It was a pretty standard year for the NFL’s AFC North division in 2017. The Pittsburgh Steelers dominated with 13 wins, achieving their third division title in four years. The Baltimore Ravens edged out the Cincinnati Bengals for second place, and the Cleveland Browns had another horrible year, losing all 16 of their games.
The division as a whole looks generally mediocre again, but the competition for the top slot in in the group should be pretty close.
Let’s summarize the circumstances of each team heading into the 2018 season before giving advice on which futures you should bet on with our AFC North predictions and picks.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2017 record: 13-3, No. 1 in AFC North, Lost in AFC Divisional Round)
The Steelers have an explosive offense. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t quite the quarterback he was three or four years ago, but he is still elite or very close to it at 36 years old. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown is the best running back-wide receiver tandem in the NFL, though Bell remains without a contract from the Steelers.
It is not a huge concern, but Pittsburgh’s defense did regress in the second half of last season. Including the Steelers’ 45-42 divisional round loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, they allowed 20 points or more in six of their last seven contests and gave up an average of 26.9 points in those games. There will be a decent amount of turnover in the defensive backfield this year and the loss of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier will hurt.
Overall, the team won a lot of close games and probably overachieved in earning its 13-3 record in 2017. The Steelers will likely be good, thanks to one of the top offenses in the league and a decent defense, but their division will be slightly improved and they likely won’t experience as much close-game luck as last season.
Baltimore Ravens (2017 record: 9-7, No. 2 in AFC North)
The Ravens’ identity is all about making plays on defense. Baltimore led the NFL with 22 interceptions last season and also contributed a very good totals of 41 sacks and 17 forced fumbles. Because of this, the offense often started in very good field position.
Unfortunately, though, it was a down year for quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ passing attack. He is normally an average to slightly above-average quarterback, but he was borderline poor in 2017. The arrival of receiver Michael Crabtree should energize the receiving corps and pick Flacco back up a bit. Running back Alex Collins showed himself to be an absolute stud as the lead back last year, and a strong offensive line helps him out. The Ravens also have Justin Tucker, who’s the best kicker in the business.
Baltimore is aging a bit on defense, and the squad may have overperformed a bit in 2017 on the takeaways. However, the offense should take a step forward to help the squad maintain its record from last season.
- Record Prediction: 9-7
- Best Odds for AFC North: +430 with 5Dimes.
Cincinnati Bengals (2017 record: 7-9, No. 3 in AFC North)
Sometimes, one position group can really doom a team. The Bengals had decent personnel in the passing and running games in 2017, led by quarterback Andy Dalton, running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard and pass catchers A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, but the squad’s offensive line made the team look terrible. The squad was 27th in passing yards and 31st in rushing yards.
Thankfully, reinforcements arrived in the offseason. The Bengals drafted center Billy Price in the first round of the draft and the squad also acquired left tackle Cordy Glenn in a trade. It seems unlikely that Cincinnati will be a juggernaut in the offensive trenches, but it should be better.
On defense, Cincinnati is introducing a more aggressive scheme under new coordinator Teryl Austin in hopes of forcing more turnovers. Overall, this squad has some excellent defenders, like defensive tackle Geno Atkins, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback William Jackson, but the unit as a whole is just average.
Overall, the Bengals looks to be around the middle of the pack on both sides of the football. They will win about half of their games, assuming normal injury and late-game luck.
- Record Prediction: 8-8
- Best Odds: +1075 with 5Dimes.
Cleveland Browns (2017 record: 0-16, No. 4 in AFC North)
In 2017, the Browns were the second team in NFL history to finish a 16-game season with no wins. Considering the all-time record for the biggest single-single season win increase is 10, the Browns will be hard-pressed to reach the double-digit wins that will likely be necessary to win the division.
That said, Cleveland’s roster should be much more competitive in 2018. It has plenty of young, improving talent on defense that will be better-suited to play the man coverage that coordinator Gregg Williams prefers. Offensively, there is a quarterback battle between Tyrod Taylor and 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield. The running game will be considerably better with Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb joining.
The culture needs to change in Cleveland before the team makes a huge run at the division title. Give the Browns’ many young studs some time and they will be much more competitive in one or two seasons.
- Record Prediction: 5-11
- Best Odds: +1325 with 5Dimes.
AFC North Final Betting Picks & Predictions Verdict
The Bengals are the team that sticks out as your best bet. They are given just an 8.5 percent chance to win the division by 5Dimes, compared to 73.4 percent for the Steelers and 18.9 percent for the Ravens. Cincinnati is a mostly well-rounded squad, except for maybe the offensive line, and it should be at least a decent team and possibly considerably better.