- The Steelers are the favorites to win the AFC North, but the Le'Veon Bell contract situation and an injury-prone roster could open the door for A.J. Green and the Bengals.
While the defense has been a question mark since Ryan Shazier's tragic injury, the Steelers have enough firepower to run away with the AFC North again. The Ravens, meanwhile, are hoping an offensive makeover will push them back into playoff contention. The Bengals are fresh off back-to-back spoiler victories against playoff hopefuls to finish 2017, and might be ready to turn a corner while the Browns have loaded up on young talent—but still have to prove they know how to use it.
Odds to win AFC North:
Pick to win AFC North: Pittsburgh
Best AFC North value: Cincinnati +1000
Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 10 (-140) / UNDER 10 (+120)
OFFENSE: Ben Roethlisberger gets the ball out quickly most of the time, with plenty of downfield bombs worked in. Antonio Brown remains the top receiver in the NFL, and JuJu Smith-Schuster impressed as a rookie while ascending to the No. 2 role. Le’Veon Bell is a good enough pass-catcher to play WR, and his patient running style behind a robust O-line allows the Steelers to pound the running game when defenses choose to focus on the pass.
DEFENSE: The Steelers’ defense was gashed in the run game and beaten with long passes too often last season. Pittsburgh led the league with 56 sacks last year (12 by All-Pro DE Cam Heyward) and hope that former Packers S Morgan Burnett and first-round draft pick Terrell Edmunds can shore up the secondary. The linebacking unit will continue to struggle without Shazier, a player whose athleticism simply cannot be replaced.
BOTTOM LINE: The Steelers are likely to be favored in each of their first 10 games of 2018. Their offense averaged 33 points in their last eight games and it's impossible to defend when Roethlisberger gets in rhythm. The defense isn’t great, but should be good enough for another division title. OVER 10
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 8 (-120) / UNDER 8 (+100)
OFFENSE: After another disappointing season at quarterback from Joe Flacco, Baltimore overhauled its receiving corps by adding free agents Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead, along with rookie TEs Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. The additions are more quantity than quality. Alex Collins emerged as a bona fide No. 1 back, and Kenneth Dixon could be a factor after missing all of 2017 because of a knee injury.
DEFENSE: While the Ravens defense put up impressive numbers last season, the unit faced a comically weak set of opposing QBs (DeShone Kizer twice, E.J. Manuel, Matt Moore, Brett Hundley and Tom Savage among them). New to 2018’s schedule are Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers. While the secondary is strong and LB Terrell Suggs remains a pass-rushing force, the Ravens are unlikely to force a league-high 34 turnovers again.
BOTTOM LINE: Baltimore tallied nine wins a year ago, but that was with a very fortuitous schedule in a down year across much of the AFC. With the arrival of first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson, the Ravens are signaling that they’re ready to rebuild their floundering offense very soon. UNDER 8
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 6½ (-150) / UNDER 6½ (+130)
OFFENSE: Cincinnati’s offensive woes the past two seasons were largely a product of poor line play. First-round pick C Billy Price and former Bills tackle Cordy Glenn could be major upgrades. A.J. Green is a nightmare to defend, Joe Mixon flashed elite potential as a rookie and speedy second-year wideout John Ross is back from a 2017 lost to injury. While Andy Dalton is more of a game manager than a playmaker, he has more weapons than ever.
DEFENSE: Longtime defensive-line tandem Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins are monsters upfront, each contributing more than 60 career sacks for Cincy. Vontaze Burfict is productive when he stays out of trouble, and former Bills LB Preston Brown is an upgrade in the middle of the defense. In William Jackson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard, the Bengals have a trio of former first-round corners who held opponents to 6.5 yards per attempt in 2017.
BOTTOM LINE: Cincinnati’s stout defense gives the team a chance to win every week, and Dalton has a lot of explosive options at his disposal. After winning 43 games from 2012 to 2015, head coach Marvin Lewis has a chance to position his team for a playoff spot in 2018. OVER 6½
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 5½ (-163) / UNDER 5½ (+140)
OFFENSE: Ultra-conservative game manager Tyrod Taylor is likely to start the year under center for Cleveland, eventually giving way to No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield. Cleveland’s receivers struggled to get open last season, though the QBs will have more to work with this year with former Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry added to the roster. Carlos Hyde is a solid early-down back, while Duke Johnson thrives in the passing game.
DEFENSE: Cleveland’s defense showed improvement in coordinator Gregg Williams’s first season, ranking near the middle of the pack in yards per game and yards per play. (The offense’s league-high 41 TO inflated the defense’s points allowed totals.) The arrival of first-round corner Denzel Ward and former Packers DB Damarious Randall will boost the coverage, which the Browns think will lead to more sacks for 2017 No. 1 pick Myles Garrett.
BOTTOM LINE: With the possible exception of hosting the Jets in Week 3, Cleveland might not be favored over the first half of this season. Though it is trending in the right direction at many positions, the roster is still lacking offensive firepower and defensive production. UNDER 5½