Since the midseason report on the AFC North, a lot has changed. After winning four consecutive games, the Cincinnati Bengals are making it interesting at the top. The Baltimore Ravens have no room for error with the Bengals surging for the divisional title. Also, the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers are approaching .500 due to improved quarterback play. The AFC North has become balanced and competitive with only five weeks remaining in the regular season.
Check out how each team fared following 13 weeks of football.
- Odds to win AFC North -130
- Odds to win AFC +1000
- Odds to win Super Bowl +1800
At the midpoint of the season, the Baltimore Ravens were 6-3 and -400 to win the division. Now, things are getting tight for Baltimore with -130 odds to rule the AFC North. So what has gone wrong for the Ravens over the last month?
First, the Cincinnati Bengals have caught fire. In addition, the Ravens have not played well over the last three games. They are 2-1 during the stretch and lost 28-17 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 12. Baltimore was fortunate to defeat the Denver Broncos 10-9 in its previous game. The Ravens are supposed to be a playoff contender and they nearly lost to the 4-8 Jaguars and 3-9 Broncos in back-to-back weeks. That is not going to cut it.
The offense has been the main problem, with two games under 14 points over the last three. However, the defense had its issues against Jacksonville, yielding 18 points in the fourth quarter.
To make matters worse, quarterback Lamar Jackson went down with a knee injury last week. He is listed as “week-to-week” with games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns coming up. With or without Jackson, Baltimore is lacking a passing attack, ranking 26th in passing yards per game. Plus, the run game has not been good enough.
The Ravens have a favorable schedule to end the regular season. However, if Baltimore falls in another upset, it will likely fall short of a divisional title.
- Odds to win AFC North +110
- Odds to win AFC +650
- Odds to win Super Bowl +1200
It’s been a fantastic month for the Cincinnati Bengals. They are on a four-game win streak while averaging 31.5 points. The Week 13 win over the Kansas City Chiefs (27-24) was the best yet. Cincinnati has now entered the Super Bowl conversation and finishing atop the AFC North is within reach.
Cincinnati has a tough road ahead with games against the Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Ravens. However, the Bengals are fully capable of staying hot at their current level of play.
Quarterback Joe Burrow is closing in on the MVP award with +700 odds. Wide receiver Tee Higgins stepped up in Ja’Marr Chase’s absence, averaging 79.3 receiving yards in a four-game span. Chase also returned against the Chiefs and looked fully healthy with 97 yards. Most importantly, the offensive line has rapidly improved. The run game is finding success and Burrow has plenty of time in the pocket.
The defense is also playing well. After Chidobe Awuzie’s season-ending knee injury, the Bengals’ starting perimeter cornerback duo of Eli Apple and rookie Cam Taylor-Britt looked like a major weakness. However, the unit has found a way to stay solid and remains a borderline top-10 defense.
Not only will Cincinnati contend for the AFC North in the final five weeks, but it will also look to secure one of the top seeds in the conference.
Scoop on Free Play from the Locker Room
- Odds to win AFC North +2800
- Odds to win AFC +6600
- Odds to win Super Bowl +12500
November was an up-and-down month for the Cleveland Browns, but they are trending in the right direction ahead of the home stretch. The Browns have won back-to-back games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (23-17) and Houston Texans (27-14). Cleveland will be looking to spoil the Bengals or Ravens’ divisional title hopes in the next two games.
Of course, the story of Week 13 was quarterback Deshaun Watson’s return from an 11-game suspension. In his first start in nearly two years, Watson struggled. Cleveland won as it has for most of the season, by running the football. Watson should progress in the coming weeks, but the defense will decide the Browns’ fate.
An inconsistent defense has been the issue for most of the season. This was a unit with a top-10 upside entering the season. It has come nowhere close to that. The defense ranks 27th in allowed points per game and 26th in allowed yards per carry. The run defense has improved over the last two games, holding opponents to 4.2 yards per carry, compared to its season average of 4.8. If Cleveland’s run defense holds up and the pass rush generates more pressure, the Browns should win some games.
While Cleveland will not appear in the playoffs, the final five weeks will be a preview of the future. On paper, the Browns have a formidable roster with Watson starting. If Watson progresses and flashes his top-five upside, Cleveland will end the season on a great note.
- Odds to win AFC North +4000
- Odds to win AFC +12500
- Odds to win Super Bowl +25000
Halfway through the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were reeling at 2-6. A losing record seemed unavoidable, which would be coach Mike Tomlin’s first of his career. Pittsburgh has bounced back once again by going 3-1 over the last four games. At 5-7 with five games left, the Steelers are closing in on .500.
Edge rusher T.J. Watt’s return from injury and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett’s improvement have been the biggest stories. Watt has only a half-sack over the last four games, but his presence matters. It has freed up teammates like Alex Highsmith, who has 3.5 sacks in the last four.
The offense has finally shown signs of life as well. In the last three games, the Steelers have their highest scoring totals of the year at 24 and 30 points. Pickett has avoided turnovers and upped his efficiency since Week 11. The offensive line is still poor in pass protection, but its run-blocking has improved. Running back Najee Harris has averaged over 4.5 yards per carry in three of the last four games.
Like the Browns, Pittsburgh hopes to play spoiler over the next month. The Steelers will play the Ravens twice, and they have winnable games against the Carolina Panthers, Las Vegas Raiders and Browns.