Welcome to the best division in Football. When power rating every team in the league I was shocked to find that I had all four of these teams in the Top 12. The Bengals look to make it three years in a row as the division champions, Baltimore has a new offensive play-caller and potential identity on offense, Cleveland will finally have Deshaun Watson for the entire year (Barring injury), and Pittsburgh never has a losing record thanks to Mike Tomlin’s ability to lift the floor of this team. So where can we find value in the division this year? Let’s dive into the Markets.
Best Available Division Prices in Market
Cincinnati +150 (DraftKings)
Baltimore +275 (Caesars, BetRivers)
Cleveland +425 (DraftKings)
Pittsburgh +600 (BetRivers)
The Bull Case – Continuity. The Bengals once again hang on to both Coordinators which provides stability that most consistently good teams don’t have. Usually the better you are the more likely someone poaches one of your coordinators, yet somehow Cincinnati has held on to DC Lou Anarumo. The defense returns a bunch of starters and despite lacking true stars save for maybe Trey Hendrickson, the defense doesn’t have any weak links. They lost both starting safeties but were prepared for this having drafted Dax Hill in the first round of last year’s draft. They also continue to pour resources into the defense with the first three picks of this year’s draft being allocated to that side of the ball. The offense lead by star Quarterback Joe Burrow, continues to have the NFL’s best three-headed Wide Receiver corps in the NFL. They also invested in the O-line for a 2nd straight year, this time with Pro-Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Barring a catastrophic injury the Bengals are one of the safer floor teams in the NFL.
The Bear Case – Outside of maybe Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie‘s health, it’s tough to make a bear case for this team. I’ve heard discussions from people saying this team has already peaked. I find that hard to believe with a Quarterback entering his 4th year in the league. The true bear case to make is this division is very difficult top to bottom, and if they catch the wrong side of variance in one-score games they may not three-peat as division champions.
The Bull Case – The starting point for optimism for the Ravens has to begin with new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken and new Wide Receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers, and Nelson Agholor. Greg Roman’s time as play-caller was long past due and there’s intrigue about what this offense can look like under Monken. Lamar has never had this many weapons in his time in the league. John Harbaugh continues to be one of the best Head Coaches in the NFL and Baltimore’s aggression on 4th down/2 Pt-Conversions should bode well for them. Defensively the Baltimore Ravens may have the best duo of Safeties in the NFL in Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams.
The Bear Case – Lamar Jackson‘s health. This will always be the Bear Case for Baltimore because without Lamar this team struggles to win games. Jackson has missed five games in each of the last two seasons, and if he misses significant time again it’s hard to see them win a division as competitive as this. Lamar’s health isn’t the only question mark. We don’t know what the transformation under Todd Monken will look like. Will trading more passing for rushing keep Lamar healthy but perhaps not as effective? They’re also banking on the health of OBJ who didn’t play last year, and Rashod Bateman who got hurt. And what if first-round pick Zay Flowers isn’t good enough in his first year? Then moving on to the defense, this is a team that got torched in the air. They gave up the 7th most passing yards, and part of that was the lack of depth in the secondary. Despite the signing of CB Rock Ya-Sin and drafting Kyu Blu Kelly in the 5th round, this team still lacks serious depth at Corner to compete with the top passing attacks in the NFL. It still remains to be seen if they bring in another veteran corner or not.
The Bull Case – Deshaun Watson returns to his form in Houston as a top-tier quarterback. Literally, that’s the biggest Bull Case for them. If Watson is back to the level he played at in Houston this is going to be a very good Browns team. The O-line is once again one of the best in the NFL and Nick Chubb might be the best Runningback in the league. From a weapons standpoint, this is probably the deepest the Browns have been in a long time. Wide Receiver Amari Cooper is now joined by WR Elijah Moore who the Browns acquired in a trade, rookie 3rd round pick Cedrick Tillman, and WR’s David Bell and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Add in Tight End David Njoku and these weapons are quite intriguing for Watson to work with. Defensively they also finally fixed the D-line. They added two pass-rushers opposite Myles Garrett and fixed the interior D-line. So long as they don’t get crushed with injuries to their top five linebackers again this year, this is a defense that looks like it could be among the best in the NFL.
The Bear Case – Deshaun Watson isn’t at the same level he once was in Houston. If he doesn’t play at that level again, this is going to be a talented roster not good enough to win the Superbowl. The lack of depth behind Nick Chubb is concerning. For the first time, the Browns are not two and three deep at RB. Outside of that, there’s a lot to love about the Browns and their downside is considerably less than a lot of teams.
The Bull Case – It would have to be Quarterback Kenny Pickett and Wide Receiver George Pickens taking a gigantic step forward and evolving into star-level players. If that happens the Steelers are going to be poised to catch a lot of people by surprise. They also did an incredible job addressing the O-line this off-season. They drafted Offensive Tackle Broderick Jones in the first round, after signing guards Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig in free agency. Mike Tomlin is the bull-case, or at the very least is the anti-Bear case. The reason he has never had a losing season, despite years of terrible Quarterback play, is Tomlin elevates the floor of the team. He has a way of squeezing everything out of his guys, and despite being deep into seasons with losing records, they never give up. Outside of Buffalo and Philadelphia massacring them last year, the Steelers played a ton of tight games.
The Bear Case – The Bear Case starts with Kenny Pickett not being a franchise QB and just a caretaker. George Pickens not developing into a game-breaking Wide Receiver would hurt as well. The Secondary being mostly completely new is concerning as well, plus two entirely different starting linebackers. Even when accounting for all that, the Steelers won’t be a punching bag for anyone and their bear case also contains a relatively safe floor.
Power Ratings and Projected Win Totals
Cincinnati Bengals – 2nd in my Power Ratings. 11.95 Projected Wins
Baltimore Ravens – 8th in my Power Ratings. 10.12 Projected Wins
Cleveland Browns – 9th in my Power Ratings. 10.31 Projected Wins
Pittsburgh Steelers – 12th in my Power Ratings. 9.72 Projected Wins
When I look at my projections for the division it’s clear that I believe Cincinnati is a class above the others mostly because their range of outcomes is a lot narrower. If Baltimore and Cleveland, reach the higher end of their range, perhaps one of them can challenge and be one of the elite teams in the NFL. The other consideration is if any of the three (Ravens, Browns, Steelers) hit the lower range of outcomes those projected wins could look foolish by the end of the season.
So how am I planning on betting on this division? With three teams having a wide range of outcomes, I want to embrace the uncertainty and take some stabs at longer prices.
Bets I’m Making for AFC North Division
Cleveland Browns +425 to win the division – Can be found at DraftKings
Baltimore Ravens +350 finish 4th in the division – Can be found at DraftKings
Bet I’m Making for Win Totals
Cleveland Browns Over 9.5 +125 – Can be found at Caesars
Pittsburgh Steelers Over 8.5 -140 – Can be found at Bet365 and Pinnacle
If you missed my previous articles find them at the links below:
Breakdown of the NFC South Futures Market
Cleaning up the AFC East Futures Market
Focusing on the NFC West Futures Market
Guide to Beat the AFC West Futures Market
Navigating the NFC East Futures Market
Beating the AFC South Futures Market
How to attack the NFC North Futures Market