NFL Division Betting: The Steelers Can Wear the AFC North Crown
It somehow feels like the 2020 NFL Draft was yesterday and four years ago at the same time.
With the draft that saw a record amount of money bet behind us, it's time to look forward to the upcoming season. Luckily, FanDuel Sportsbook has well north of 150 props already available for you to choose from.
With this series, I'm going to go division by division and come up with my favorite picks to take home the divisional crown -- as always, the goal is to find some value.
Here's a look at the team (or teams) that tickles my fancy in the AFC North.
AFC North Overview
I wanted to start with the AFC North because it's one of the divisions that intrigues me the most.
No team has won the division in three consecutive seasons since the Pittsburgh Steelers (+340) in the late '90s. The Baltimore Ravens (-200) have won it in each of the last two campaigns. Can they buck that trend?
Since the division was formed as the "AFC Central" in 1970, there have three instances of a team going worst-to-first from one season to the next. In each of those three instances, that team was the Cincinnati Bengals (+2600). Can they ride first-overall-pick Joe Burrow to another unprecedented turnaround? It's unlikely, but never say never.
The Cleveland Browns (+480) haven't been able to hang a divisional banner in 31 seasons -- a stretch in which they've finished last 16 times. If the Browns wanted to brag to the world about winning the division, they'd have had to do it by telegraph because the World Wide Web didn't exist yet. Die Hard was a standalone film when Cleveland last finished in first -- they've since added approximately 283 movies to the series. Can they finally put an end to their misery?
Here's a look at the strength of schedule for each team based on their opponents' win totals over at FanDuel Sportsbook.
|Team||Overall SoS||Games vs. ≥ .500|
Right off the bat, if the Bengals are going to pull off the improbable 'worst-to-first,' they're going to have their work cut out for them. They have 11 matchups against teams with over/unders at or above eight. Just brutal.
Every team will be trying to catch the Ravens, who are almost certainly heading for multiple-win regression. Baltimore has to square off with the Texans, Eagles, Colts, and Patriots on the road just in their first nine games. Their home schedule is a bit easier -- at least on paper -- but it does include the Chiefs, Titans, and Cowboys. I haven't even touched on their divisional matchups, which are never easy.
Over the last 30 years, there have been 19 instances where a team won at least 14 games in a season. On average, those teams won 4.53 fewer games the following season. In 14 of those instances, the team regressed by at least 4 wins -- in three of the five times where that did not occur, that team was the New England Patriots.
All that's to say that the Ravens can certainly be caught.
At +480, the Browns certainly have intriguing odds, especially given their friendly schedule. Cleveland has six games against teams with totals under seven, which could -- theoretically -- lead to a lot of easy wins. The issue is that the Browns have just not proven capable of winning games they're supposed to win. Until they do, I'll have a hard time betting on them.
The Steelers enter today with +340 odds to win the division. Consider my interest piqued.
According to oddsmakers, the Steelers have one of the 10 easiest schedules in the league. But that's just the beginning of it. Pittsburgh has a defense that was truly elite once they added Minkah Fitzpatrick in Week 3. They won eight games in 2019 despite a rotation of Mason Rudolph and "Duck" Hodges at quarterback. A healthy Ben Roethlisberger throwing to a healthy JuJu Smith-Schuster could make this team a legitimate contender.
I'm feeling black and yellow in 2020.