For the first time in its history, the Cincinnati Bengals won back-to-back division titles (technically, they won the AFC Central in 1981 and 1982 but the NFL does not recognize it due to the player’s strike in 1982). With those crowns, they made back-to-back AFC Championships and nearly made back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl. They’re the favorites and many who practice sport bet have placed money on them. However, this division could very well be the most competitive in the NFL and, if you look, any of the four teams could take the crown.
Best Odds to Win the AFC North in 2023
Pittsburgh Steelers (+470)
The longest odds to take the division belong to the Steelers. Regardless of what you think of their quarterback, running game, or offensive line in general, fade at your own risk.
Mike Tomlin is still the head coach of the Steelers, and stop me if you’ve head this before, he’s never had a losing season. No matter how bad the team was, no matter if it was prime Ben Roethlisberger or the ghost of him, Pittsburgh still managed to win at least half of the games on the schedule.
Kenny Pickett looked like a rookie last year and a lot of people are out on him. Honestly, it makes sense, he was not good last year but he still showed Steeler nation enough for fans of the black and yellow to be hype for his sophomore jump.
In free agency, the Steelers didn’t make any massive moves but made a number of solid singings like Patrick Peterson, Keanu Neal, and Isaac Seumalo. Additionally, they also drafted quite well, selecting Broderick Jones, Joey Porter, Jr., Keeanu Benton, and Darnell Washington with their first four picks.
This division is incredibly deep but don’t expect even the Steelers to look awful. This is an uber-competitive division and anyone can feasibly win it.
Cleveland Browns (+390)
While they may not be the odds-on favorite to finish at the bottom of the division, there is will always be a feeling that “the Browns is the Browns”, as former Steelers JuJu Smith-Shuster put it. Given, he said that right before those Browns won their playoff matchup but context is for nerds.
Last year was not going to be the year the Browns competed. To start, their high-priced franchise quarterback was suspended for the first 11 games and looked bad once he came back. Now, he will have a full offseason without any distractions (warranted or not) and the Browns are going for it.
Cleveland is still home to the best running back in football in Nick Chubb but behind him, there are concerns. They did not bring back Kareem Hunt, so is second-year back Jerome Ford the RB2? The University of Cincinnati product can do the job but is that what’s about to happen?
The Browns did make a splash in the offseason, however. In order to give Watson another receiver to go with Amari Cooper, Cleveland traded for Elijah Moore from the Jets. Moore, alone with the best offensive line in the division, and it’s a formula for success.
Defensively, the Browns have a number of individuals who are stars. Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward lead the way but they’re rolling into 2023 with a new defensive coordinator. In addition to those two massive playmakers, they added Dalvin Tomlinson and Juan Thornhill in free agency and used their few draft picks on guys like Cedric Tillman, Siaki Ika, and Dawand Jones.
This is a playoff roster but there remains one massive, $230 Million question: can Deshaun Watson play like his pre-controversy self or will the Watson we saw in the final six games be who he is. Because if he’s the latter, the Browns may end up in quarterback purgatory again.
Baltimore Ravens (+250)
The biggest domino in free agency was Lamar Jackson. What will he do? Will he re-sign or will the team trade him? After a whole lot of commentary and back-and-forth between the team and Jackson, Baltimore has its quarterback. And while they very nearly advanced in the postseason without him, Lamar Jackson is still a massive threat to the NFL.
The thing that will determine this offense’s success is the new offensive coordinator, back-to-back National Champion with Georgia, Todd Monken. In his last NFL action, he was with the Browns and worked with Nick Chubb who went off for nearly 1,500 yards.
Jackson may be the leading rusher but their running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards have shown that they can carry the load when called upon. Outside, the Ravens added Odell Beckham, Jr. and rookie Zay Flowers to go with Rashod Bateman. If Beckman is anything close to his 2021 self, this offense could be revolutionized.
Oh, and they have one of the best tight ends in the game in Mark Andrews.
Baltimore’s defense is always great and will be once again. Realistically, it was the defense that helped the Ravens make the playoffs and required an act of God to lose in that Wild Card game.
Honestly, if you decided to bet on the Ravens, I couldn’t blame you. This is a good team, a good roster, and a coach who always gets the best out of his players.
Cincinnati Bengals (+130)
In the history of the AFC North, no franchise has won three straight. When it comes to these teams and their history, we can look at the AFC Central and the last time there was a run great than two years was the Steelers four-year run from 1994 through 1997. The Bengals have a chance for history.
This is the greatest run of football the Bengals have experienced in its history. No quarterback has revolutionized a franchise as Joe Burrow has. Zac Taylor has been thoroughly embraced by the city and has already become a legend. And they aren’t done.
Cincinnati lost a few pieces to free agency but most of them were expected. They replaced Hayden Hurst with Irv Smith, Jr. at tight end. Orlando Brown, Jr. comes in to be the next left tackle. And, much to the chagrin of clickbait writers, Tee Higgins will suit up alongside Ja’Marr Chase. Honestly, the only thing this offense needs is to punish jumpers because most of Burrow’s interceptions came off of tipped passes.
Defensively, the Bengals lost its two starting safeties but signed one, drafted one, and slid their first-round pick back to where he’s supposed to be. Inside, DJ Reader continues to be massively underrated. The question on this defense will be the secondary, but the corners might be okay. Chidobe Awuzie will return from ACL surgery, Cam Taylor-Britt is ready to step into an elevated role, and second-round pick, DJ Turner looks to have the potential to be a day-on impact player.
Overall, the Bengals were not super active in free agency. It’s very likely that they were letting the market come to them so that they don’t overpay and lost out on crucial cap space for a Burrow, Higgins, or any other extension.
In the draft, it was BPA all the way. They added Myles Murphy, Jordan Battle, Chase Brown, and Charlie Jones to go with Turner.
Perhaps the most under-the-radar thing about this Bengals team is the fact that both coordinators were entrenched in head coach interviews but both will be back. There’s a good reason that the Bengals are not only AFC North favorites but also among the top odds for the Super Bowl.
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