The Cincinnati Bengals surprised, Pittsburgh and Baltimore played for a postseason spot in Week 18, and once again the Cleveland Browns failed to live up to the hype. That pretty much wraps up the recently completed season in the AFC North.
It was both a rewarding and in some cases frustrating season for those who bet on NFL games and put money down on AFC North teams to deliver.
Cincinnati Bengals: AFC North Title Run Defied Odds
It seemed for several weeks that nobody wanted to win the AFC North title.
Cincinnati, which ranked last among the four teams in the division with an expected win total of 6 1/2, finally stepped up and took control with wins over Denver, AFC North preseason favorite Baltimore, and two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City.
After a promising start, the Bengals somehow lost to the dreadful New York Jets. That was followed by Cincinnati being blown out by the perpetually underachieving Cleveland Browns. It’s almost as if you could hear people jumping off the Cincinnati bandwagon.
With the second half of the schedule loaded with teams either playoff-bound or in position to make a run at the playoffs, the head-scratching result against the Jets as well as an early loss to the Chicago Bears is not the type of performance a team can usually afford in a too close to call division race. The good news for the Bengals is that the other divisions stumbled and bumbled their way through the season.
Despite first-round pick Ja’Marr Chase joining his former college teammate Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, the Bengals had the second-worst odds to win a division title in the NFL. The odds started at +1800 and held pretty firm. Win No. 7 came in emphatic fashion as a 41-10 win over division rival Pittsburgh improved Cincinnati to 7-4.
Cincinnati was a streaky team in the NFL picks against the spread after splitting its first two games. The Bengals didn’t cover in the next two games, covered and won straight in the next two, lost and failed to cover in the two games that followed. That yo-yo type trend through a 10-game stretch before the Bengals won three straight games to clinch the division title. Cincinnati covered in each of its last four games.
Among AFC teams, only the Houston Texans started the season with longer odds to win the Super Bowl than Cincinnati did at +12500.
Those who jumped on that number could be pretty happy in a few years as the Bengals’ odds to win the Super Bowl are now at +1800.
Pittsburgh Steelers: One last postseason for Big Ben
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a favorite among those who bet online for as long as Mike Tomlin has been the head coach and Ben Roethlisberger the quarterback.
This year the odds were a little longer than normal as Pittsburgh was the No. 3 choice to win the division title at +325. The +1400 odds to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl was eighth, which put them right on the edge of either making the playoffs yet again or just missing out on the postseason fun.
That is pretty much how it turned out despite one of the most surprising results of the 2021 season when Pittsburgh tied the then winless Detroit Lions. Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes didn’t just come down to the last week of the season but the last play. If Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson didn’t connect on a field goal as time expired in overtime, the last game of the regular season between the Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers would have ended up in a tie. If that had happened, the Chargers would have made the playoffs and the Steelers would have been out.
ICYMI: Mike Tomlin glad young Steelers can get taste of playoff atmosphere https://t.co/KGfW7cc92Y
— Post-Gazette Sports (@PGSportsNow) January 12, 2022
Pittsburgh didn’t cover against the Las Vegas odds in back-to-back games until the final two games of the regular season with wins over Cleveland and Baltimore securing the most improbable of playoff spots.
The Steelers had Super Bowl odds of +3300 before the season began. Those faded to +8000, the worst among the 14 playoff teams so not much is expected as Roethlisberger takes part in his final postseason. With T.J. Watt, who tied the NFL record with 22.5 sacks, leading the way the Steelers could be a tough out for any team that struggles to score because Pittsburgh isn’t going to be lighting it up on offense.
Baltimore Ravens: Come up Empty on Late-Game Gambles
There should be odds for people who bet online who wanted to buy Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh an adult beverage compared to those who wanted to kick him in the teeth.
Twice Harbaugh’s Ravens scored a late touchdown and only needed an extra point from Justin Tucker, who happens to be the NFL’s most reliable kicker, to force overtime. Both times Harbaugh went for two points and a win and each time the Ravens came up short.
When Nebraska coach Tom Osborne went for two and failed in the 1984 Orange Bowl game against Miami, he was lauded for going for it when a tie would have given the Cornhuskers the national title.
However, with overtime in the NFL, those decisions must have wreaked havoc with more than a few parlays and betting slips to say nothing of fantasy football matchups. They also kept Baltimore, one of the preseason favorites to win the AFC North, out of the playoffs.
Baltimore wasn’t eliminated until its overtime loss to Pittsburgh in Week 18. Baltimore came into the season at -375 to make the playoffs and +275 to miss the postseason.
The Ravens (+125) were slight favorites to win the division and Baltimore was tied with Cleveland among AFC North teams with +700 odds to reach the Super Bowl. Only Kansas City and Buffalo had better odds to win the AFC than Baltimore, a team that dealt with injuries to quarterback Lamar Jackson as well as to multiple running backs and defensive backs.
The Ravens lost their last six games although there were only favored in two of them. Five of those losses were by three points or less. With an expected win total from 10½-11½, that late-season swoon proved costly to not only the Ravens but those who had Baltimore finishing with more than eight victories.
Cleveland Browns: Disappointing Fans, Bettors Once Again
In the last couple of years, there has been a familiar refrain that this is the season when the Cleveland Browns finally live up to all the hype.
Cleveland came into the season with an expected win total ranging from 10-10.5. However, it took a Week 18 win over a playoff-bound Cincinnati Bengals team resting some key players for the Browns to pick up their eighth win.
Cleveland (+135) challenged Baltimore for the role of preseason favorite to win the division title and at +700 the Browns were one of the teams thought capable of dethroning the Kansas City Chiefs as AFC champions.
Cleveland looked the part early on as the only blemish in a 3-1 start was a four-point loss at Kansas City.
Six losses by a touchdown or less doomed the Browns to another season with no playoffs to prepare for. If there was ever a two-week span that typified how frustrating the Browns can be to fans, the first two Sundays of November accomplished that perfectly. Cleveland crushed Cincinnati 41-16 to create some hope that this season was going to play out differently. The Browns were humiliated by New England 45-7 just seven days later.
About the only thing that this Cleveland team could be counted on is low-scoring games as eight of the Browns’ final 11 games finished under the total.
The +1600 odds for Cleveland to win its first Super Bowl seem laughable now.