AFC North Preview

With reigning MVP Lamar Jackson at the helm, the Baltimore Ravens look poised to once again claim the division. While I see the Ravens as the class of the division, the Steelers and Browns both have elite talent everywhere on their rosters and can make a strong case for playoff berths this season. Finally, bringing up the rear, the Cincinnati Bengals, now led by Zac Taylor and Joe Burrow look to build upon their 2 win season, but contending for the number one overall pick seems more likely than a playoff spot this year.

Baltimore Ravens O/U 11.5 (juiced to the under), -180 to win division/+300 to win AFC/+700 to win Super Bowl

Seemingly taken by surprise, the Ravens looked shocked and confused that a team was playing more physically than they were, when they lost in the divisional round of the playoffs last year. Despite being in a difficult division this year, the Ravens seem to have an otherwise easy schedule. A home matchup versus the Chiefs week 3 and back to back road games with the Colts and Patriots in weeks 9 and 10 highlight their most difficult schedule spots. The depth of this team is unreal, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The bottom line is that this team is loaded on offense, loaded on defense, and has great coaching and elite special teams. The latter two lead to success in close games. The Ravens were 5-1 in one score games last year, and I do not expect this to fluctuate too much.

The offense is built perfectly for Lamar Jackson. The offensive line is elite, however the loss of Marshal Yanda, one of the best offensive lineman of the past decade will have a noticeable impact. Despite this, Ronnie Stanley was the best pass blocking left tackle according to PFF, and there will be a lot of continuity returning on the offensive line. The backfield receives a bump this season with the drafting of JK Dobbins, who I think is a threat to win offensive rookie of the year. One thing that gets overlooked about Lamar Jackson’s passing ability is the fact that he does not have real elite talent at wide receiver, although Mark Andrews is no slouch as a receiving tight end. I expect offensive coordinator Greg Roman to have this offense prepared to be one of the three best in the league.

Just like the offense, I think this defense will potentially be the best in the league. Starting at the defensive line, new addition Calais Campbell, who is a top 3 interior defensive lineman, and one of the best run stoppers at any defensive position, will elevate this defensive line which can only stand to benefit their phenomenal secondary. The Ravens may have potentially gotten the steal of the draft with linebacker Patrick Queen in the first to fill maybe their most glaring weakness on their team overall. While I do not expect him to hit the ground running right away due to the shortened preseason preparation, I think a couple weeks into the season we will see him making an impact. With high ceiling talent everywhere on this defense, the secondary has the most of it. Even with the recent departure of Earl Thomas, this secondary is loaded. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters were both All-Pros last year, and Jimmy Smith is an above average corner. Returning after missing all of last season with injury is Tavon Young, who is one of the best slot corners in the NFL, and the highest paid at the nickel corner position. I think the Ravens corners make up the best position group in all of football. This defense will be elite this season.

Betting Outlook

Reading this article, it is apparent that I love this team. This is the scariest team in the league with a lead hands down, just like the Chiefs are the scariest team in the league trailing. With the talent in the secondary, they are built to combat high octane passing attacks, and if Lamar remains dynamic as a passer, I have a hard time seeing this team lose more than 3 games. However, 11.5 is a very big number for a season that could potentially change the outlook of teams by the week. I also think there is value with the Super Bowl number because if they beat the Chiefs week 3 they will be in the driver seat for the only bye and 1 seed in the AFC and this could lower their Super Bowl odds dramatically. Finally, I find value with JK Dobbins at 25/1 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year mostly because the Ravens will be pounding the rock all game long and I think Dobbins could be the beneficiary of inflated garbage time stats.

  • Ravens to win Super Bowl +700
  • Dobbins to win OROY +2500

Cincinnati Bengals O/U 5.5 (juiced to the over) +1800/+7500/+150000

With number one overall pick Joe Burrow in tow, Zac Taylor looks to silence his critics this season with some improvement. He has his work cut out for him this season, with a COVID altered year and shortened offseason. The schedule is not very kind to the Bengals this season with back to back road games three different times, and catching teams with extra rest 4(!!!) different times. With an unproven head coach, quarterback, and questions on the offensive line and everywhere on the defense, the Bengals could be deciding between Penei Sewell and Micah Parsons with their top 3 pick towards the end of the year.

After arguably the best season ever by a college quarterback, Joe Burrow now makes the transition to the NFL, looking to become the savior for a struggling franchise. He has a great set of weapons around him with Joe Mixon in the backfield and AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins at receiver. However, there are major questions with the offensive line, despite the long awaited Bengal debut of 2019 first round pick Jonah Williams. Williams, who missed all of last season, is being counted on to man left tackle and elevate the offensive line. While the weapons are tantalizing, the offensive line looks only marginally improved, which will make Burrow’s debut season very difficult.

The Bengals secondary looks improved over the offseason with the signings of Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes, and Vonn Bell to give the Bengals defensive backfield a much needed boost. The linebacking core, which has been the worst over the past two seasons, according to PFF, looks to infuse young talent with two mid round draft picks with veteran signing Josh Byrnes, coming from the Ravens. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins look to continue to anchor the defense on the line, while Atkins looks to improve on a somewhat disappointing season. This defense has the potential to improve upon its poor play last year, however I am not super optimistic of its chances for it to impact the overall quality of the team.

