30 Jun Free AFC North Odds
Free AFC North Odds | Expand The Boxscore’s Divisional Futures Series
In the next edition of our divisional odds series, the AFC North.
The Baltimore Ravens were the class of the NFL last season. With a league best 14-2 record behind MVP Lamar Jackson, the Ravens cruised through the regular season and a poor showing by the rest of the division. The playoffs and Derrick Henry hit and sent the Ravens packing. How will the division turn out in 2020? (All lines from DraftKings Sports Book)
Last Season: 14-2
2020 O/U: 11.5
3,127 yards passing with 36 TD to only six INT. Not to mention 1,207 rush yards and seven rush TD. Not bad for a wide receiver playing QB.
Obviously, these are the 2019 stats for NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. He had an incredible season, one which led the Ravens to also have an incredible season. Everyone knows coming into 2020 what Baltimore wants to do: run the ball. With Jackson, Mark Ingram and rookie J.K. Dobbins, this should not be a problem. Add in some work to Gus Edwards and the team is by far the best run team in the league. The retirement of Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman Marshal Yanda could hurt, but with the athleticism of Jackson and the all-around game of the rest of the back-field should allow for regression to be less drastic.
The excitement for rookie wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in 2019 was mitigated due to recurring foot injuries stemming from Lisfranc surgery. He was limited his rookie production to 584 yards on only 46 receptions. Despite the low catch totals, Brown was still able to show just how dangerous he can be with seven TD on those 46 receptions.
The true weapons in the pass game are the tight ends. Hayden Hurst is now in Atlanta, leaving Mark Andrews as the man. Andrews was able to put up a pro bowline of 64 for 852 and 10 TD while playing on only 41% of snaps. His 13.3 yards per catch is almost a full yard better than Hollywood Brown’s as an outside receiver.
If Hollywood was the receiver expected to breakout in 2019, Miles Boykin is that player this season. At 6’4 and 220 pounds, the big-bodied Boykin will look to replace the void left by the trade of Hayden Hurst to Atlanta this off-season. Although he played in all 16 games his rookie season, Boykin only pulled down 13 receptions. On those 13 receptions he was able to garner three TD as well as 198 yards receiving. He has big play potential and with his size, he makes a much better red zone target than Brown in this offense.
Lamar Jackson will not repeat his year from last season. The pass yards are likely to go up, and the rush numbers are likely to go down. Defensive coordinators will game plan for Jackson’s running ability and he will not be as efficient despite his exceptional mobility. This said, he will still have upside few players in the NFL possess. If Mark Andrews takes even another step forward and Brown breaks out after an off-season of healing, Baltimore again will challenge for a Super Bowl bid.
As always, the defense returns and is in fact better in 2020. Earl Thomas is having a late career surge in his play after joining the team in 2019. The off-season addition of Calais Campbell for peanuts reinforces that the defense needed retooling, but not rebuilding. Many thought the defense would take a hit with the departure of C.J. Mosley before the 2019 season. Instead of taking a step back, it moved forward. The addition of Thomas and Marcus Peters played a critical role in the defense being above average and opportunistic. The Ravens held down their weak division, and were also able to hold down teams like the Houston Texans and New England Patriots on their way to an incredible regular season.
The defense will need to remain stellar this season. Not only is the division much improved, but the Ravens’ season will be seen as a failure if they do not make it to the AFC Championship. This may be unfair, but with the talent they are bringing back, it is clear this is a win-now team. This is also shown in their high 11.5 over/under win total, a number which is going to be difficult to hit.
Last Season: 2-14
2020 O/U: 5.5
The offense in Cincinnati is going to get better in 2020.
After what was turning into a mediocre college career, Joe Burrow exploded in 2019. His 60 TD passes and 5,671 yards and 76.3 completion percentage led the Tigers to the national championship, landing Burrow the Heisman trophy.
Are Burrow’s weapons going to be the same as what Andy Dalton had in 2019? No. In fact, they might be better. We know what A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd are in the pass game, and Joe Mixon is in the backfield. Tyler Eifert is out. His impact will be missed, but his injury history prevented depth players such as Drew Sample and C.J. Uzomah to get as much playing time as they may or may not deserve. The two of them will also be vying for targets with John Ross III and Auden Tate.
After missing the 2019 season, A.J. Green will be itching to get back on the field. He wants to prove he can come back from a lost season and excel. The return of Green re-establishes Tyler Boyd as a good second receiver in the league. During the 2019 campaign in which he competed without Green, Boyd ended up with 1,047 yards and five TD on 90 receptions. But he is not an alpha number one and to achieve these marks, he had to play 89% of offensive snaps, 11% more than his previous career high.
