From the NFC North, we travel to their AFC counterparts, the AFC North, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati Bengals.
The AFC North is a bruising NFL division, one where rivalry games seem to always carry a little muster. As mentioned in our NFC North preview, the North divisions have two of football’s oldest and most iconic rivalries: The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears in the NFC North and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.
The Bengals won’t be much of a factor, but look for a knockdown, drag-out fight as the Browns, Steelers, and Ravens all fight for their place at the top of what should be the AFC’s most competitive unit this year. So here is our AFC North preview and predictions:
Baltimore Ravens (+1400 to Win Super Bowl; +650 to Win AFC; +115 to Win AFC North)
Last year, the Baltimore Ravens entered the season as Super Bowl favorites, right up there with the Kansas City Chiefs. It seemed a lofty prediction for a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2014 and that was coming off two first weekend postseason exits.
Lamar Jackson, for his money, is still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, but he had yet to show it in the playoffs. Until last year. But even then, Jackson’s game seemed to suffer from a rough passing performance and a not as dominant running performance as he was used to. That’s a big deal for the Ravens. Their running game has been one of the league’s best ever since Jackson was drafted, and it projects to be top-five again this year.
Overall, this is a big year for Jackson. He is entering his year four season which means he’ll be looking at a big contract a la Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen, if all goes well. Jackson is definitely a stud but he’ll need to make some improvements if he wants the big deal. And that means returning to his MVP form, especially since the Ravens lost their runningback J.K. Dobbins for the season. The offense will squarely rest on Jackson’s shoulders and that’s a tough ask given his wide receivers aren’t exactly lighting the league on fire.
Cleveland Browns (+1400 Super Bowl; +800 AFC; +150 AFC North)
In a paragraph or so, you’re about to learn that I am super high on the Cleveland Browns this year, more so than most. Up and down the roster, the Browns are one of the most talented teams in the entire league. They went from brown paper bags, QB transitions, winless seasons and more, but finally, they’ve climbed out of the hole and they’ve done so looking really good.
The Browns are a credible threat, not just in this division but in the AFC, where they stack up well against the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, the two teams expected to be on top yet again.
Last year, the Browns snapped a nearly two-decade playoff drought. That may have been enough last year, but this season, Cleveland wants more and they more than believe they are capable of winning postseason games.
They have last year’s coach of the year in Kevin Stefanski, and QB Baker Mayfield, who is one of the most underrated in the league. They’ll look to a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. to help bolster the passing game alongside what should be a fantastic rushing duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Then there is the defense, which the Browns focused heavily on improving this offseason. The Browns are a perfect example of a team that used its top draft picks year after year, to build itself into a contender. It has been so long but the bill has finally come due and it’s time for people to respect the Browns as one of the NFL’s best.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+4000 Super Bowl; +2500 AFC; +425 AFC North)
Don’t fall for the mirage. Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers stunned many by opening the season with 11 straight wins before the proverbial bottom fell out. That led to a first-round exit at the hands of the Browns, and more questions than answers. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t retire so now the Steelers are hoping to run it back just one more time with their top guy.
Mike Tomlin, for what it’s worth, is still one of the NFL’s top head coaches but he will have his work cut out for him here. The Steelers figure to be an enigma this year. No one should be surprised if they go 8-9 and no one should be surprised if they go 12-5. Truth of the matter is, there is a lot we don’t know about the construct of this team and most importantly, about how much Big Ben has left in the tank.
Defensively, you don’t have to worry though as Pittsburgh continues to project as a top unit, behind the unstoppable TJ Watt. If the defense can do enough and Roethlisberger can stay upright, this team could surprise a lot of people.
Cincinnati Bengals (+20000 Super Bowl; +6000 AFC; +2000 AFC North)
The Cincinnati Bengals are now what the Cleveland Browns were, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a patient thing.
The Bengals nabbed Joe Burrow as the first overall pick in the 2020 draft but didn’t get to see much of him as an early injury derailed what could have been a promising rookie campaign. Burrow enters this season healthy and with a new weapon in the form of his LSU teammate, Ja’Marr Chase. The two should look to connect early and often and that should be fun to watch as Burrow progresses as a passer.
Other than that, there is not much to focus on in Cincy. The Bengals took some real hits on defense and is looking to a schedule of having to face Mayfield, Jackson and Roethlisberger. There should be some high-scoring games against that group, that’s for sure. The Bengals are rebuilding, as are so many of these divisional bottom dwellers. But hey, they are doing it the right way and maybe in a few years, they will be right where the Browns are now, staring down a potential title run.
Our AFC North Preview’s Betting Picks Verdict & Final Predictions
While the Ravens are always a threat to do big things, this AFC North preview is super high on Cleveland and what they have done. They have the right coach, right quarterback, and a handful of playmakers on offense and defense. There is value to be had going with the underdogs here, not just in the division but also to take a flyer with them as AFC champions. So the betting predictions verdict for this NFL division is:
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.