Arguably no division saw bigger turnover in the offseason than this one, with Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell leaving town and Odell Beckham Jr. joining the mix in Cleveland. The AFC North is one of just two divisions with a plus-money favorite (NFC North), and while bettors are fading the Browns as division winners, they're pounding them as Super Bowl contenders.
Here are the best bets, value plays, and picks to avoid in the AFC North for 2019.
(Over prices in parentheses)
|TEAM||WIN TOTAL||AFC NORTH ODDS||SUPER BOWL ODDS|
Odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
Steelers under 9 wins (Even)
Pittsburgh won nine games last year, then lost the core of what made the team so dangerous the past few seasons. However, bettors are still riding the over on the Steelers' win total and betting them to a tie atop the division at 7-5 odds.
Brown and Bell are gone, and even the biggest fans of JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner can acknowledge the downgrade for a team that's relied on offensive firepower for years. The defense was average across the board last season, with a near-worst special teams unit. Is there any reason to expect improvement in 2019?
Ben Roethlisberger led the league with a career-high 5,129 passing yards last year but owned a virtually identical touchdown and interception rate from his 2017 season, so it's hard to expect growth for the 37-year-old quarterback.
Better chemistry is really the only selling point for improvement, and that's not enough to replace two All-Pro offensive talents and fix a leaky defense.
Ravens to make playoffs (+170)
Baltimore won the division last season despite cobbling together a new offense halfway through the year to fit its rookie quarterback. Yet they're 2-1 to miss the playoffs entirely in 2019.
This defense has some work to do after losing C.J. Mosley, Za'Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, Brent Urban, and Eric Weddle this offseason. But Baltimore's dominant run on defense has often relied on savvy play-calling and creative blitz packages up front. Evidently, not much will change for defensive coordinator Wink Martindale thanks to secondary stalwarts Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, and new addition Earl Thomas on the back end.
That's to say nothing of an offense that overwhelmed teams last year with historic rushing numbers and added two-time Pro Bowler Mark Ingram this summer. A full offseason should do wonders for offensive coordinator Greg Roman and second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson in a wide-open AFC North.
The Ravens open 2019 with two cupcakes (Miami, Arizona) and end the year against five straight non-playoff teams from 2018. It's a risk, but there's real value here and on Baltimore's lengthy division odds.
Anything on the Browns
Let's be honest here, we have no idea what's going to happen in Cleveland this year. Improvement feels imminent from last season's 7-8-1 record - especially after acquiring arguably the most talented receiver in football - but it's dangerous placing too much stock in a young team.
Baker Mayfield may be a future star, but he also ranked 22nd in quarterback rating (55.7) in his 14-game debut and showed his youth with high INTs (14) and a low completion percentage (63.8). The defense, littered with young stars, ranked 27th in Pro Football Focus' team grades in 2018, and Cleveland's special teams unit was 30th.
It's also foolish to chase the market, which has already pummeled the Browns' odds into the ground to win the Super Bowl (20-1) and AFC (8-1). If you think Year 2 is the time to bet on Cleveland's storybook season, all the power to you. It's smarter to wait.