AFC North Preview: Cincinnati Bengals Seek Smashmouth Three-Peat

Posted on: August 28, 2023, 09:23h. 

Last updated on: August 29, 2023, 11:27h.

The Cincinnati Bengals are the betting favorite at +140 odds to win a third consecutive AFC North division title.

Joe Burrow Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow looks downfield during an AFC divisional playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. (Image: AP)

The Baltimore Ravens are +235 odds to win the NFC North and prevent a three-peat from the Bengals. The Cleveland Browns (+400) and Pittsburgh Steelers (+500) aren’t far behind in a tight division race.

The NFC North lives up to its “smashmouth football” moniker, and is widely considered the most physical division in the NFL

The Steelers last claimed the NFC North title in 2020. The Ravens last won the division in back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019.

The Browns have never won a division title since the inception of the NFC North when the NFL restructured divisions in 2002. The last time the Browns won a division crown occurred in 1989 in the defunct AFC Central.

Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow and the Cool Cats Eye

  • AFC North Odds: +140
  • Super Bowl Odds: +1100
  • 2022 Record: 12-4
  • 2023 Win Total: 10.5 o/u

The Bengals had a huge scare in training camp when quarterback Joe Burrow was carted off the field with a noncontact leg injury. Burrow only suffered a strained calf and he’s expected to start in Week 1.

The Bengals upgraded their offensive line this season and added tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to protect Joe Burrow’s blind side.

Burrow has the benefit of throwing passes to one of the best wide receiver trios in the NFL with Ja’Marr Chase (9 TDs, 87 receptions), Tee Higgins (7 TDs, 74 receptions), and Tyler Boyd (5 TDs, 58 receptions). Chase and Higgins both logged 1,000-yard seasons in 2022.

The Bengals hit the road to play two 2022 division winners, with the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 13 and Kansas City Chiefs on New Year’s Eve. They host tough nondivisional home games against last year’s playoff squads, including the Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills, and Minnesota Vikings.

The Bengals are +550 odds to win the AFC Championship for the second time in the last three seasons. Patrick Mahomes shrugged off an ankle injury and led the Chiefs to a 23-20 victory over the Bengals in the AFC championship.

The Bengals are +1100 odds to win Super Bowl LVII as the fifth-highest team on DraftKings’ futures board.

Baltimore Ravens: L-Jax Gets the Bag, Revamped Offense

  • AFC North Odds: +235
  • Super Bowl Odds: +1800
  • 2022 Record: 10-7
  • 2023 Win Total: 10.5 o/u

After a tense off-season that included a trade request, the Ravens inked quarterback Lamar Jackson to a contract extension worth $260 million over five years. Jackson earned a ridiculous pay raise because the Ravens have a 45-16 record since he took over as the starting quarterback midway through his rookie season.

With the Jackson drama solved, the Ravens can focus on wrestling away the division crown from the Bengals.

The Ravens hired Todd Monken as their new offensive coordinator. Monken was a part of two college football national championship teams with the Georgia Bulldogs. He gets a chance to devise a playbook for the dual-threat Jackson.

The Ravens upgraded their offense with veteran wide receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. and Nelson Agholor. They also drafted Zay Flowers out of Boston College, who is one of the top incoming rookie wide receivers.

The Ravens have three difficult road games late in the season against the Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Francisco 49ers on Christmas. There are also a couple of nondivisional home games of note, including the Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, and the Seahawks.

The Ravens are +1100 odds to win the AFC championship as the fourth-highest team on the board. They offer the most value in their division to win the NFC North at +235 odds.

Cleveland Browns: Watson’s First Full Season

  • AFC North Odds: +400
  • Super Bowl Odds: +3500
  • 2022 Record: 7-10
  • 2023 Win Total: 9.5 o/u

Deshaun Watson missed the first 11 games last season while serving a suspension for allegedly sexually assaulting multiple massage therapists during his time in Houston. When his suspension ended in December, Watson struggled in the final six games of the season. He completed a career-low 58.2% of his passes, with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

Watson now gets a chance to play his first full season with the Browns, and has a couple of talented wideouts to throw to, including Elijah Moore and Amari Cooper.

If Watson returns to old form, the Browns have a shot at a winning season and a postseason berth. He passed for more than 4,000 yards twice in his career, and tossed a career-high 33 touchdowns in 2020.

The Browns’ defense is anchored by defensive end Myles Garrett. But they made serious upgrades with star pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith, defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, and safety Juan Thornhill. They also hired defensive guru Jim Schwartz to handle defensive coordinator duties.

Three teams in the NFC North have win totals that indicate potential winning seasons, including the Browns at 9.5 o/u.

The Browns host three potential playoff squads, with nondivisional home games against the 49ers, Jaguars, and Jets.

The Browns are +115 odds to make the playoffs, and -135 odds to miss the playoffs according to a prop bet by DraftKings.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Tomlin Faces First Losing Season?

  • AFC North Odds: +500
  • Super Bowl Odds: +5000
  • 2022 Record: 9-8
  • 2023 Win Total: 8.5 o/u

Head coach Mike Tomlin always finds a way to avoid a losing season, even in the NFL’s “smashmouth” division. The Steelers haven’t had a losing season in 20 years. In 16 seasons as head coach, Tomlin has a 163-93-2 record, with three break-even seasons at 8-8. Tomlin has led the Steelers to 10 postseason berths and a Super Bowl victory with the 2008 squad.

However, the Steelers made the playoffs only three times in the last six seasons, and haven’t won a playoff game since 2016.

This will be the third season with Matt Canada as the offensive coordinator, and Kenny Pickett enters his second season at quarterback. Despite Pickett’s erratic rookie season, he led the Steelers to a winning record at 9-8 before they bubbled the playoffs.

The Steelers have a win total of 8.5 o/u, and they’re projected to finish in last place in the division. They will be tested with three road games in the final four weeks of the season, and a clash against the Bengals at home in Week 16.

Oddsmakers think this could be the year that the Steelers finally falter. But Tomlin somehow finds a way to win. The Steelers are +125 odds to make the playoffs, and -150 odds to miss the postseason.