Was there a more exciting division in 2019 than the AFC North? Lamar Jackson was a human highlight reel, the Browns were a Hollywood mess, and the Steelers re-ignited a longtime feud with Cleveland. Even Cincinnati– the NFL’s worst team– landed one of the most prolific college quarterbacks of all time in Joe Burrow. This page will serve as a comprehensive guide to betting the AFC North in 2020, complete with a 2019 season recap, 2020 season outlook, and how to bet on the division.
Before diving into it all, a word of advice: shop around. Just because one site offers the Browns at +375 doesn’t mean that’s the best offer out there. Looking at different outlets such as DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook and FOXBet can maximize earnings with just a few minutes of browsing.
2020 AFC North odds
2019 AFC North results
If you would have bet on Baltimore to win a (at the time) loaded AFC North, that would have worked pretty well in your favor; the Ravens were third at +250 to win the division. If you would have bet for Lamar Jackson (+10000) to win the MVP before the season started, you could have paid off your mortgage. No one, however, could have seen the record-breaking performance Jackson and the 14-2 Ravens put on coming. The defense was no slouch either – the Ravens ranked near the top of the league in rushing defense, points allowed, and least times penalized. Come the postseason, Baltimore ran into the 2019 buzzsaw that was the Tennessee Titans and Jackson carried his stigma of being winless in the playoffs. He was even quoted as being dissatisfied with his incredible season due to the team fizzling out in the postseason.
In Pittsburgh, it was Mike Tomlin’s year to shine. Despite losing his superstar receiver Antonio Brown in the offseason (in retrospect, it was for the best), his Super Bowl winning quarterback in Week 2, and his starting running back multiple times throughout the season; the Steelers mustered an 8-8 record and finished second in the division. For the first time since 2004, Pittsburgh had a messy situation at quarterback as they had to rely on Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges. They ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring (18.1 ppg– a full 8.7-point drop from 2018), behind teams like Jacksonville and Miami. And yet– despite all that– they were only eliminated from the playoff hunt in Week 17. The defense, per usual, was elite and the team overall was disciplined.
Another year, another chapter of the Bad News Browns. Cleveland big leagued their way to a division-leading +140 to win the AFC North after adding a slew of free agents. Highlighting the free agent class was superstar Odell Beckham Jr., who was projected to make Baker Mayfield a top five finisher in MVP voting. In Week 1 the Browns were waxed at home by Tennessee 43-13, completely derailing any hope for a Super Bowl run. In August 2019, the Browns (+1500) ranked seventh in odds to win Super Bowl LIV (oops), tied with the Chargers (oops) and just ahead of the Bears (oops). First year head coach Freddie Kitchens was in over his skis and was out as the top man a week after the season ended. It was an absolute disaster of a year, even by Cleveland’s standards. The lone bright spot was superstar Nick Chubb, who racked up nearly 1,500 rushing yards in his sophomore campaign. Hopefully, it was also a lesson learned.
While expectations for the 2019 Bengals were low, not many projected first-overall-pick low. Cincinnati was gouged defensively– on the ground, through the air, it didn’t matter– and ranked last in yards per play allowed (6.1, t-32nd with Houston). The Bengals also ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring, largely due to the underutilization of Joe Mixon and the musical-chairs style of picking a starting quarterback weekly. Rookie Ryan Finley managed just 474 yards on 87 attempts (that’s 5.4 yards per attempt for those keeping track at home), a 47% completion rate, and was sacked 11 times in three games. It didn’t help that superstar AJ Green was lost for the season due to injury. The best thing to come out of 2019 for the Bengals was Burrow, who was drafted in April to be the next franchise quarterback.
It was truly a wild ride in the AFC North last season. At its worst, it was a heinous brawl that resulted in a scary helmet attack; at its best, it was Jackson putting the entire NFL in a spin cycle en route to a 75-yard touchdown. All aspects of the division were the next morning’s highlight reel and the AFC North should be another fun division to keep tabs on in 2020.
