After two consecutive AFC North division titles, the Cincinnati Bengals are favorites to three-peat in 2023, but the division is more competitive than ever. The Baltimore Ravens loaded up on offense and have Lamar Jackson fully healthy, the Cleveland Browns should be better with a less rusty Deshaun Watson, and the Pittsburgh Steelers never finish under .500 with Mike Tomlin as head coach.
With the highest-average-team-win total in the NFL, the AFC North should be the strongest division this season.
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AFC North Division Preview
The Bengals made a big addition to their offensive line in free agency with the signing of Orlando Brown Jr. However, although he isn’t expected to miss any time, Joe Burrow’s calf injury is a concern going into the season, and Cincinnati lost their two starting safeties from last season — Jessie Bates III and Von Bell. Each of the Bengals’ division rivals got better this offseason as well, but they remain the rightful favorites in 2023.
In 2023, the Ravens’ offense should look much different than in years past in the Lamar Jackson era. With offensive coordinator Todd Monken and new pass catchers Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers, this should be a much more potent passing offense. But how big of a blow will losing Marlon Humphrey for a large chunk of the season be to Baltimore’s defense?
Watson’s first season in Cleveland couldn’t have gone much worse. After not playing since 2020, he looked like a quarterback that had been out of football even longer than two years, with a completion percentage of just 58.2% and a QBR of 38.3. With a full offseason under his belt and more time to get acclimated to the offense, will Watson return to the quarterback he was in Houston in 2023?
Meanwhile, Kenny Pickett is entering his second season, and the Steelers’ offense was lights out in the preseason. How much of that will carry over in the regular season, and is Pickett poised for a big jump? Defensively, after an injury-plagued season from T.J. Watt, the Steelers should be much improved in 2023 if he can stay healthy.
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AFC North Predictions
Blewis: There’s a ton of value on the Browns to win this division because of how bad Watson was last season. With how rusty he was after not playing since 2020 and being inserted into a new offense mid-way through the season, it was most likely an aberration. After all, he’s not far removed from being considered a top-five NFL quarterback.
On paper, this might be the most talented team in the AFC North, and you can get +400 odds on them to win the division. That is too good to pass up, even when they’re competing with the Bengals and Ravens. Burrow’s calf injury is concerning, and Baltimore might have growing pains adjusting to a brand-new offense, plus defensively, they’ve already lost Humphrey for much of the season.
This is my favorite longshot division winner bet, and one I think has more than a realistic chance of hitting.
Pick: Browns to win the AFC North (+400 at FanDuel)
Soppe: The AFC North is going to be an outright battle, and that has me chasing some nice plus money. You know I have Jackson as my preseason MVP pick, and I’ll double down by taking his Ravens to wear the AFC North crown.
Baltimore’s offense under Monken is going to be a problem, and that’s just the half of it. The offensive line and defense figure to be above average as well, giving the Ravens a well-rounded résumé that can match up with anyone.
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The Bengals are a very good team, but they’ve won three road playoff games over the past two seasons and are more focused on the big picture. The Browns are an unknown with Watson, and the Steelers are on the up-and-up but still not on this level.
I’m not arguing that the sportsbooks have handicapped this wrong. I just believe in the direction of the Ravens, and a quick start could have them flying high. In the first half of the season, they get the Texans, Colts, Titans, and Cardinals. The end-of-the-season stretch is tough, but with a late bye week, Baltimore could catch a second wind at the perfect time.
Pick: Ravens to win the AFC North (+235 at DraftKings)