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NFL Betting: AFC North

This post was originally published on Cold-Brewed Bets.


We continue our NFL division betting previews today with the AFC North.


If you missed our previous articles, check them out below - along with the bets I’ve made so far or am considering making…



A quick reminder of how these previews work…


For each division I’m going to do a very general team-by-team breakdown, share where I have them projected to finish in terms of win totals compared to the market, and look at their current odds to win the super bowl, conference, division, and make/miss playoff markets - along with any bets I see value in or am making.


Some of these division previews will likely end up without any bets. The way I look at it, at this point in the year, if I’m going to be tying up money on bets that won’t get graded until January, I have to be almost certain I’m making a bet that isn’t going to be there before the season starts.


However, just because I may not have any bets, doesn’t mean you can’t. My hope is that these previews help you look at teams in different ways that may help you find a valuable bet or two to make.


So let’s get to today’s preview of the AFC North…


Note: Teams are ranked in order of where they are projected to finish based off their current market win totals.


The AFC North is probably the division I consider the 2nd most fascinating going into the 2023 season.


We’ll cover the most fascinating division in our next article.


The AFC North consists of:

  • one of the teams tied for the most projected wins going into this season along with one of the favorites for MVP at quarterback

  • a team with a former MVP and a ton of hype

  • a team whose QB hasn’t played a full season since 2020

  • a team projected to finish last but has never had a losing season under their current head coach

Let’s dive in…


NFL Betting - 1st Place - Cincinnati Bengals

Considering the Bengals are tied for the most projected wins going into the season and Joe Burrow is one of the favorites for MVP, it’s safe to say no one is sleeping on this team anymore.


Two years ago when they made the run to the Super Bowl in Burrow’s first full season, many thought it was a fluke and they would drop off the following year.


Instead, they won 12 games on a run to the AFC Championship game, where they lost to the eventual Super Champ - KC - on a last-second field goal.


Now, coming into 2023, this team is projected to be amongst the likes of KC, Philly, Buffalo, and San Fran as one of the best in the league.


The question I have: Is it time to play on a Bengals regression?


Let’s look at the odds…


NFL Betting Odds (All odds according to the Westgate Superbook in Nevada)

Super Bowl/Conference: +800/+500

Division: +130

Make/Miss Playoffs: -340/+270

Win Total: 11.5, O/U +110/-130


I have the Bengals projected at 10.4 wins, almost a full win under where the market has them.


To me, this may be the market overcorrecting for what we’ve seen from the Bengals the last couple of years.


Last year, the Bengals won 1.6 more games than their point differential indicated they should have.


Now, part of their stats are skewed by the fact they played one less game because of the Buffalo cancelation. But this is a team that finished the year on an 8-0 run, including 4-0 in one-score games.


They were also +6 in turnover differential, 6th best in the league.


Where I think regression may be coming here is on defense. They were 6th best in the league in turnovers last year, but produced a below-league average 13 INTs. Which means their fumble luck was incredibly high - and that’s not something that’s usually sustainable year to year.


They also lost a number of significant contributors in the secondary and didn’t do a lot to replace them.


Now, a team with Joe Burrow and the weapons they have on offense is always going to be dangerous.


But, they’re playing in what could arguably be the most competitive division in the league this year.


We’re assuming we’re going to get a full healthy season of Lamar Jackson and an upgraded Baltimore offense…


Deshaun Watson is presumably going to play a full season, which should give the Browns a boost on offense…


And Kenny Pickett is entering his second season - when QBs normally make their biggest jump - for a team that is just always competitive.


So all that points to an under on the Bengals at 11.5.


Unfortunately, the market agrees with me on that and the price we’re getting isn’t great.


I’m strongly considering an under 11.5, but I think I am going to wait and see what an alternate win total* under 10.5 may be when those markets open.


*Before we move on to the rest of the division, a quick aside on alternate win totals…


Long story short, if you look at the history of teams going over/under their win totals for any given season, a fairly large percentage of them actually go over/under by multiple games.


In 2022 alone, 25 of 32 teams went over or under their projected season win total by more than 1 game. And this is a trend that is pretty consistent year-to-year.


Which means if you feel like you can identify the teams that are going to over or underperform their projections, chances are they’re going to do it by multiple games.


And in the alternate win total market, you can find a lot of +180, +200, or even higher odds, vs the -110s to -130s you find in the standard win total market.


So when I talk about waiting to play the alternate win total market on some of these teams, this is why.



NFL Betting - 2nd Place - Baltimore Ravens

Oh, Ravens…You’re going to be my boom-or-bust team this year, aren’t you…


On the one hand, in my gut, I love the potential of their offense.


My biggest issue for years with the Ravens and Lamar Jackson at QB has been the lack of weapons, and thus, the lack of ability to consistently create plays downfield in the passing game.


