As we enter the 2023/24 NFL preseason, bettors have started searching for the perfect wager for the upcoming year of football. But with big trades yet to prove if they're boom or bust, a new rookie class yet to touch the turf and the latest round of coaching changes yet to make an impact, it's difficult to know exactly where to put your money.
As for the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals have had some dominant campaigns over the last few years, winning the division with a convincing 12-4 record in their latest run. But with some big offseason moves and a whole new draft class in the league, there's no reason to think their crown can't be snatched away.
Today we'll be breaking down the best odds across the market, analysing all the facts we can find and doing our best to predict the outcome of the AFC North for the upcoming season.
AFC North Best Odds
Cincinnati Bengals (+160)
The defending AFC North champions are expected to keep their crown this season at +160 in the 888 sportsbook, as they return with largely the same roster that took them to the 2023 AFC championship game and beyond.
Quarterback Joe Burrow will be bringing another year of experience to the turf, alongside his hoard of young offensive weapons including wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Their air-raid scheme proved very effective against their divisional opponents last year, and with Joe Mixon dominating the ground game they have put together one of the best offenses in the league.
The other side of the ball was also a driving force of Cincy's 2022 campaign, but after losing key defensive backs this offseason - including Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates, and Eli Apple - this could be where the gaps begin to show. Zac Taylor's secondary will now feature a collection of young starters from the 2022 draft class, and with far less experience they could struggle, especially in divisional matchups that feature the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and George Pickens.
Despite the losses to the defense, I still expect the Bengals to remain a powerhouse in the league. Over the last few years, Joe Burrow has turned the Bengals from the laughing stock of the AFC to a serious, title-contending team. Although he is yet to secure a ring, he has already carried the Bengals to a pair of AFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance in just 3 years in the league. He has most of his usual supporting cast back for the upcoming season and barring any major injuries, there's no reason to think Cincy will slow down.
Baltimore Ravens (+230)
The Baltimore Ravens rank second to win the AFC North with odds of +230 in the DraftKings Sportsbook.
The Ravens have undoubtedly improved since last season, when they limped to a 10-7 record with an injury-riddled team. Star QB Lamar Jackson missed five games last year, but should be back to full health and that alone will give them more hope for the upcoming campaign. He is also joined by a brand new collection of offensive weapons.
Eric DeCosta brought in Odell Beckham Jr. and drafted wide receiver Zay Flowers with his 2023 first-round pick. Jackson has been sorely missing outlets in the passing game, and with these additions, plus the best tight-end duo in the league with Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely, the Ravens should now be less one-dimensional in their offense. Jackson can now combine his elite scrambling ability with some top-tier receivers and if all goes well, it will be a nightmare for opponents.
I'm predicting the Ravens will return to their 2019-level of play and comfortably log 14 wins. If they can make a good run through the playoffs, there's no reason to think they can't steal an AFC championship from the Bengals.
Cleveland Browns (+400)
The Browns are third favourites to win the division with odds of +400 at BetMGM.
Cleveland finished last season with a 7-10 record, but a major portion of the campaign was without quarterback Deshaun Watson. The off-field drama last year left Cleveland without their QB1 for 12 weeks. Upon his return, the offense arguably got worse. The roster had settled into Jacoby Brisset's play style and once Watson took over, they went on a rollercoaster of win losses to see out the regular season.
Now, Watson may have gone 3-3 but with so much time off the turf, this record has to be taken with a grain of salt. After a full off-season and training camp, they could have a better start this year but it's always tough to call games in Cleveland. Winning close matchups and high-scoring affairs has always been an issue for the Browns. They went 1-9 when allowing more than 17 points last year, making it 3-15 over the last two seasons. And beyond Watson’s struggles, the defense was mediocre at best in 2022.
Despite expecting a full season with Watson at the helm, I can't shake the feeling that the Browns will struggle to maintain consistency in typical fashion. When you factor in their competition they just don’t stack up, and while they do have a high ceiling, they have an equally low floor. Taking Cleveland at +400 may come with a nice potential payday, but it's undoubtedly a risk. Honestly, I'm surprised to see them above Pittsburgh in the sportsbooks.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+550)
Last but not least are the Pittsburgh Steelers at odds of +550 to win the division in the bet365 sportsbook.
Despite the fact that head coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing record in his 16-years with Pittsburgh, the Steelers still remain the underdogs of the AFC.
Following a miserable 2-6 start last season, Tomlin managed to turn things around, rallying after the bye-week to end 9-8. Sure, it's not the prettiest record, but considering the team Tomlin is working with, it's a win in my books.
After rocky beginnings, the Steelers cut down their turnovers with Kenny Pickett throwing just one pick after the bye, and the defense allowed no more than 17 points in 7 straight games to end the season (the longest such streak in Pittsburgh since 2001). The midseason turn around shows plenty of promise for the young side, but there are still some deep rooted issues that could drag them down.
The choice to keep Matt Canada as offensive coordinator could cost Pickett the progress he's capable of. Canada has not led his offense to a single 400-yard game in any of the 35 matchups since he took over the role in 2021. It is currently the longest active streak in the league and every team that was anywhere near that record, all fired their OCs.
Bottom line: I don't expect Pittsburgh to make a big impact this season, but they could certainly be a dark horse in this division over the next few years. Give Pickett some time (and a new OC) and we might just see black and gold confetti raining down on the Super Bowl turf... Probably not though.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens
At some point, the Ravens have to get through a season without a bunch of injuries and heart-breaking losses, and my money's on it happening this year.
In 2022, they blew 5 double-digit leads, including a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter versus the Dolphins and a 17-point lead versus the Bills. The Ravens blew more 17-point leads by Week 4 last year (2) than they did in the previous 24 seasons combined (1)...
If they can avoid choking these big games and if Jackson can stay healthy, embrace Todd Monken's offensive scheme and put his new weapons to good use, Baltimore have everything it takes to clinch the division. John Harbaugh is working with a QB who has already proven he's capable of a unanimous MVP campaign and a defense that can confidently hold up the other side of the ball. Not to mention the fact that the Ravens will escape travelling to Kansas City and hosting the Bills this season, both games that will put Cincy through the ringer.
The Ravens have a real shot and at better odds, I'm taking the bet that they'll hold steady through the season, win the division, make a convincing playoff run and test whoever they face in the AFC Championship game.
What do you think? Have I made the right call? Or am I dreaming?
(Header Image Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck - USA TODAY Sports)
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