2020 AFC North outlook and predictions
Regression is bound to happen for John Harbaugh and crew, right? The Ravens certainly don’t think so. Baltimore went out and traded for All Pro Calais Campbell, signed Super Bowl winner Derek Wolfe, retained Pro Bowler Matt Judon, and drafted one of the best classes in the NFL. They also re-signed a majority of their players, including CB Jimmy Smith. It’s no wonder that the Ravens (-225) are the overwhelming favorite to take the AFC North and are right there with Kansas City (+650) in odds to win Super Bowl LV. The rich just got richer in the offseason and Baltimore officially put the league on notice.
Finally, this is looking like the Browns’ year (note to the editor: remove this in October should they start off 0-3). But seriously, Cleveland looks like they finally understand how to fix last season’s issues; they signed respected Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as their head coach and finally addressed the offensive line. The Browns were winners of the Jack Conklin sweepstakes, signed top-rated rookie OT Jedrick Wills, and brought in another tight end, Austin Hooper. The statistical splits of Baker Mayfield in 10 or 11 personnel compared to 12 and 21 personnel were astonishing (for those more interested in that deep dive, check it out here) and Stefanski understands this. Cleveland (+500) also sits a much more modest third in odds to take this year’s AFC North and isn’t facing massive expectations. For once, the Browns could have a very real chance at success now that the Super Bowl expectation dust has settled.
As for the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger is expected to be back and healthy along with James Conner. Pittsburgh maintained the status quo this offseason, remaining mostly quiet and setting the table for 2020. The biggest highlight for the Steelers in 2019 came early in the season, when they traded for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and completely turned their defense around. They also addressed the issue at tight end by signing veteran Eric Ebron, who is expected to make a splash as a receiver. Pittsburgh (+350) sits second in odds to win the AFC North and in projected wins (9.5). Throw out 2019 when betting on Pittsburgh– the Steelers are back on track and can be expected to be excellent yet again.
Meanwhile, what makes the 2020 Bengals so fun is the combination of low expectations (+2000 to win the AFC North, 5.5 projected wins) and obviously the addition of Burrow. Burrow stayed in his home state and went first overall to Cincinnati, who can now say they have their next franchise quarterback. The comparisons to Joe Montana and Tom Brady are premature for sure, but at the very least Burrow brings excitement and interest to the Bengals.
Head coach Zac Taylor got Joe Mixon going during the back half of the season after an abysmal start and should turn him into one of the better backs in the NFL. The draft class outside of Burrow was a job well done by the front office and completely revamps the linebacking corps. The Bengals really are headed in the right direction, but don’t expect them to compete for the division right away.
It is to no one’s surprise that Baltimore commands the wagers in the AFC North. The division favorites (-225) hold 48% of the division handle (5th) and 73% of all bets have been on the Ravens (second to Kansas City). The betting has seriously cooled on the Browns, who own 15% of the betting handle and just 10% of all bets. The big money bets that aren’t going to the Ravens are being placed on the Steelers who, despite fielding just 15% of all bets, own 29% of the betting handle on the division.
Past AFC North division winners
* Super Bowl champion
How to bet on NFL division winners
To reiterate advice given here, shop around before diving headlong into the first bet you see; different outlets offer different odds and a minute or two of your time could result in some more money coming your way.
When reading an odds table, there’s several numbers of note. The first is the odds, which tells you who is favored (lower numbers are favored) and how much a successful bet would earn you. For example, a $100 bet on Pittsburgh (+350) would win you $350 with a total payout of $450. Next is the handle, which tells you what percentage of the total amount bet on the AFC North division winner each team commands. For example, the Bengals have 8% of the handle– meaning 8% of all money bet on the AFC North winner has gone to the Bengals. Last is the percentage of bets, which refers to the number of bets– not the amount– wagered on each team. The Ravens have 73% of all bets, which doesn’t reflect how much was bet (the Ravens have 48% of the handle, meaning smaller betting amounts are being placed on the Ravens).
The variability in the AFC North is what makes it so fun to watch– Lamar Jackson looks like a Madden 21 create-a-player and the Browns could always be a cinematic disaster. The betting is fairly straightforward, but could reap serious benefits should the cards lay right. Regardless, it’s must-watch football.
NFL division betting previews
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|AFC North||NFC North|
|AFC South||NFC South|
|AFC West||NFC West|