But this year they probably have the most weapons they’ve had with Lamar at QB, along with an offensive coordinator who wants to take advantage of that, and not shape their entire offense around Lamar running every other play.


On the other hand, the Ravens lost a lot of guys off a defense that was pretty average last year - and they’re playing in what should be a really competitive division…


Let’s look at the odds…


NFL Betting Odds

Super Bowl/Conference: +2000/+1200

Division: +250

Make/Miss Playoffs: -150/+130

Win Total: 10, O/U -110


My projections only have them at 9.6 wins. So, not exactly screaming for me to take the over here.


However, in my gut, I like this team.


We’ve never seen this QB/Off Coordinator combo - which means there is potentially a lot of upside my projections aren’t capturing.


We’ve heard what they want to do on offense: Spread it out and create more of a downfield passing attack. Lamar said he wants to throw for 6,000 yards this season.


And while I don’t think that’s going to happen, we’re potentially going to see a Ravens offense we’ve never seen before. And that creates a lot of uncertainty.


And when you have uncertainty - like I talked about with the Commanders in our NFC East preview - that can create a lot of value on bigger odds bets.


That’s why I like that number on the Ravens to win the division.


Like I said, I think the upside is potentially there with this offense, and if the defense is just average, they can definitely challenge a Bengals team I think is poised to take a step back.


Plus, if they go over their current projected win total, its very likely they’re winning the division also. So, to me, taking a big plus number in that market makes a lot more sense than playing over the 10 wins.


At those numbers, I’m probably going to add them to my Super Bowl portfolio too.



NFL Betting - 3rd Place - Cleveland Browns

This team was the bane of my existence the second part of last season after Watson came back. Watching him try and run the offense and keep the Browns in games was probably the most painful experience of my 2022 betting season.


I hated them.


So of course it makes sense that I like this team to go over their win total this year.


I think we would be foolish to believe the Watson we saw last year when he came back is going to be anywhere close to what we see this year.


And I believe there are a lot of reasons to like this team going into this season. Let’s look at the odds…


NFL Betting Odds

Super Bowl/Conference: +3000/+1750

Division: +400

Make/Miss Playoffs: +105/-125

Win Total: 9, O/U -120/+100


My projections have the Browns at 10 wins this year, and I already bet over 9 at -110.


This was a team last year that actually underperformed their Pythag win total projections by a full game. They were also 2-6 in one-score games, which figures to even out more with better QB play.


The Browns have had talented defenses the last few seasons, but have woefully underperformed with previous defensive coordinator Joe Woods.


Now Jim Schwartz comes in to run the defense and brings with him a pretty good pedigree on that side of the ball. So it’s fair to assume the defense is going to be improved this year, and with a full offseason for Watson and the offense, I think maybe - just maybe - this could be the year the Browns actually exceed expectations.


Because I show value on the win total over, I also show a ton of value in every other market as well. But the only other bet I’m considering making here is the Yes to make the playoffs.



NFL Betting - 4th Place - Pittsburgh Steelers

A common narrative you hear with the Steelers is that Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season.


Which is impressive as hell.


It also makes this team really hard to play futures on.


Kenny Pickett enters his second full season after getting a lot of playing time last year. So he figures to make a big jump in 2023.


But does that mean the Steelers are going to have another winning season under Tomlin? I’m not sure.


Let’s look at some odds…


NFL Betting Odds

Super Bowl/Conference: +5000/+2750

Division: +500

Make/Miss Playoffs: +130

Win Total: 9, O/U +105/-125


My projection for the Steelers comes out to 8.2 wins - right in line with where the market opened on this team.


However, where their number is now, I could definitely see myself playing this Under.


Pittsburgh won 9 games last year which was 1.7 games OVER their projected Pythag win total. And that was with being above average in turnover differential too.


So I really cannot see a clear case for this win total number being what it is, outside of the “Tomlin has never had a losing season” narrative. However, the fact that this number jumped up to 9 does indicate there are some professional bettors taking the over.


If I’m going to be doing anything with the Steelers, it will be playing the under. But that’s not something I think I need to bet right now.


AFC North Bets:

  • Browns over 9 wins, -110.

  • Ravens to win division (+275), to win AFC (+1200), and to win SB (+2200) - all at Caesars

AFC North Bets I’m Still Considering:*

  • Bengals under 11.5 (-125 at Caesars, -140 offshore - I don’t hate that -125 bet right now).

  • Bengals alt under 10.5 - markets not open yet.

  • Browns to make playoffs - +110 or better.

  • Steelers under 9 - -110 or better.


*Make sure you follow our Notes on Substack and on Twitter. If I make any of these bets, I’ll post them there.


Are there any valuable bets you see in the AFC North? Let me know in the comments.


Stay tuned for our next issue later this week when we preview the NFC North.

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