The AFC North is coming off a wild 2020 season. The Baltimore Ravens, in a windy game that benefits a run-first team, scored just three points in a 17-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional playoffs. The Cincinnati Bengals lost rookie quarterback Joe Burrow in Week 11 from injury. The Cleveland Browns went from a 6-10 team in 2019 to an 11-5 team making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Then, you have the Pittsburgh Steelers, who absolutely dominated with an 11-0 start to the season before crashing...hard...winning just one game in their last six.
A lot of madness last year. Will anything from 2020 roll into 2021? Let’s see.
Season win total OV 11.5 (+120), UN (-145)
Win AFC North (+115)
Win AFC (+750)
“Defenses are starting to figure out Lamar Jackson.” Are they? Jackson is the first quarterback to record 1,000 rushing yards in back-to-back seasons. He could be poised to do it again. Ravens are projected to play the ninth-toughest schedule of passing defenses after playing the seventh easiest last year. What could a run-centric team do if they can’t pass? Run.
The Ravens are also projected to play the seventh-easiest schedule of rushing defenses after playing the 10th easiest last year. Jackson rushed for 200 fewer yards in 2020 than in 2019, yet still managed to squeak out 1,000 rushing yards after losing two starting offensive lineman.
The Ravens get OT Ronnie Stanley back from injury and added veteran guard Kevin Zeitler to the lineup. You want to give me a top-10 offensive line, with a quarterback who not only loves to run but is dominant on the ground, with an easier-than-average schedule of run defenses, and yes, yes, yes, I’m going to look at his rushing yards prop.
Betting option: Lamar Jackson OVER 950.5 rushing yards (-110)
Another prop worth noting. The Ravens ranked third in rushing touchdowns per game last year after ranking fifth the year prior. Jackson has had seven rushing touchdowns in each of his last two seasons. This year, in weeks 1-10, Ravens will face six teams ranked in the bottom half for defending rushing touchdowns, including four in the bottom 10.
Betting option #2: Lamar Jackson OVER 7 rushing touchdowns (-110)
Here is the Ravens' schedule in the first four weeks and how each ranked in opponent rushing touchdowns last year:
Las Vegas Raiders: 30th
Kansas City Chiefs: 9th
Detroit Lions: 32nd
Denver Broncos: 28th
Jackson may have seven rushing touchdowns before the Ravens' Week 8 bye. Don’t want to take a season-long bet? Look weekly for a Jackson anytime touchdown instead.
Season win total OV 10.5 (-110), UN (-110)
Win AFC North (+150)
Win AFC (+750)
The Browns posted a winning record for the first time since 2007 and it included a trip to the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. They now enter the 2021 season with the same odds to win the AFC as the Ravens. What a world. Head coach Kevin Stefanski is the reason why. Exceptional play calling, plus having the No. 1 easiest schedule overall, helped Stefanski snag the Coach of the Year award.
After facing the third-easiest schedule of passing defenses last year, the Browns will face the 19th easiest, which could lead to some regression from Baker Mayfield’s 3,500 passing yards with 63% completion last season.
What we shouldn’t see regression on is the ground-and-pound run game. This year, the Browns have both the projected No. 1 ranked offensive line and running back unit in the league. After facing the 13th-toughest schedule of run defenses last year, the Browns are projected to face the fourth easiest.
Even after playing a tougher schedule, and even after missing four games, RB Nick Chubb still rushed for 1,067 yards, while RB Kareem Hunt rushed for 841 yards. One of the best bets last season, cashing in on the OVER rushing yard props for both Chubb and Hunt.
This power duo has the schedule to dominate again this year, at least with rushing yards. Though the Browns face an easy schedule of rushing defenses, they will have only seven games against opponents ranked in the bottom half for opponent rushing touchdowns allowed. Chubb and Hunt may get the yards but I’d be weary of getting the scores.
Nick Chubb OVER 1350.5 rushing yards (-110)
Kareem Hunt OVER 650.5 rushing yards (-110)
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