (does he still want to be called Mitchell or is he back to Mitch?) is sitting at the QB1 spot with hometown rookie Kenny Pickett right behind him as the stud from the University of Pittsburgh. Trubsiky will still get his shot, but it could be an interesting season ahead for Pittsburgh, as we know future Hall of Fame coach Mike Tomlin will not let the Ravens and Bengals run away with the division easily.


Baltimore Ravens

- Win Total: 10
- To Win the Division: +135
- To Make the Playoffs: -190

The Ravens are going to look a lot different than last season with hopefully a lot more fortune on their side when it comes to injuries. Injuries were largely the biggest detriment towards Baltimore's 8-9 season, but the other issues the squad was criticized for are still around. The Ravens retained OC Greg Roman despite many concerns about how the offense is run. However, they really do not have many better options with how prolific Lamar Jackson is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons as a QB, plus J.K Dobbins and Gus Edwards coming back at full strength.


Lamar Jackson's contract situation is still a burden that lingers over the squad, as well as the concerns on his passing ability. Lamar is doing things on the ground that no quarterback has done before, and I believe with the squad back at full health the run game will still look spectacular. But what happens when you have to opt toward the passing game? The Ravens sent Hollywood Brown to the Cardinals, and hope to grow 2021 draft pick Rashod Bateman, but what else is there when it comes to passing options outside of Bateman and tight end Mark Andrews?


The Ravens are expected to win games from their great defense and run game, however, I am still concerned with their lack of passing options. I also don't know what the alternative plan will be if they get banged up again this season, as there isn't a crazy amount of depth once again. Admittedly I do believe Lamar is going to have a season where he shuts up the noise and more than earns his new deal, but there is a bit of mess around Baltimore that doesn't make me feel confident enough to bet on. I'll be staying away from the boys in purple, but have a great feeling about their main competition for the top of the division in Cincinnatti.


H/T Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images for the photo.

Cincinnatti Bengals

- Win Total: 10
- To Win the Division: +180
- To Make the Playoffs: -150

The Bengals shocked the world last season by defeating the Raiders, Titans, and Chiefs to reach the Super Bowl. Nobody saw this coming, and the biggest concerns heading into last season were how the Bengals could prevent Joe Burrow from getting seriously injured again and if the defense could carry their weight. Everyone stepped up under Zac Taylor's tutelage, and now the expectation this season is for them to keep it rolling.


I believe the Bengals have done the right thing to build even further upon last year's incredible run. The offensive line is nowhere near as much of a concern as Cincy added La'el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras this offseason to beef up the trenches. The rest of the offense stayed the same, but that is a great thing when you have one of the best receiving corps in Chase, Boyd, and Higgins, plus Pro Bowler back Joe Mixon. Add in a few new draft picks into the surprising force that was the Bengals defense was last season, and you've got a recipe for success as long as everyone stays healthy.


The Bengals first half of the schedule should be fairly easy before their Week 10 bye. I have the Bengals starting 8-1, but can see why some would say 7-2. Pick up 2 to 3 more wins in the final 8 games, and you are looking at a playoff berth for Cincinnatti. I am not really sure how they are only -150 to make the playoffs, and I love their chances of beating out Baltimore for the top of the division at plus money instead of just taking the over on Cincy's win total. As I touched on in the Baltimore section, there are many more question marks for the Ravens than there are for the Bengals. For that reason, my two favorite plays in the AFC North:


The Plays: Bengals to Make the Playoffs -150 - 1.5u / Bengals to Win the Division +180 - 1u


H/T Yahoo! Sports for the photo.

Cleveland Browns

- To Win the Division: +350

Shoutout to you Deshaun. Thanks to you, there are no odds for the Browns, and a scarcity of odds in the AFC North market as a whole. Obviously, that isn't the worst crime Deshaun has committed, but I won't jump down that rabbit hole. You can find that kind of content at every other media outlet.


There is not a whole lot for me to say about the Browns. They have had basically everything ready to go from a roster standpoint for a while, and Baker Mayfield was just not giving them what they needed to make the jump to title contender. Cleveland goes out and takes a risk on Deshaun Watson, and now has to take the year off following his 11-game suspension. Jacoby Brissett is not going to cut it for Cleveland as we saw when the Colts tried to use him as the replacement for Andrew Luck for a year.


The betting markets have stayed offline as now the rumor is that Cleveland may take another risk and go out to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo from San Francisco. Jimmy G gets a bad rep and does not get enough credit for helping the Niners to two NFC championship appearances and a Super Bowl appearance during his time in San Fran, but is coming off of shoulder surgery which is a concern. Until things shore up for the Browns (which could take as long as waiting until 2023), there is not much that we can talk about, unfortunately. I'll leave it up to the big network daytime TV personalities to talk about "What If's" in Cleveland for hours until we learn what is going to happen at quarterback.


Pittsburgh Steelers

- Win Total: 7.5
- To Make the Playoffs: +300
- To Win the Division: +1000

The Steelers round out one of the most interesting divisions this season with a complex situation themselves. Pittsburgh obtained Mitch Trubisky this summer, and then shortly after drafted Kenny Pickett from Pitt to fuel a QB battle from Day 1 for the heir to Big Ben's throne. The fans are already screaming for Pickett to take over after a fun preseason debut, but Trubisky is not as poor as people make him out to be. It will be a wild season for the Steelers as they charter unfamiliar territory as one of the least likely teams in the AFC North to come out on top.


Najee Harris enters his second year after a strong rookie campaign, and will be joined by two new additions on the offensive line in James Daniel and Mason Cole. The Steelers also added wide receiver George Pickens in the draft to pair with Chase Claypool and breakout star Diontae Johnson. This wealth of security on the offense leads me to feel a lot more comfortable that Trubisky or Pickett will be able to find their way in their new home. The defense leaves a bit to be desired with the departures of Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree, and Joe Haden, but the Steelers are hoping that the additions of Myles Jack and play of TJ Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Devin Bush can propel their defense to being reliable again.


My main point for the Steelers is how reliable the franchise has been for so long, paired with the improvements on offense. I understand that Trubisky and Pickett are entering a new team and have a lot to learn about the Pittsburgh Steelers, but surely they are an improvement on how poor Big Ben was last season. At times, it felt like Roethlisberger was an absolute liability. Now Pittsburgh have options with two quarterbacks competing and improvements on the offensive line and receiving corps.


The Steelers have a hard schedule, and it goes against my better judgment to suggest a play when the schedule, research, and numbers say otherwise. But sometimes you have to side with your gut, and I feel that the Steelers will not break Tomlin's streak of winning seasons. This squad can dig deep, and will rely on the next man up mentality when certain players go down or don't deliver. I do not mean to sound like Colin Cowherd and say that it is all about reliable management and the culture, but today I am siding with that logic with my play:


The Play: Steelers Alternate Win Total - Over 8 Wins +140 - 0.75 Units


H/T NFL.com for the photo.

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