The AFC North is one of THE toughest division races to call in 2022 (maybe only the AFC West is better) after that blockbusting Deshaun Watson trade, and we have all the latest odds and offseason moves.
Watson was acquired by the Cleveland Browns at a staggering cost – a $230million fully guaranteed contract over five years and a massive haul including three first-round draft picks.
The deal in March went down despite Deshaun having 22 civil lawsuits (and a potential NFL suspension) hanging over his head for alleged sexual misconduct. The Browns claim they did their due diligence, and ended up being convinced Watson is the right kind of guy for them.
There is fresh concern however in the Dawg Pound with new allegations now surfacing about Watson’s past conduct – and it appears a suspension in 2022 is very much possible. Welp.
We already expected Cincinnati to be fully in the mix again after so nearly landing a Super Bowl Championship at SoFi Stadium in February. Baltimore meanwhile should be back after being decimated by injuries in 2021.
Pittsburgh still need to upgrade at QB (unsurprisingly we are not convinced by Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett) but when you consider they are likely the weakest team in the division, it’s quite a race…
AFC North Odds
A year ago the Ravens started favorite to win the North, followed by Cleveland and Pittsburgh with Cincinnati the underdog. How quickly things change in pro football. Here is the latest from major online bookmakers:
- +200 Baltimore Ravens (bet365)
- +200 Cincinnati Bengals (Widely available)
- +275 Cleveland Browns (PointsBet)
- +900 Pittsburgh Steelers (Widely available)
NB: Odds correct on June 17, 2022
AFC North Predictions
Cincinnati came within an ace of landing a shock Super Bowl title in 2021 – they were literally a solid offensive line away from a world championship.
The way Joe Burrow was so often deposited on his back during the postseason told the Bengals all they needed to know – and boy did they respond. Cincy undertook a huge overhaul of its O-line and did a terrific job. All of their superstar skill position players are back and Burrow should be even better in Year 3 with improved protection.
This is a really tough division to bet on, and we really do rate the Ravens highly. Expect a different team from 2021, people. But in terms of a winner Cincinnati looks like terrific value right now at +200. Take those odds (and up to $2000 in risk-free NFL bets). Also throw in some dollars at -135 on Cincy to make the postseason. One doesn’t come without the other.
Our next bet also has the Bengals winning the division, and this time we have terrific value in a Straight Forecast line – where you bet a team to finish 1st and a team to finish 2nd. Take Cincy 1 and Baltimore 2 at 11/2 (+550).
We are not done there people but you will need to wait just a little while on this one. We love the chances of Cleveland missing out on the postseason thanks to a Deshaun suspension. The AFC is brutal as it stands and there is every chance the Browns’ season goes up in smoke.
As of now those pesky sportsbooks are terrified on this one and the odds are down – we’ll update as soon as they reappear.
OddsCritic AFC North Predictions & Best Bets
- Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC North at +200 (Widely available)
- Cincinnati Bengals to make the playoffs at -135 (DraftKings)
- AFC North Straight Forecast – Bengals 1st, Ravens 2nd at 11/2 or +550 (BetMGM)
Offseason moves: Free agency and trades
Wow, where to start – some huge storylines in the North this offseason:
Cincinnati Bengals: The one big weakness Cincy had in 2021 was that leaky offensive line. Had it not been such an issue the Bengals would likely be world champions right now. The collapse in protection for Joe Burrow during the second half of Super Bowl LVI was absolute the game changer. The Bengals went about fixing that problem right away in free agency and came away with a stunning haul of upgrades. Enter former Cowboys RT La’el Collins, former Bucs guard Alex Cappa and former Pats center Ted Karras. Throw in the re-signing of CB Eli Apple (serviceable) and the replacement of TE C.J. Uzomah with Hayden Hurst (also serviceable) and Cincy has made a great start to the offseason. If offensive line got most of the love in free agency, the Bengals made a sustained effort to improve their suspect secondary in the Draft. Michigan safety Daxton Hill in Round 1 provides both potential and position flex, while Nebraska CB Cam Taylor-Britt was selected in the second. Zachary Carter, a DT from Florida, provides extra depth for the Cincy front seven on defense and fourth-round guard Cordell Volson out of North Dakota State further beefs up OL options.
