Reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and his Baltimore Ravens are big favourites to win their division again, but the Steelers could provide huge value in the AFC North.
Predicted AFC North finish
- Baltimore Ravens
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Cleveland Browns
- Cincinnati Bengals
All the buzz in this division is around the Ravens and rightly so. Lamar Jackson is the reigning MVP and looking to develop even more as an NFL quarterback. The team knows it’s identity and sticks to it. However, this could prove an issue if the team doesn’t end up well ahead and running the ball/clock out in every game.
Baltimore had the highest run play percentage last season, and even on plays while they were behind in the game they did not abandon that running philosophy, running the ball on 52% of plays while trailing in the game.
While Free Agency was quiet for Baltimore, it was the draft where they impressed, bolstering their already impressive backfield with Ohio St standout JK Dobbins and the acquisition of Devin Duvernay from Texas gives them another yards after the catch monster. Whilst on defense they added two linebackers who are slated to start to improve what was already a Top Five defence.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Ravens preview without mentioning the cut of star free safety Earl Thomas after a fight with team-mate Chuck Clark. This leave them a hole in the defensive backfield, likely the only position they aren’t elite at.
The 2019 season was a write-off for Steelers fans the second QB Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out for the season with an elbow injury. Yet despite relying on awful QB play from back-ups Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, the team finished the season just one game out of the play-offs.
The main reason Pittsburgh were able to stay in so many games despite a struggling offense was due to the fact they have the best defense in the NFL. Up front TJ Watt & Cameron Heyward lead a killer defensive line, second-year linebacker Devin Bush leads the middle of the pack while Minkah Fitzpatrick leads a defensive backfield that includes a resurgent Joe Haden.
Moving into the 2020 season, the NFL has implemented an additional play-off team, allowing seven teams in each conference to make it through. Last season, seven teams would have been enough for a Rudolph led Steelers to make the play-offs. Add Big Ben back into the mix, plus JuJu and James Connor expected to improve from last season and you have a team that looks the best bet to make the play-offs. While the Ravens are still heavily favoured for the division. Look to Pittsburgh for the best value in the division.
Cleveland were the hype team of 2019 after trading for top receiver Odell Beckham Jr. It wasn’t long before the hype died and the team fell into a poor season led by mistake-ridden Baker Mayfield. The team relieved head coach Freddie Kitchens of his duties after just one year and has moved onto Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski.
Stefanski looks to bring a similar offensive scheme, powered by the run, that gives Mayfield easier reads and throws. The Browns have a good chance to be much improved moving in Mayfield's third season as the starter. They added protection by signing former Titan Jack Conklin and added a new weapon by making Austin Hooper the highest paid tight end before George Kittle broke that with his monster deal.
Cleveland also used their first round pick to add more protection for Mayfield. Drafting Jedrick Wills out of Alabama. Unfortunately their second round pick, LSU standout safety Grant Delpit, will miss the 2020 season after an Achilles tendon tear
In any other division, Cleveland would have a strong case to make the play-offs as a wildcard, but with two of the top three AFC teams sitting in their division, it may just be a year too early for the Browns.
In 2019, the Bengals finished as the worst team in football. So at least things can only get better right? That will be the mentality of Bengals’ fans and they have good reason to be more optimistic this season. They drafted LSU Heisman Winner and National Championship QB Joe Burrow, AJ Green is returning to join Tyler Boyd as his main targets along with Clemson rookie WR Tee Higgins and the team still possesses one of the top RBs in the NFL with Joe Mixon.
The biggest opponent of the Bengals in years past has been injuries, well that and offensive line play but that was made much worse by injuries. If the Bengals can stay healthy they have a chance to make this division one of the best in the NFL. They may not go from No. 1 Pick to playoffs with the likes of Baltimore and Pittsburgh ahead of them, but they should be measuring themselves up against Cleveland and if they manage to finish 3rd in this division, they can consider this season a win. Anything higher will be a wild stretch for this team.
As one of the biggest favourites to win their division in the NFL, you've got to look at the Ravens as the team to beat. Those odds though give you a false price on the Steelers, with that defence being able to give them a chance in any game against any opposition.
That 3/1 should be much shorter for a team getting their star QB back after just missing the post-season last year, so it's probably the value shout if you're looking for any 'outsider' to win their division.
Having those two teams though makes it a tough time indeed for the Browns and Bengals.