The AFC North race was tied for the least-competitive divisional race in the NFL last season. The Baltimore Ravens cruised to a divisional title, winning the division by a whopping six games. Outside of the Ravens, the AFC North was full of disappointing teams. The Bengals won a league-worst two games. The Steelers could never overcome an early-season injury to Ben Roethlisberger. Lastly, the Browns were hailed by many as a conference contender after an exciting off-season. However, Cleveland continued its long span of disappointing seasons as they finished just 6-10.
This is the second of an eight-part series where we break down the best season win total bets of every division. And here are all of our 2020 NFL Over/Under Win Totals Predictions.
(odds courtesy of FOX Bet)
AFC North 2020-21 Season Win Totals
Baltimore Ravens (Over 10.5 -120, Under 10.5 +100)
What will Lamar Jackson and the Ravens do for an encore? A 14-2 record and the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC playoffs is tough to top. However, did the Tennessee Titans figure out the blueprint for how to slow down the Ravens offense in their 28-12 dominating victory in the Divisional Round?
Baltimore’s defense appears loaded entering 2020-21. The Ravens traded for Michael Brockers and Calais Campbell. In addition, their re-signing of cornerback Jimmy Smith allows their secondary to remain mostly intact from a year ago. That is a good thing, as their passer-rating allowed to opposing quarterbacks ranked second-best in the league last season.
Baltimore’s toughest out-of-division games include trips to Philadelphia and Houston and home dates with Kansas City and Dallas. The winner of the AFC North has won 11 or more games in six of the last seven years. Though the division figures to be more competitive, the Ravens still appear as the class of the division. It would take four fewer wins from a year ago for them to go under their projected win total, and I simply do not see that happening.
Verdict: Take Baltimore OVER 10.5 wins
Cincinnati Bengals (Over 5.5 -133, Under 5.5 +110)
The Bengals spent most of 2019 figuring out if they had their quarterback of the future after it was clear they were moving on from Andy Dalton. The short answer was, no. That is why they are expected to select LSU quarterback and Ohio native Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick.
Cincinnati will welcome back wide receiver A.J. Green with open arms after missing all of last season with an ankle injury. He will help invigorate an offense that finished 26th in total yards and 30th in points per game. However, Cincinnati’s upcoming season will largely depend on how quickly Burrow (I am assuming they draft him) picks up the offense.
Burrow is coming off one of the best college seasons of all-time. However, the AFC North is a brutal division and Burrow’s rookie season is likely to be filled with growing pains. Behind a shoddy offensive line, the Bengals will continue to struggle. They may win more than two games, but going 6-10 to surpass their projected total is a tough ask.
Verdict: Take Cincinnati UNDER 5.5 wins
Cleveland Browns (Over 8.5 +110, Under 8.5 -133)
The Cleveland Browns were widely regarded as the most disappointing team in the league in 2019. Head coach Freddie Kitchens had a tough time managing Odell Beckham Jr. and the other big egos on the team. As a result, Kitchens was fired after just one year at the helm. He is replaced by former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. His job is to revitalize an offense that finished in the bottom half of the league in scoring and total yards.
The Browns roster is certainly not void of talent. They added tight end Austin Hooper as another receiving option to go along with Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Running back Nick Chubb is coming off a season in which he ranked second in the league in rushing, just 46 yards behind Derrick Henry. Quarterback Baker Mayfield needs a big bounce-back year in his third year in the league. Last year, his completion percentage and touchdowns were down from his rookie year while his interception total increased.
It is difficult to predict Cleveland’s win total entering this season. On paper, the Browns should be one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Will they have the discipline both on and off the field to play to their potential? I would prefer to sit back and watch what Stefanski and the new coaching staff does with this team instead of guessing what their outlook is.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Over 9.5 +100, Under 9.5 -120)
The Steelers had no chance for great success last season after Ben Roethlisberger appeared in just two games. It was already going to be difficult as they entered the season without their best two skill position players in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. In addition to Roethlisberger’s injury, the Steelers also lost James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Stephon Tuitt all for a combined 34 games last year. Given that they still clawed their way to an 8-8 record is nothing short of remarkable.
Pittsburgh’s .500 record was due in large part to a stout defense that ranked in the top six in the league in both total yards and points per game allowed. The Steelers defense also forced 38 turnovers which were the most in the league.
Conner and Smith-Schuster are looking for big years as each plays out their final year on their rookie contracts. They will be helped by one of the league’s best offensive lines led by Pro-Bowlers Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro.
One would figure if the Steelers get better luck on the injury front, they are a lock for two more wins from a year ago to surpass their projected win total. However, Ben Roethlisberger is 38 years old and has played 16 games just four times in his 16-year career. As a bettor on the Steelers’ over, I would not want to hold my breath all year that Big Ben can stay upright.
Verdict: Pass, lean OVER 9.5 wins