We head to the AFC North, home of the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, for this installment in our 2020-21 NFL Preview Series.
Last year, the AFC North produced the league’s best regular season team in the form of the 14-2 Ravens. Baltimore looked unstoppable for much of the regular season and entered the playoffs poised for a Super Bowl run.
The wheels of the Lamar Jackson express fell off in the playoffs as the Ravens were shocked by the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round. Now 0-2 in playoff games, Jackson and the Ravens will be looking to turn things around this season. For the most part, there is no reason to believe they won’t. The rest of the AFC North will have something to say about that however, especially the Steelers, who will have their Super Bowl quarterback back and healthy as the team looks to make perhaps their final run to the championship in the Ben Roethlisberger era.
+650 for Super Bowl; +333 for AFC; -240 for AFC North (odds from Bovada)
When it comes to the AFC North, there is a pretty big gap between the Ravens and the next best team, which the USA bookmakers online betting odds list as the Steelers. That’s because Baltimore has been on the rise for the past several years and with Jackson, have found themselves led by the best, most exciting quarterback not named Patrick Mahomes in all of the NFL.
Jackson took over the starting job just last season but since that time has accomplished things no other QB ever had. Just the league’s second-ever unanimous MVP, Jackson is a top star to build around and the Ravens have continued to do just that. Offensively, they have got tons of talents surrounding Jackson especially in the ground game. A running QB, Jackson will continue to be buoyed by Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and the rest of the rushing attack.
In the passing game, it is remarkable how well Jackson played last year given wide receiver is the weakest position group the Ravens have. They used the draft to make improvements in that regard adding Devin Duvernay and James Proche to the veteran duo of Willie Snead and Marquise Brown. It is still a work in progress unit but Jackson is good enough that even without studs, he should still lead this offense to tremendous success. Defensively the Ravens are one of the top units in the league too.
Baltimore is projected as the top team in the NFL this year and for good reason. They have got all the pieces in place to be able to make a Super Bowl run and that starts with winning the AFC North.
+2200 Super Bowl; +1100 AFC; +375 AFC North
There is reason to believe the Steelers could have a rebound season but looking at the AFC North betting lines shows just how far behind the Ravens the team still is. For a long time, these two teams went back and forth as to who was the best in the North and they had legendary battles as a result. Now the division belongs solely to the Ravens. That doesn’t mean the Steelers might not have a few good years left in them but the window is closing. Pittsburgh has lost a large chunk of talent and will need to enter a rebuilding phase likely sooner rather than later.
Defense is still a strong suit for the Steelers and that could help the team return to the postseason especially given Roethlisberger is back. A future Hall of Fame QB, Roethlisberger missed all of last season with injury and his absence was notable especially given the team was also without Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell. Once a three-headed monster that led to dominance by the black and gold, Pittsburgh struggled to maintain its offensive identity last year. Now Roethlisberger is closer to the twilight of his career than the beginning and has suggested retirement isn’t far off. That said, if he has got one good year left in him that year will have to be 2020.
+3000 Super Bowl; +1500 AFC; +550 AFC North
The Browns entered the 2019 season with increased expectations. Long since the NFL’s worst franchise it seemed Cleveland was finally on an upward trend behind Baker Mayfield and a largely improved team. Mayfield regressed and the Browns proved to be the Browns, finishing with just a 6-10 record. While not as lofty this time around, expectations are still there for the Browns to have a .500 record and perhaps even make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The talent is there, but can Cleveland put it all together?
They will look to new head coach Kevin Stefanski, who found success in Minnesota previously, leading the team to a top-10 offense last year. Cleveland has the pieces to make Stefanski’s offense work, especially with the newly-acquired Austin Hooper at tight end.
The biggest star on this team is still Nick Chubb, who established himself as a top RB in the league last year, proving to be one of the Browns’ lone bright spots. He is expected to do big things this year and may even be the league’s top rusher. He was second in 2019-20. A lot of what the Browns will do however depends on if Mayfield can make the positive step forward and out of the sophomore slump he suffered last year. Mayfield broke the record for most touchdowns by a rookie so there is every reason to hope he’ll be able to find that success again, especially with a new head coach. If Mayfield can improve, the Browns could finally get back into the win column with some level of consistency.
+15000 Super Bowl; +6600 for AFC; +2500 AFC North
While the Browns may have held down the spot as worst team in the AFC North for some time, it looks like the Bengals have taken that dubious honor for the time-being. Cincinnati went from playoff hopeful to the worst team in the NFL in short order and now they are looking at the draft to rebuild. So if you’re a Bengals fan, there may not be much to look forward to yet, save for the rookie season of Joe Burrow. Burrow is going to be an exciting young player to watch and one the Bengals could very well build around as they look to return to contending status.
Our Preview’s AFC North Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
- It is not great odds, but take the Baltimore Ravens at best betting odds of -170 with BetOnline to defend as AFC North divisional champions en route to a better playoff run than last year.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & 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.