The Bengals are hoping that rookie Tee Higgins can fulfill the same role as Boyd when the time comes for Green to depart. If Higgins can be successful this season, meaning a great safety valve red zone target, the Bengals are set up nicely for some success. If Green gets hurt again, Higgins is going to have to play a much bigger role.
Turning to the run game, Joe Burrow can help a bit there as well. In his senior season of college, Burrow ran 115 times for 368 yards and five rushing TD. The common sentiment is a running QB helps the running back. This could prove the case for Burrow and Mixon in 2020. Another key to the run game will be the return of Jonah Williams. The first-round pick from a season ago should provide an upgrade to an offensive line which needs to come and play against the likes of T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, and other fearsome front seven players in the division.
Mixon started off last season at a snail’s pace. He still finished the season with 278 rushes for 1,137 yards on the ground. He also managed to catch 35 of 45 targets, a number which could go up as there is talk of Gio Bernard being a possible cap casualty before the season. The team likes Trayveon Williams, but how much of it is talk? After missing the first two games due to a foot injury, Williams appeared only sparingly on special teams the rest of the season. In 11 games during the 2019 season, Williams ran the ball zero times. This does not bode well for challenging Mixon for playing time, even if Bernard were to be released.
Since the departure of Mike Zimmer after the 2013 season, the Bengals have had no defensive identity. Geno Atkins is a talented defensive tackle, but he is aging and starting to slow down a bit. Carlos Dunlap and D.J. Reader are also solid on the line, but not stars. This is something the Bengals lack throughout the defense.
Trae Waynes arrives from Minnesota to play in their nickel slot position. The tutelage he received while with the Vikings will help bring some solid depth to a secondary who needs a lot to go right for it to be good. Another former Viking Mackensie Alexander, as well as Shawn Williams, Jessie Bates III, and William Jackson III do not put fear into opposing wide receivers.
I am going to go with my gut here as well as the smart play and say although the Bengals will improve, their division is too difficult for them to make a major jump. Give Joe Burrow and Zac Taylor a year or two to get comfortable.
Last Season: 6-10
2020 O/U: 8
After a rookie season in which he threw a rookie record 27 TD in just 13 games, Baker Mayfield showed the dreaded sophomore slump. His TD numbers fell from 27 to 22 and his interception numbers went up from 14 to 21, a number which was second in the NFL to only one player: Jameis Winston of course.
Jarvis Landry is as steady as they come, and Odell Beckham Jr. is still one of the most talented receivers in the game today. Even with these two receivers to catch the ball, the offense could not do anything with a patchwork offensive line in front of a floundering Mayfield.
In 2020, Cleveland has hopefully repaired this issue. Not only did they fire head coach Freddie Kitchens they also fired general manager John Dorsey. He may be a good evaluator of talent, but is a terrible evaluator of a person. This led to a lot of friction in the locker room and among the staff. Hopefully, this will be fixed with the addition of Kevin Stefanski as head coach.
Despite having such a bad offensive line, Nick Chubb would have still won the rushing title had Derrick Henry not had a remarkable 238 yards in Week 17. The signing of Jack Conklin in free agency is an instant impact addition. Drafting Jedrick Wills Jr. to play left tackle hopefully gives them a line to build their team around for many years to come. Nick Chubb should once again challenge for the league rushing title, especially if the passing game is anything above mediocre.
The other member of the backfield is just as exciting. Kareem Hunt missed the first eight games of the 2019 season, but will be there the entire way in 2020. In eight games last season, Hunt averages just five rushes per game, but also averaged five targets and 4.5 receptions per game. Hunt is not that far removed from being an elite back in the NFL, but is also one bad decision away from never playing another snap. If Hunt lives up to the player he was in Kansas City and Chubb comes close to his 2019 form, this is the best running back one-two punch in the NFL.
In the pass game, Cleveland brought in Austin Hooper on the biggest tight end contract in history. He will pair with David Njoku to provide a litany of weapons at the position. Hooper had a career season in 2019 in Atlanta, snagging 75 receptions for 787 yards and six TD in 13 games. Had he not missed three games, these numbers would have been even higher. Hooper is joining a team with not just a good receiving game but a stellar run game. It will be nearly impossible for Hooper to replicate his 2019. Fantasy’s loss at tight end is Cleveland’s gain.
Odell Beckham had the worst season of his career. Season-long injuries hampered his play and prevented the connection many thought would gel between OBJ and Mayfield. Although he was able to break the 1,000-yard barrier for the fifth time in six seasons, 2019 was still a considerable disappointment based on expectations. In his two previous seasons in which he played a minimum of 15 games, Beckham averaged 165 targets and over 90 catches. In 2019 when he had 74 receptions, his target numbers also took a massive dip to 133. For the Browns to be better this season, this number will again need to be in the 165 range with closer to 100 catches.
