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In a little over nine weeks, the greatest sport and the best sport to gamble on returns. People have started to break down who will be on their fantasy team, and fans have convinced themselves that this will be their year, even though their team missed the playoffs last year. This is the time when fans are the most hopeful, no injuries are happening in training camp, and your heart isn’t broken because you haven’t yet realized that your team sucks.
Today we look at the AFC North, which last year was the most competitive division according to total wins. The AFC North went 38-25-1. The second closest division was the NFC West which went 36-28. Last year the Steelers won the division, but will 38-year-old Big Ben be able to repeat? Will Lamar Jackson lead the Ravens, or will his throwing woes prevent Baltimore? Will the Browns, finally win their first AFC North division title, or will the curse of the Browns continue? Sorry Bengals fans, other than the Texans, Cincinnati has the second-highest odds to win their division, so it doesn’t look good for you.
Last year the Ravens finished 2nd in the AFC North, going 11-5. Cleveland and Baltimore finished with the same record, but the Ravens had the tiebreaker over the Browns. They started the season strong but dealt with Covid roster problems. They then went on a run where they won five straight games against teams with a 28-51-1. Baltimore won in the Wild Card Round 20-13 against the Titans but then lost to the Bills in the divisional round 3-17.
Lamar Jackson will need to improve his passing if the Ravens want to have better success. Last year Lamar had a 64.4 completion percentage, threw 2757 yards, 26 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and a 73.7 QBR. The Ravens finished with the 7th overall offense, 7th points, 19th yards, 32nd passing yards, 13th passing touchdowns, 1st rushing yards, and 3rd rushing touchdowns. It’s no surprise that a Ravens offense led by Lamar Jackson had great running numbers but horrible passing. Baltimore’s offense is flashy, but their defense is what wins them games. The Ravens finished with the 3rd overall defense, 2nd points allowed, 7th yards allowed, 6th passing yards allowed, 5th passing touchdowns allowed, and 4th rushing touchdowns allowed.
Baltimore tried to add more firepower to their offense since signing WR Sammy Watkins, TE Josh Oliver, and G Kevin Zeitler. They also drafted WR Rashod Bateman, OG Ben Cleveland, and DE Odafe Oweh. They lost WR Willie Snead, DE Yannick Ngakoue, and DE Jihad Ward. Will the addition of Sammy Watkins improve Baltimore’s passing yards?
The Ravens have a strong schedule going against the Chiefs, Packers, and Rams. The Raiders, Colts, and Dolphins are strong teams where the Ravens should be favored, but they won’t go over for their win totals if they don’t go better than 2-1. I don’t trust Lamar Jackson, and being a running quarterback always has the risk of injuries. The combination of the AFC North being great, not trusting Lamar Jackson, and that’s why I’m betting the under and for them not to win the division.
Last year the Browns went 11-5; it was their first winning season in 12 years. During that rough stretch, Cleveland went 51-140-1, had 9 different head coaches, and 10 different quarterbacks. They finished 3rd in the AFC North because they had the same record as the Ravens but loss their head-to-head tiebreaker. They beat the Steelers in the Wild Card round 48-37 but then lost 17-22 in the Divisional round.
Baker Mayfield may be the superstar, but what the Browns are great at is running the ball. The Browns finished with the 14th overall offense, 14th points, 16th yards, 24th passing yards, 3rd rushing yards, and 5th rushing touchdowns. They are led by RB Nick Chubb, who last year in 12 games had 1067 yards, 12 touchdowns, and only 1 fumble. The Browns defense will need to improve if they want to win the AFC North. Last year they finished with the 21st overall defense,17th yards allowed, 23rd points allowed, 22nd passing yards allowed, 25th passing touchdowns allowed, and 9th rushing yards.
They tried to improve their defense in the offseason by adding SS John Johnson, DE Takkarist McKinley. They also drafted CB Greg Newsome II, WR Anthony Schwartz, and OT James Hudson. They lost SS Karl Joesph, CB Terrance Mitchell, and CB Tavierre Thomas.
