Previewing the AFC North from a Betting Perspective
The AFC North looks to be a three-team race with the upstart Cleveland Browns favored to win the division. Let’s take a look at each team and how they project to perform from a betting perspective this season.
AFC North Division Odds; Regular Season Wins
Baltimore Ravens +280; 8ov-135
Cincinnati Bengals +1400; 6un-135
Cleveland Browns +130; 9ov-125
Pittsburgh Steelers +170; 9ov-125
Out of the four teams in the division, Baltimore is by far the most intriguing handicap with a very wide projection. How they fare will depend largely on the quarterback play with Lamar Jackson. The Ravens were 4-5 heading into the bye week before making the switch the Jackson which led to the offense being essentially revamped. They ran the ball at a higher clip than anyone in the league and on the surface, it proved to be very effective as they won six of their last seven regular season games; the lone loss in overtime to Kansas City on the road. The schedule during that span, however, particularly from an opposing defense perspective, was extremely favorable. One of my biggest bets of the season was on the under in Week 16 when Baltimore faced a solid Chargers defense and was held to just 10 points. In the end, the switch from Flacco to Jackson didn’t make much of any difference from a production standpoint when you consider the competition. I feel as if the offense and its unique run-heavy formula has the chance to catch some teams off guard but it’s still going to take time for everything to click, which it may not as the league makes adjustments. Remember how disastrous the offense looked (229 total yards) in its second meeting against the Chargers in the playoffs. Defensively, they lost of a lot of key guys including Za’Darius Smith, Brent Urban, Terrell Suggs, and most importantly, C.J. Mosley. They were able to blitz a lot last season and with so many fresh faces, communication and chemistry could be an issue early on. I’m not ready to write this team off as they are one of the better run organizations in the NFL. But it does set up well for a potentially slow start in 2019.
There’s a significant gap between the Bengals and the rest of the division. Last season’s 6-10 record was fortunate based on a number of metrics including DVOA. The Marvin Lewis era finally comes to and end but I have major question marks regarding the new regime. For starters, the organization is cheap and has drafted extremely poor over the last four or five seasons. New head coach Zac Taylor comes over from the Los Angeles Rams where he worked under offensive guru Sean McVay. Make no mistake, Taylor is not McVay. I vividly remember when Taylor was in charge of the Cincinnati Bearcats’ offense back in 2016. They finished 123rd out of 128 team in terms of scoring. Keep in mind, the Rams were better at nearly all 11 offensive positions compared to what the Bengals have. And the lone potential difference marker, A.J. Green, is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. Overall, it’s really hard to have much confidence in the offseason moves and situation moving forward. I’d be very shocked to see this team reach the 7-win plateau.
Firstly, I think a lot of the respect Cleveland is garnering in the futures market has to do with Cincinnati and Baltimore and to a lesser degree, Pittsburgh, all projected to regress. That said, the door is wide open for this team to win the division and make some noise in the postseason. The move to get rid of Hugh Jackson and Todd Haley coupled with the savvy accumulation of talent essentially took this team from bottom feeder to playoff contender overnight. Of course it helped that Baker Mayfield stepped in and looked the part in his rookie season. They finished last season 5-2 SU and ATS, the offense obviously perked up, and its only projected to improve with Mayfield in his second season and Odell Beckham Jr. now on board. I also like GM John Dorsey establishing himself as the guy in charge. For years, the organization with a cesspool of egos and ineptitude. Bringing in Todd Monken and Steve Wilks as coordinators also appears positive. I expect some good things out of this team; the last hurdle of course is whether or not the betting markets cooperate.
Last year never felt quite right for the Steelers. Lack of chemistry was a well documented issue. But there was also some bad luck involved and an inability to make key plays when needed that kept this team out of the postseason. Simply put, they were sloppy (-11 turnover margin) and to me a lot of that falls on the shoulders of head coach Mike Tomlin. You can’t win every “coin flip” game but Pittsburgh was on the wrong end of a number of them that they could have easily won had it not been for silly mistakes. Moving forward, the loss of Le’Veon Bell, who didn’t play last season, and Antonio Brown certainly hurts from a production standpoint. However, with Todd Haley, Bell, and Brown gone, the team in theory won’t have to endure as much off-the-field drama. They moved up in the draft to take linebacker Devin Bush who they are hoping will be an immediate impact player. But even with the addition of Bush, I’m just not sure there’s enough talent on the defensive side of the ball to put this team in the discussion of Super Bowl contender. Offensively, Roethlisberger is getting up there in age but the unit should still perform well above league average. I’m not ready to write this team off as they should be neck-and-neck with Cleveland to win the division.
Veteran pro sports bettor Erin Rynning has a long history of success in the NFL. Since 2012, he’s delivered 57% documented winners including 59% last season. ER’s full season subscription is available here.