The defense was nothing to write home about in 2019. Whelming would be the best way to describe their play. After drafting Greedy Williams last season because of a precipitous drop in the draft, the Browns took the same approach this season grabbing Grant Delpit after the preseason top 10 pick fell to them in the second round. If he returns to his 2018 form, Cleveland may have gotten a steal to add to their secondary of Williams and Denzel Ward. If he plays like he did in 2019 at LSU, this may be a wasted pick. Myles Garrett is one of the best pass rushers in the game, and will continue to be a force after his indefinite suspension was lifted.
This defense is not going to be mistaken for the Ravens or the Steelers, but it should be good enough to keep them in games. Expect game to be more 24-20 than 10-7, especially if the offense clicks and opposing teams are forced to put pressure on the so-so defense.
Last Season: 8-8
2020 O/U: 9.5
Ever since the career ending injury to Ryan Shazier, the Steelers defense has been looking for his replacement. Not just in the linebacker group, but also in the locker room. With budding star T.J. Watt and the addition of Minka Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh has seemingly found what they needed. The defense was night and day different after the trade for Fitzpatrick during the 2019 season. Those who thought the team was crazy for giving the Dolphins a first-round pick for him are now firmly tasting foot.
After the departure of Antonio Brown, the team was counting on JuJu Smith-Schuster to take over as the alpha receiver. Injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Juju himself prevented the takeover from happening. James Conner also had a down year so it was amazing Pittsburgh was able to finish at .500 like they did.
Washington’s 2018 season ended with a paltry 16 receptions for 217 yards. 2019 saw those numbers spike to 44 receptions for 735 receiving yards. Great? No, but for the players he had throwing to him it was more than acceptable.
After being drafted by the Steelers in the third round, Johnson managed 59 catches for 680 yards and five TD as a rookie. Very impressive again with what he had to work with. If Washington and Johnson can repeat and even improve a bit on these numbers in 2020, their combination, with a return to the Big Ben-to-JuJu connection will make for one of the most potent pass games in the AFC.
James Conner is a great story. He has overcome so much just to make it into the NFL. Being one of the top running backs, even for just a short time is remarkable. Luckily, he will not have to do it alone. Benny Snell Jr. and Jaylen Samuels are returning and the addition of Anthony McFarland Jr. to the run game will be improved, even if muddled in 2020. The Steelers always manage a top offensive line, and will need it again this season.
As discussed, the defense is strong and only getting stronger as T.J. Watt and Minka Fitzpatrick blossom into true stars. If Stephon Gilmore did not have a remarkable 2019, Watt would have made for a legitimate defensive player of the year. His 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles show the type of disruptive force he has become. He reminds me a lot of another guy. I think his name is J.J. Watt. I wonder if they are related.
Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are two of the best in the NFL at their positions of defensive end and defensive tackle. They will help provide a pass rush to allow the likes of Watt and Fitzpatrick to make even more plays. After finishing the 2019 season as a top 10 defense, a continued ascension into a top five defense would not be a surprise. While the team lost Javon Hargrave to the Eagles, Bud Dupree is back to provide more talent on the defense. Don’t forget about last season’s first round pick in linebacker Devin Bush, another player the rest of the division will need to be weary of on this stacked defense.
This division is actually harder to predict than some may think.
With Joe Burrow in, Ben Roethlisberger back and the Browns likely to be better, the division is much tougher than in 2019. This means Baltimore is not going to run roughshod like they did last season.
Even with a mixture of Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges at QB, the Steelers were able to get to 8-8 last season. The Baker Mayfield-led Cleveland Browns floundered to a 6-10 record, which led to the needed departure of Freddy Kitchens. The Bengals should also be better with the return of A.J. Green to help Burrow. The division may be the most improved from top to bottom.
This said, the Ravens still the most talented roster. Their 14-2 is not going to be repeated in 2020. 11-5 could win this division, one in which teams batter each other. That said, the Steelers are ripe to challenge. If Roethlisberger remains healthy and James Conner and Juju Smith-Shuster have bounce back seasons, watch out.
Bet: Steelers +350
Dominick is a lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area. Playing fantasy football for more than 20 years and writing for more than five, he has a vast knowledge of both the NFL and fantasy football. Despite his being blind, Dominick is a consistent ranker amongst FantasyPros experts, and always strives to be better than last season. Follow him on Twitter @EnvisionFF and read his weekly Best Bets articles during the season.