Baltimore Ravens: We are fascinated to see if the Ravens can return to former glories in 2022. A team decimated by injuries in the second half of 2021 will hopefully healthy again – and that includes former league MVP Lamar Jackson. Baltimore has also made some key signings – starting with DT Michael Pierce. The biggest acquisition though is former safety Marcus Williams, who arrives from New Orleans on a five-year deal worth $70million. The signing of Williams adds further to a stacked Baltimore secondary, one which became a liability late in 2021 through a terrible wave of injuries. Remember Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase combining for about 1000 yards…The concern for the Ravens was they had a great back end but no pass rush. Baltimore strengthed its secondary even further in free agency with the splashy acquisitions of former Saints safety Marcus Williams and a low-cost deal for former Denver CB Kyle Fuller. Minnesota DL Michael Pierce arrives in Baltimore to beef up the interior of the Ravens D-line, while Jets RT Morgan Moses helps significantly on the offensive line. The Draft saw the Ravens making major moves – the first one being to trade WR Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown to Arizona in return for a first-round pick. Baltimore, as it always seems to, then made terrific use of its capital with two fine first-round selections. In come Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton – seen by many as a generational talent – and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, seen by many scouts as THE BEST PLAYER in the entire Draft. Baltimore gambled a little with its second-round pick but it is a selection which could pay off in a huge way in the shape of Michigan OLB David Ojabo, who fell out of Round 1 on the back of suffering a torn Achilles at his Pro Day. Make no mistake, these Ravens are restocked and ready to challenge again for another AFC North title.
Cleveland Browns: The acquisition of Watson took the Browns to real contenders in the AFC North in a heartbeat. Legal situation aside, Deshaun is a top-five quarterback in our estimation and he has the ability to elevate a star-studded roster to new heights. That is something Baker Mayfield could not do in 2021 – his regression (and that shoulder injury) cost him a massive second contract and he will likely now be traded. Watson has a nice new toy on the outside too after the Browns got a steal when they traded just a fifth-round pick to acquire WR Amari Cooper from Dallas. Finally, last but not least, the Browns ended their long search for a premier return man by signing former Bear Jakeem Grant to a three-year pact. With all that Draft capital sent to Houston in return for Watson, the Browns did not have a pick until Round 3. Trading down to take Mississippi State CB Martin Emerson with its first selection was a head scratcher given it was not an area of huge need. The choice of UAB DE Alex Wright a few picks later though was much more like it. Then Cleveland added another pass-catching weapon for Watson by taking Purdue WR David Bell with its third selection in Round 3.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The post-Ben Roethlisberger era starts in Pittsburgh, we just don’t know for sure yet who will be under center. The Steelers began life after ‘Big Ben’ by acquiring former Bears starter Mitch Trubisky on a two-year deal – underwhelming when we expected Mike Tomlin and co to make a major splash. What was wrong with making a run at Wilson, Rodgers or Watson? Trubisky may not even be an upgrade on Mason Rudolph, which is saying something – we’d probably rather see Genie Bouchard under center in 2022. Pittsburgh still has a talented defense anchored by T.J. Watt, and the two-year deal for former Jags LB Myles Jack is excellent business. Proof that Pittsburgh was not all in on Trubisky came on Draft Day, when the Steelers used their first-round pick to take local boy QB Kenny Pickett. Scouts have been massively underwhelmed by this QB class, and many have concerns about the size of Pickett’s hands among other things. Pittsburgh needed WR replacements for the departed JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud – and Georgia’s George Pickens in Round 2 was a really nice start. We also really liked the selection of Texas A&M DL DeMarvin Leal in Round 3. Pittsburgh grabbed more WR help in Round 4 with the choice of Memphis standout Calvin Austin III.
AFC North Schedules for 2022
We now know when the games will be played yet thanks to the recently released 2022 NFL schedule, and here are each team’s opponents:
Home: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins
Road: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans
Home: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Las Vegas Raiders, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Road: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles
Home: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Road: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, Washington Football Team
Home: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins
Road: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As stated, it’s really tight but Cincinnati just holds the edge right now at +220 (bet $100 to win $220).
If two or more teams finished tied for wins at the end of the regular season, it works out like this:
* Head-to-head record
* Best division record
* Best record in common games.
* Best conference record
* Strength of victory in all games.
* Strength of schedule in all games
* Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.
* Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.
* Best net points in common games.
* Best net points in all games.
* Best net touchdowns in all games.
* Coin toss
The North has eight Super Bowls to its credit so far, six of those wins coming by Pittsburgh. Baltimore has won two Lombardis while in Cleveland and Cincinnati, the wait goes on.