Opening with the Chiefs in week one is rough, but they have a decently easy schedule after that. Going against the Texans, Broncos, Patriots, and Lions are gifts. Before their bye, I could see them going 10-2 or 9-3 at worst. They would need to squeak one or two games after their bye to go over for their wins. I believe the Browns’ defense and offense will improve and an easy schedule, so I’m taking their over in wins and winning the division.
The winner of the AFC North has the 3rd best odds to win the division. Last year they went 12-4 but started the season 11-0 and then went 1-4 to finish the season. Their losing momentum carried onto the playoffs as they lost 37-48 to the Browns in the Wild Card round.
The Ravens are a running and defense team, and that is the opposite of the Steelers. They were great on defense, great at passing, but were horrible in their running game. For the third straight season, Pittsburgh finished with a bottom-five rushing offense. They finished with the 10th best offense, 12th points, 24th yards, 15th passing yards, 6th passing touchdowns, 32nd rushing yards, and 27th rushing touchdowns for their offense. James Connor failed the Steelers running game, and he’s now gone to Arizona, and in the first round, they drafted RB Najee Harris. They hope that the Alabama stud will improve their horrible running game. What really led the Steelers to their AFC North victory was their defense. They finished with the 1st overall defense, 3rd points allowed, 3rd yards allowed, 3rd passing yards allowed, 5th passing touchdowns allowed, and 7th rushing touchdowns allowed.
I’ve already talked about how Pittsburgh drafted Najee Harris and lost James Connor to Arizona in the offseason, but that’s the only changes they made in the offseason. They added OT Joe Haeg and S Miles Killebrew. They also drafted TE Pat Freiermuth and OG Kendrick Green. They also lost EDGE, Bud Dupree, and CB Mike Hilton.
Opening with the Bills week one is rough, and after that, they play against other great teams. They’ll be the underdog against Packers, Titans, and Chiefs. Playing those fringe playoff teams in the Raiders, Seahawks, Bears, and Vikings will test how good this Steelers team is. I don’t know how much I trust a 38-year-old Big Ben; an offense that is only one dimensional and a hard schedule is why I’m taking their under in wins and for them not to win the division.
The rebuild is real for the Bengals, but it looks like they are in good hands with Joe Burrow. Last year Burrow was hurt in week 11 when he tore his MCL and ACL. Before he was hurt, Burrow had a 65.3 completion percentage, 2688 yards, 13 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and a 56.2 QBR. He was on track for 4,528 combined yards and 26 touchdowns if he didn’t get hurt. Cincinnati finished dead last in the AFC North with a 4-11-1 record.
The Bengals were horrible on both sides of the ball. They finished with the 32nd overall offense, 30th points, 20th yards, 27th passing yards, 27th passing touchdowns, 24th rushing yards, and 27th passing touchdowns. Their defense wasn’t any better, finishing 32nd overall defense, 21st points allowed, 26th yards allowed, 19th passing yards allowed, 26th passing touchdowns allowed, and 29th rushing yards allowed.
The Bengals looked to get younger in the offseason drafting Joe Burrow’s ex-Tiger with WR Ja’Marr Chase, OT Jackson Carman, and DE Joseph Ossai. They lost RB Giovani Bernard and WR John Ross. They added RT Riley Reiff, CB Chidobe Awuzie, and DE Trey Hendrickson.
Besides having to play their division rivals, the Packers and the Chiefs, Cincinnati has a fairly easy schedule. Suppose the Bengals can take care of business against the Jaguars, Jets, and Lions; that’s three wins. They would need to squeak out wins against the Chargers, Vikings, Raiders, and Broncos to get to seven wins. I think the Bengals’ offense will be explosive, but I don’t trust their defense at all. That’s why I’m taking their under in wins and for them not to win the division.