Once the most competitive division in the NFL, the AFC North has fallen on some hard times collectively as a division. The Steelers enter the season as the favorites, but the absence of LeVeon Bell from the Steelers has many concerned prior to the start of the season. The Ravens, Bengals, and Browns will be looking to get better and get back into the playoffs. With odds from BetOnline, here is a look at the odds to win the AFC North division title.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a strange team. Their success the last few years has largely been driven by All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell has a rare ability to both receive and carry out of the backfield at an elite level. In 2018 it looks like the Steelers may be without Bell entirely. With just a few days left until the season, they still haven’t resolved Bell’s contract dispute and he still hasn’t reported to the team for the 2018 season.
It’s been reported that the Steelers are ready to move on from their star man. James Conner is the man of the future for the Steelers and there’s a decent chance that Bell doesn’t play at all this year.
In Bell’s absence the Steelers will likely face a shift in philosophy. It’s foreseeable that the Steelers become a pass happy offense this season. The production will rely on Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Juju Smith-Schuster who made Martavis Bryant expendable this offseason.
The Steelers still have a stout defense. They are over judged for their loss of Ryan Shazier and way too much stock has been put into the loss to the Jaguars in the playoffs. Everyone has bad days. The Steelers just happened to have a really bad on on national television in the biggest game.
When week 1 kicks off, everything will be new. The Steelers return the #5 defense in the league in terms of total yards. The #7 scoring defense will keep the Steelers in games even if Le’Veon Bell doesn’t come back and the Steelers are forced to find a new identity.
Cameron Hayward is an imposing rusher up front who is coming off of a 2018 Pro Bowl campaign. Jon Bostic enters the Steelers lineup in place of Ryan Shazier after compiling 97 tackles in 14 games with the Colts last year.
The main changes for the Steelers came in the secondary. They made noticeable strides to get younger after getting torched by Blake Bortles.
Perennial Pro-Bowl cornerback Joe Haden anchors the corner position for the Steelers and will be flanked by the highly touted Morgan Burnett who comes over from the Packers. Artie Burns needs to get better for this defense to be top 10 again against the pass.
The Baltimore Ravens have been a very consistent franchise the last decade. All of a sudden, the Ravens are looking at a multitude of change.
As happens in the NFL, the Ravens seem to have gotten old overnight. That caused some reactionary moves in the off-season that Baltimore hopes will put the team in a better position to win the AFC North.
It’s incredible, but the Ravens are just a few years removed from a Super Bowl. Joe Flacco’s play has declined massively since he signed his massive contract after the championship run. The team has struggled to get a championship level Flacco back on the field.
The team has also lacked an elite defense to back him up. That trend should largely remain in effect for the 2018 season unless John Harbaugh has some tricks up his sleeve..
The Ravens have been so disappointing with Flacco at quarterback that the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson to create something of a quarterback controversy. Flacco did a decent job in camp of protecting his starting job, but the Ravens are said to be looking for ways to include Jackson in the offense this season. He is the Ravens QB of the future.
While Jackson is a promising prospect, the future isn’t today for the Ravens. There is no doubt that Jackson is a great scrambler, and someone who can make improvisational plays to great benefit. His ability to throw the football at a high level just isn’t there yet. Jackson has shown statistically that he is more comfortable with short throws to one side of the field than anything else. That kind of imbalance won’t get the job done at this level. The Ravens season success will be based on what Joe Flacco shows up.
Defensively, the Ravens were one of seven teams in the NFL to give up 5.0 yards per play or less last year. Though not the dominant force they once were, they definitely weren’t bad on defense.
The NFL is known to be a one sided league. Most of the elite teams do one thing really well. Right now the Ravens don’t do anything on an elite level. That makes them a very difficult pick to win the division.
Lamar Jackson could become great one day, and make up for these down years for the Ravens. For now, it might be another year without a playoff appearance for Baltimore.
The Bengals went 7-9 in 2017 and some Cincinnati Bengals fans we calling for the scalp of longtime Head Coach Marvin Lewis.
The Bengals suffered similar production decreases to the Ravens and Joe Flacco. There was once a time when Andy Dalton looked like an elite QB and the Bengals paid him as such. Since signing his new deal, the Bengals have fallen into the abyss of mediocrity in the NFL. Andy Dalton looked like an elite quarterback when he had a healthy AJ Green and Jay Gruden as coach to help him out.
The Bengals made changes, they just weren’t on the field personnel. Ken Zampese was fired as the offensive coordinator. Instead of hiring from outside of the organization, the team went with QB coach Bill Lazor to fill in at play caller.
While Lazor changed the entire playbook for the Bengals, we just don’t see the offensive talent needed on the Bengals to make this worth discussing further. With the worst offense in the NFL, the 31st worst rushing attack in the NFL, and the #30 rushing defense in the league, the Bengals leave nothing to get excited about.
The Cleveland Browns sure had an interesting 2017. They joined the Detroit Lions as the only team in the history of the NFL to lose 16 games in a season and go winless. They’ve won 1 of their last 32 games.
Then they decided to go on HBO’s preseason documentary series “Hard Knocks.”
It’s always interesting talking about the Hard Knocks team in our NFL previews articles. The show gives a look that can be very flawed and often times we see over-bet status come to the team on the show. Well, the Browns are reaching that status, but it’s hard not to buy in.
The Cleveland Browns have been one of the best Hard Knocks seasons in recent memory. In the critically acclaimed documentary series, you can feel the Browns getting tighter as a unit. The Browns are fighting together to turn around a team that has been in utter misery. There’s a culture change going on. It’s something we’ve never seen so visibly in past Hard Knocks.
Jarvis Landry seems to be a real leader on the team. You can even check out this speech he gave to the team on our instagram account.
Tyrod Taylor is a great addition for the Browns. At 29, Taylor has a good grasp of what it means to play QB in the NFL. After piloting the Bills to their first playoff game in decades, he also knows a thing or two about changing a culture.
Las Vegas is exposed by the Browns. According to bookmakers on VSin radio, the one bet that could really lose Vegas money this year is “Browns to win the Superbowl.” Everyone seems to be on it.
Aren’t they silly? This is the Browns we’re talking about.
The fact that the Browns are relatively close to the Bengals in terms of their odds to win the AFC North should tell you everything you need to know about both teams. The Browns are on the rise and could win 6-7 games this year. The Bengals are on the decline and could win 6-7 games this year.
It will be interesting to see how many wins the Browns can rack up this season. We think they have virtually no shot to win the division. If the Browns can build to 6-8 wins this year they can really set the tone for a potential playoff berth in 2019. That would be a successful campaign for this roster.
For all of the flaws that the Steelers have, the rest of the division has legitimate issues and they can’t all be addressed in one offseason. That leaves most of Pittsburgh’s division competition limited in their abilities to do much this season.