AFC North; Bengals to repeat?

Based on win totals from 5 UK-based bookies, best prices from Oddschecker.com

The Super Bowl finalist came from this division last year as the Cincinnati Bengals upset all expectations to finally break their play-off hoo-doo and make their way to Los Angeles before falling to the Rams, they were the highest-priced Super Bowl finalist in 30 years or so since the greatest show on turf Rams made it all the way.

There were a ton of injuries to teams in this division last year, not least to the Ravens who were expected to win it last season, according to some measures they lost more games through injury than any team has done in 20 years, so it’s safe to say it was a rough year for them. The Browns fell down again, and injury that Baker Mayfield played through essentially costing them the season, while the Steelers brought back Big Ben who looked done the year before and proved it last year, yet they once again managed to make the playoffs and keep Mike Tomlins record of never having a losing season going.

This year the Ravens come in with a 4th-placed schedule due to those injuries kyboshing their season, the Bengals return most of their roster and coaches from last season, the Browns paid big money for Deshaun Watson who is suspended for 11 games of the season and the Steelers are probably going to have a rookie at QB for a fair part of the season.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens were behind the 8-ball almost immediately last season as JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards suffered season-ending knee injuries before the season even got going and it’s actually looking like neither will make the week 1 game this year either which is a little worrying in terms of their recovery.

Lamar Jackson is negotiating his own contract and it seems like he should have that wrapped up before the season starts, the former MVP got injured last year as well but had taken his team to a 7-3 start before that injury led them to eventually finish 8-9 to finish bottom of the division. Still the most impressive running QB in the league, there seems little doubt in his ability to bring his team back to at least the playoffs this season.

It seems like they’ll have to rely on the defense and the running game to win games this year though after trading away Marquise Brown for a first round pick they are suspiciously shorts at WR with 2nd-year Rashod Bateman leading the WR corp. He was all right after missing the first half of the season with injury but a lot of his games came with Tyler Huntley at QB so it’s tough to judge. The man who will lead the passing group is tight end Mark Andrews who hit 1200 yards last year. A similar season seems in store for him this year. Fellow TE Isaiah Likely is probably the 3rd target after those two after a very successful pre-season from the rookie – Outside of those three it’s Devin Duvernay, James Proche, really not much for them.

The running game may well start with Mike Davis and Kenyan Drake, not exactly what they were hoping for to start the season, but the Ravens run-game usually gets the job done with Lamar at QB. JK Dobbins will be back within weeks while the Gus bus is on IR, so misses at least the first 4 games of the season. The two they’ve got for now are good enough, both active last season, Drake the more pass-catching of the two, they’ll be fine against the Jets at least.

Defensively they were killed by injuries as well, the Bengals decimating them for nearly 1,000 passing yards highlighting their deficiencies. They have changed defensive co-ordinator but they do have talent on that side of the ball so they should be fine.

I do, begrudgingly think they should win the division, based largely on injury luck reverting and the easiest schedule of the 4 teams, and I think around 10 wins is spot on, so I won’t be having anything on win total. The odds now at 6/4 is fine and a decent one to add to accumulators, but I prefer the Bengals and Ravens to finish top 2 in any order at 11/8 on Skybet seems very likely.

Player props? I like Mark Andrews over on receptions and receiving yards. Over 950.5 rec. yards at Paddypower would be my bet on him. I don’t mind a small nibble on Isaiah Likley OROY at 100/1 but it obviously comes down to MAndrews getting injured which isn’t fun to root for.

Cincinnati Bengals

There’s usually one team who goes from 4th to 1st in division and last season was the Bengals time after they enjoyed their best season in 30 years to make the Super Bowl before the obviously offensive line issues finally came home to roost and Burrow was sacked with Chase streaking down the field past a prone Jalen Ramsey (he’s not that good)

They addressed the offensive line over the summer and have 4 new starters there this year with La’el Collins, Ted Karras and Alex Cappa all coming in over free agency and rookie Cordell Volson at LG. It was the weakness of the team last year this year it could be a strength.

Joe Burrow came into last year without much of a training camp coming off that ACL injury, and he’s missed a fair bit this year after having his appendix out, it meant a slow start, but he finished the regular season on fire last year as the best QB in the league from week 12 onwards. He has brought belief and confidence to a team that for so long had neither and I wouldn’t be shocked if he received some MVP votes this season.

The much-derided addition of Ja’Marr Chase instead of Penei Sewell was laughed at for some of the season but once he and Burrow properly clicked they were unstoppable on offense while Tee Higgins also hit 1,000 yards and Tyler Boyd provided expertise in the slot, to make them probably the best 3 in the league. CJ Uzomah has moved on, replaced by Hayden Hurst, but the Bengals don’t use the TE too much in the passing game, why would you with the 3 WRs as good as they are.

