The AFC North is a division where three teams consistently vie for supremacy every year. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens have all won exactly two division titles in the past six years. Their last division rival, the Cleveland Browns, have averaged just four wins per season in that span.
Once again, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore easily look like the three strongest teams in the division in 2017. But who will win it? And which squad has the most favorable odds in the USA online betting markets?
Let’s preview and predict a division race that could be somewhat exciting this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2016 record: 11-5, No. 1 in AFC East, Lost in AFC Championship Game)
Right now, one of the biggest issues surrounding the Steelers is Le’Veon Bell’s holdout. The superstar running back has not yet reported to camp due to unhappiness with his contract situation, and is missing out on valuable reps with his team.
If (and probably when) he returns, the Steelers will have the best quarterback-running back-receiver trio in the league, with Ben Roethlisberger, Bell and Antonio Brown. Other young talents surround that dynamic core.
The defense is also very young, but it surprised many last season by placing 10th in points allowed. Was last year a fluke, though? It flopped against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, allowing 36 points.
Pittsburgh’s defense has a chance to both take a significant step forward or a significant step back this season.
- Record Prediction: 11-5
- Best Odds: -140 at MyBookie
Cincinnati Bengals (2016 record: 6-9-1, No. 3 in AFC North)
The Bengals broke a five-year postseason streak in 2016 in a season where things just didn’t break their way. Cincinnati suffered some major injuries, had a tough schedule and lost five games by five points or fewer in the second half of the season alone.
For the season, they actually outscored their opponents by 10 points, which suggests their poor season may have been a bit of a fluke. They have plenty of talent on both ends of the ball, but the consistency is lacking.
For the Bengals to make the playoffs again, quarterback Andy Dalton will need to return to his 2015 level of play. His quarterback rating dropped from 106.2 to 91.8 last season, and his total QBR went down from 75.3 to 58.3. Getting a full season of health from dominant wide receiver A.J. Green will help.
- Record Prediction: 9-7
- Best Odds: +335 at 5Dimes
Baltimore Ravens (2016 record: 8-8, No. 2 in AFC North)
The Ravens need a surprisingly great season from their offense this year to catch the Steelers or withstand a bounce-back year from the Bengals.
As of now, the scoring group for Baltimore is without a true game breaker. Joe Flacco is a decent quarterback (though probably a bit overrated), and he might even be out for the beginning of the regular season. Backup Ryan Mallett will likely be his replacement. The running game is below-average, as well.
On defense, the Ravens are very good, and that will keep them in most games. They upgraded their secondary in the offseason, which should help them match up better with the Steelers.
I just worry about a team that isn’t above average throwing or running the ball being able to win the division.
- Record Prediction: 7-9
- Best Odds: +370 at 5Dimes
Cleveland Browns (2016 record: 1-15, No. 4 in AFC North)
The Browns don’t know who their quarterback is yet. There are other teams around the league with the same problem, but most of them have a key difference. They have the running game and defense to rely on in case of poor quarterback play, which Cleveland doesn’t have.
In the win column, it shouldn’t matter much whether Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler or rookie DeShone Kizer ends up playing the most at quarterback. None of the three are good enough to prop up Cleveland’s inexperienced offense.
The defense should be better than last year, when it was terrible on all levels. It added some great defenders in this year’s draft, including No. 1 overall pick, defensive end Myles Garrett.
You probably shouldn’t bet on the Browns, though, because I’m not sure they are even aiming for a division title. This squad just needs to keep loading up on talent, which it can get with high draft picks. While there are some nice young prospects in Cleveland already, it’s not enough to contend for a division title.
- Record Prediction: 3-13
- Best Betting Odds: +4800 at 5Dimes
Our Preview’s AFC North Picks & Betting Predictions Verdict
Despite my prediction for their record, I do like the odds on the Bengals this year. Because of last year’s disappointing campaign, there’s a chance to buy low on them. Considering the Ravens’ health issues with Flacco, the Steelers’ drama with Bell’s holdout and Roethlisberger mulling retirement over the offseason and the Browns’ rebuild, Cincinnati has a chance to do really well this year. Remember, the Bengals did go 12-4 in 2015. Our pick and betting prediction is to bet on Cincinnati at that +335 with 5Dimes.
If I were to give an order of the best bets for this division, I would recommend the Bengals, Steelers, Ravens and then Browns.