Ben Roethlisberger and company may have come up short of their Super Bowl hopes a year ago while getting dispatched out of the postseason in the divisional round, but the perennially powerful Pittsburgh Steelers will enter the 2018 regular season as the clear-cut favorite to win the AFC North while expecting to challenge for the AFC Championship.
Status as prohibitive favorites or not, Pittsburgh will be challenged in the race for first place in the AFC North by a Baltimore Ravens team looking to get back in the playoffs this coming season and what looks like a pair of improved conference rivals in the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
If you’re looking to find out if the Steelers are the pick to win the AFC North this coming season or whether they could be upset by one of their division rivals, let’s get to my expert betting preview on the odds to win this division.
'That is one thing I am working on. Just tackling lower, getting the head out of the game. It’s something we have to do. It’s a new rule and we have to abide by the rules.' – @umdsfinest21
— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 22, 2018
Pittsburgh Steelers -280
There’s not a whole lot to say about the Steelers that you probably don’t already know. Pittsburgh went 13-3 last season to win the AFC North by four games over Baltimore. While they suffered a crushing loss to Jacksonville in the divisional round in last season’s playoffs, they’ll enter the 2018 campaign as one of the favorites to win the conference and for good reason. Pittsburgh still had one of the best trios in the league in Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and now, you can make that a quartet because of the jaw-dropping season that rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had a year ago. If the Steelers play defense like they did in 2017 when they finished seventh in points allowed (19.2 ppg) despite the tragic loss of linebacker Ryan Shazier, they’ll challenge for the AFC Championship.
Baltimore Ravens +400
On the surface, the Ravens went a positive 9-7 last season. However, upon further inspection, Baltimore collapsed at the most inopportune time ever by losing their regular season finale against Cincinnati – at home no less – to be denied a playoff berth that would have been assured with their victory. Still, there’s plenty of hope in Baltimore as they get set for the upcoming 2018 regular season. First of all, the Ravens still have an astounding defense that finished sixth in points allowed (18.9 ppg) last season. Baltimore also ranked a fantastic ninth in scoring (24.7 ppg) even though they struggled mightily to pass the ball a year ago. To address their passing game issues, the Ravens added veteran wide receivers, Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead and rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. I also like Baltimore’s addition of veteran quarterback Robert Griffin III and believe it could help to push often mediocre franchise signal-caller Joe Flacco. Right now, I think the Ravens have an outside shot to beat out Pittsburgh for division supremacy, but it’s a bit of a stretch at the moment.
Cleveland Browns +1000
Sure, Cleveland went 0-16 a year ago, but they also had arguably the best offseason in the entire NFL thanks to a wise series of offseason transactions that included bringing in veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Jarvis Landry, in addition to drafting quarterback Baker Mayfield with first selection in the NFL draft and backing that up by selecting All-American cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick. Lest anyone forget, the Browns also added a trio of first-round draft picks in the 2017 NFL draft, including No. 1 overall pick, defensive end Myles Garrett. While I’m expecting some immediate improvement out of Cleveland in 2018, I’m thinking eight wins would be a miracle and certainly not enough to win the AFC North. Save your money on the Browns winning this division – at least for another year!
Cincinnati Bengals +1100
Maybe it’s me, but I’m completely stunned that Cleveland is offering better odds to win the AFC North than Cincinnati. No matter though, I’m expecting the Bengals to be one of the most improved teams in the league in 2018 even if no one is talking about them right now. Veteran quarterback Andy Dalton and All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green are back to lead Cincy’s offense, but it is second-year performers Joe Mixon and John Ross that I’m expecting to make a big impact in 2018. The Bengals always play solid defense under longtime head coach Marvin Lewis and they closed out the 2017 campaign by playing really hard over the final six weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cincinnati challenges Baltimore for second place in the division, even if winning the division outright looks like a bit of a long shot.
Division Winner:Pittsburgh Steelers