The running game will be largely Joe Mixon who was 3rd in attempts and yards and 4th in rushing TDs at 13 last season. This year should be the best offensive line he’s had to run behind so good things should be coming to him. Behind him I think they’ll use Chris Evans more, and Samaje Perine made the roster with Trayveon Williams as well as they went for 4 RBs.

The defense actually got them through the playoffs as half-time adjustments proved key as they famously shut down Mahomes and the Chiefs. They’ve kept most of that unit together, Trey Hendrickson being the most obvious stud there, but the safety duo is one of the best in the league too, they are built to slow the Ravens and managed that in both games.

As above, I think they’ll finish second in the division, and if you like them to win it, or the Super Bowl then get on early as the back end of their schedule is hideous. They could be 8-2 by the time that rough patch comes around though if things go well for them.

Player prop-wise they’re all relatively high after the success of last year so I don’t think I’ll be backing anything in the passing game and I’m sure there was a lower line available for Mixon rushing TDs, he should go over 10.5 but that’s too high for me to bet now. Trey Hendrickson defensive player of the year at around 50s isn’t terrible if you want a long shot.

WHODEY!

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have lost a lot of fans this off-season after giving probably sex offender Deshaun Watson the largest fully guaranteed contract in history, and structuring it so that he only loses $1m this year due to suspension. Truly horrible actions, but they have to try and show the past 6 or 7 years of abject failure mean something and winning is winning.

Jacoby Brissett plays the first 11 of the season, he’s fine, but won’t be lifting them to any wins.

Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are probably the best 1-2 punch in the league and should drag them to some wins early on.

The passing attack is pretty dismal with Amari Cooper basically out there by himself. Behind him Donovan Peoples-Jones and rookie David Bell sit, and they paid David Njoku a fair bit to be their starting TE.

Offensive line has issues, while the defense should be good.

That’s about all I want to talk about them. I think they’ll be 3rd of 4th in division and not do much else. Under the lean on wins.

Player props? Chubb overs seems sensible but it’s very high and he does miss games through injury.

Fuck ’em.

Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s time to change in Pittsburgh as Big Ben finally retires a year or two too late. Mike Tomlin somehow kept hits winning record alive last year and remarkably they actually made the playoffs after finishing second in division.

This year will be very interesting as they start with Mitchell Trubisky at QB, but most people think he won’t last too long before Kenny Pickett comes in to take the reins under center. Both will have issues with a terrible offensive line, but they’re mobile and will have more ability to overcome that than Ben did. Trubisky is probably better than Brissett so they won’t have the worst week 1 starter in the division.

Najee Harris was loaded up with everything last year, I think his receptions drop off with better QB play but his rush attempts will stay high as they stick to bellcow running backs in Pitt. He’ll do well to up his awful average rush attempt with the line as it is though.

The passing game will probably be led by Diontae Johnson once more who is rather good at getting himself open and available, he was highly targeted by Ben last year so I think his receptions probably drop, but we just don’t really know. Chase Claypool will want to prove he wasn’t a one-season wonder after an impressive rookie year was followed by mediocrity last year and the hype over George Pickens because he was picked by the Steelers outside the first round is frankly ridiculous. He could be very good, but the fawning over their supposed ability to draft WRs is bullshit. (Yes, I’m a Bengals fan, I know)

Pat Friermuth looked good for a rookie TE last year and you’d expect him to improve as he learns the position in the NFL, but again, we just don’t really know how the offense will look.

TJ Watt finally won DPOY and will be up there again this year, and they have a very well regarded defense over all, personally I don’t think it’s as good as lauded and Tom Kislingbury had them rated in the “poor” section of his recent grades, but I’m happy to admit I’ve very biased against them and maybe my opinion isn’t perfect.

Logically under on their win total, but Tomlin just gets it done so it’s something i’ll avoid, it also means I’ll be avoiding any finishing position bets as I can’t pick them.

Player props? I’d be looking under on everyone frankly, just because we don’t really know who will command targets in this new-look offense. It is likely Diontae but there’s nothing I’ll be putting money on.

What should we be betting on?

The Ravens and Bengals look like the quality in the division this year and you can get them to finish top 2 in any order at 11/8 on Skybet.

My favourite player prop has to be Mark Andrews o950.5 rec. yards, he’s the very obvious target there and o83.5 receptions for him seems acheievable as well.

The Ravens and Bengals are both quite well priced in season long betting as well, the Bengals around 20/1 for a repeat Super Bowl appearance is generous as they’re still tarnished by their last 20 years reputation and the AFC West teams are helping push up the odds for everyone else in the AFC.

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