Betting Outlook

Long term, I think Joe Burrow can be a good quarterback in the NFL, however, with a tough schedule, a weak offensive line, and a lack of a real preseason there are obstacles that could hamper his development this season. Because I did not get a good feel on whether or not Zac Taylor can succeed as a head coach, I am wary of betting the under, so I will simply lean that way for anyone interested.

Cleveland Browns O/U 8.5, +525/+1800/+4000

With Freddie Kitchens out of Cleveland, new head coach Kevin Stepfanski looks to bring more stability to a franchise that hasn’t had it in decades. They have a fair balance of schedule breaks and disadvantages. An angle I like year-to-year, is to look to bet on a team that was hyped up as a Super Bowl contender and then disappointed. There is a lot of talent on this team, and coupled with one of the easier schedules in football, I expect this team to get to the playoffs ready to contend.

Everything starts with Baker, who seemed to regress, despite a successful rookie year. With Kevin Stepfanski’s rush heavy offense, I expect Baker to be very efficient in the passing game. According to Pro Football Focus, the Browns have the best running back in football over the past two years in Nick Chubb. Baker will also have Kareem Hunt as a weapon out of the backfield. The list does not end here either. In addition to arguably the best stable of running backs in the NFL, they still have Odell Beckham, who looks to rebound after a disappointing year, and Jarvis Landry catching passes out wide. And if that is not enough, the Browns can flex Austin Hooper and David Njoku at tight end, which is a very important position in Stepfanski’s offense. Stepfanski will showcase multiple tight end sets often this season, and having these two quality players, in addition to recent draftee Harrison Bryant, makes this offense scary. Finally, the Browns really beefed up their offensive line over the offseason. After disappointing performances from their tackles, the Browns spent big on Jack Conklin and drafted Jedrick Wills at 10. If these pieces fit, this offensive line has the talent to really elevate this offense.

Not that I expect this defense to be bad by any means, but there are many questions surrounding the linebackers and secondary that make me question the ceiling of this team. Prior to his attack on Mason Rudolph, Myles Garrett looked like the best edge rusher in football and had a case for DPOY. Now, he looks to continue his prior excellent play alongside a very good offensive line. Olivier Vernon and Sheldon RIchardson can both play much better than what they previously showed last year. The linebacker corps just lost their best starter, and what remains is not pretty. This could be a very weak unit. There is optimism with the secondary, but the recent loss of Grant Delpit stings. Denzel Ward has more or less lived up to his draft hype, and Greedy Williams has shown flashes of being a very capable corner. However, this group could thrive under defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who has a history of getting extra production out of his secondaries.

Betting Outlook:

I love the talent on this team, and I think Kevin Stepfanski is a near-perfect hire for this team. However, I have questions about this team that worry me, and they are a little too significant for me to get fully invested in this team. However, this team has Super Bowl caliber talent, and if it is all put together they could be a force in the AFC. I would lean over their wins, but I am looking to bet on them early in the season, prior to what I imagine could be a heavy market shift in their favor.

Pittsburgh Steelers O/U 9.5 (juiced to over) +375/+1200/+2500

The quarterback combo of Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges were a major disappointment after the injury to Ben Roethlisberger. They wasted an elite season long performance by their defense, led by TJ Watt and midseason addition Minkah Fitzpatrick. However, the fact that Mike Tomlin got 9 wins out of that team was truly impressive. This year, the Steelers have a rather easy schedule, although weeks 4-7 present a rather brutal stretch. With Big Ben back at quarterback, there is optimism all around the Steelers this season

The big addition to this offense is the return of Big Ben. After it looked as if he could barely grip the football, reports are saying that he looks and feels very healthy and he is ready to go. However, I do have cause for concern. Before his injury, his 2018 performance showed serious signs of decline. While a brick wall would present an upgrade at quarterback over Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges, I worry that the return of Big Ben might not have as serious of an impact that the market thinks it will. The skill position players are a very good group. Players like James Connor, Juju Smith-Schuster, new tight end Eric Ebron, and receiver Diontae Johnson are all very good players that can make an impact this year. A perennial top ten offensive line will once again be looked upon to be a strength to protect Roethlisberger from further decline.

This defense was an absolute force last season, and it returns all of its impact players. With career years from many of its best players, I do expect some kind of regression this season, especially when considering how many defensive touchdowns and turnovers the team had. However, the three headed pass rush monster of TJ Watt, Bud Dupree, and the now very rich Cam Heyward will continue to make quarterback lives miserable. In his rookie year, Devin Bush had the usual peaks and valleys, but overall looked very talented. I expect him to improve this year and be an important piece in what should continue to be a dominant defense. Finally, the Steelers defensive backs are all very solid, but Minkah had game-changing play that elevated the defense when he was acquired.

Betting Outlook:

While I expect some regression to occur on defense, I think the return of Big Ben will make this a playoff team. However, I think that the Steelers have a low ceiling that limits their ability to contend for an AFC Championship. However, the defense alone is enough to carry this team just as we saw last year. I lean over their win total, but I am staying away due to the hefty juice and questions I have with Roethlisberger.

Official Bets (In order of confidence)

  1. Ravens to win Super Bowl  .5u to win 3.5u
  2. JK Dobbins to win OROY .2u to win 5u

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