NFL Division Preview: AFC North Predictions & Betting Picks – Ravens To Fly High

J.K. DobbinsOur NFL preview series now heads to the AFC North, home of Super Bowl runners-up, the Cincinnati Bengals.

Much has changed in the AFC North in the past few months as the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to move on from the recently retired Ben Roethlisberger, who had been their quarterback since 2004.

It’s a new era for the black and gold but it’s also a new era for the Cleveland Browns who traded Baker Mayfield for Deshaun Watson, one of the top QBs in football. But Watson is facing at least an 11-game suspension, so the Browns will have to wait a while to show off their new look team.

The Baltimore Ravens are dealing with contract negotiations for Lamar Jackson and will have a decision to make about trusting their franchise under his leadership. So that leaves the Bengals, who remained largely untouched, but hungrier than ever, to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl title after failing in their first three appearances in the big game.

Will 2022 be their year or will the USA online bookies’ favorite reclaim control of the AFC North and possibly go even further? Read our predictions and picks for the division, as part of this AFC North betting preview, below.

Baltimore Ravens (+2000 to Win Super Bowl, +900 to Win AFC, +140 to Win AFC North)

The Baltimore Ravens have emerged as the top choice in the AFC North, which might seem surprising to some given the Cincinnati Bengals are fresh off a Super Bowl appearance. That’s how quickly things can change in this league as just one offseason can jostle positioning in what looks to be a pretty tight division at the top two spots.

In the offseason, the Ravens went to work addressing what had been one of their biggest issues from the 2021-22 season, the defense. Once one of the NFL’s top units, the Ravens’ defense ranked 25th last year and yielded an NFL-worse 4,742 passing yards and 31 touchdowns to opposing teams. The team moves on this season with a new defensive coordinator, a younger, more athletic defensive line, and a pair of new safeties in Marcus Williams (trade) and Kyle Hamilton (draft).

Offensively, the Ravens certainly have some question marks as they lost two of their wide receivers, including top weapon Marquise Brown, in the offseason. Baltimore still has their anchor under center as Lamar Jackson, with contract talks circling around him, will return looking for another outstanding season. Jackson will hope to do so with a revamped offensive line, which last year allowed 57-sacks on the QB, and a running game that looks to build on the success of the last two years. The Ravens dealt with so much attrition in their rushing attack last year and still finished third in the league in yards. They’ll get J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards back, meaning this should once again be an asset for the team.

The Ravens are definitely a playoff team and could very well also unseat the Bengals to reclaim the AFC North crown they last held in 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals (+2200 Super Bowl, +1100 AFC, +170 AFC North)

Who dey, who dey, who dey think gonna beat dem Bengals? An old chant became a rallying cry last year as the Bengals went to their first Super Bowl since 1988. While ultimately Cincy fell short, they enter this season more confident than ever that this will be their year to win their first title in franchise history.

There wasn’t much the Bengals did wrong in 2021 and for the most part, they’ll be running that same team back this year, but a slightly improved version. Looking to keep their young, rising QB Joe Burrow healthy, Cincinnati doubled down on the offensive line bringing in La’el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras. These improvements should be enough to allow Burrow, who was sacked a total of 70 times (including postseason) last year, to operate at his full potential, something that wowed the league last year and gave opposing defenses fits.

Burrow will have the services of Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, one of the best young wide receiver duos in the league. He has also got one of the league’s best running backs running behind him in Joe Mixon. Offensively, there may not be a better set of NFL triplets right now than Burrow, Chase and Mixon.

2022-23 will be interesting for the Bengals. Last year, they went to a Super Bowl on the back of a six-win season in 2020. They absolutely took the league by storm, but now, the element of surprise is gone. Everyone knows the Bengals are a really good team and certainly no one will be sleeping on them to do big things this year. That is perhaps the biggest hurdle the Bengals will have to overcome this year as the predator becomes the prey in the AFC North.

Cleveland Browns (+4000 Super Bowl, +2200 AFC, +375 AFC North)

When odds for the 2023-24 season come out, you can bet to see the Cleveland Browns near or even at the top of the AFC North. Why? Because they have arguably the best quarterback in a division full of them. The only problem is that quarterback, Deshaun Watson, won’t be playing in the team’s first 11 games due to a suspension he received for inappropriate behavior contrary to the NFL’s conduct policy.

Watson is lucky to be playing at all in 2023, given the nature of the allegations and lawsuits against him. Behind Watson is journeyman Jacoby Brissett, who was brought in essentially to keep the team above water for the first 11 games. Brissett isn’t exactly the kind of guy fans will get excited about, but he has been perfectly average over his career. Brissett has a career completion percentage of just over 60 and a rating of 83. Again, he’s not wowing you, but there are worse backups in the league for sure. Especially given Brissett will have his pick of weapons between newly signed receiver Amari Cooper, and the three-headed monster of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and D’Ernest Johnson.

Brissett has one job: Keep the Browns alive for Watson’s return. Because at that point, if Cleveland is within striking distance, things could very well be shaken up in the division and playoff picture.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+9000 Super Bowl, +4500 AFC, +1000 AFC North)

For the first time since 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing football without Ben Roethlisberger under center. That’s a big deal. Roethlisberger was the stalwart for nearly two decades, leading the team to two Super Bowl titles and another two appearances in the big game. The Steelers also won seven AFC North titles under Big Ben, their last of which came in 2020. Even then, Father Time was ticking away at Roethlisberger’s career as the future Hall of Famer hasn’t quite been his most dominant recently. Understanding that, Roethlisberger decided to retire, leaving the Steelers to chart a new course without him.

The first guy who will get that shot is Mitch Trubisky, the former top pick of the Chicago Bears. Trubisky could never quite put it together in Chicago, but with the Steelers he comes to a team with a better defense and an upgrade in the skill position area. If Trubisky fails however, the Steelers could lean on their own QB draft pick from this year, Kenny Pickett, to take the reins.

Time will tell but one thing is uncertain, whether this leads to a full rebuild in the Steel City or not, Pittsburgh likely will be on the outside looking in this year, if only because the talent in their division is just that good.