The 2021 NFL schedule has been released and it’s already being dubbed as the biggest season ever, as teams will play 17 regular-season games for the first time ever. Today I will break down the AFC North and give you my predictions.
The AFC North is one of the toughest divisions in all of football and with the Ravens and Browns leading the way, let us take a look at three Overs and one Under I like on the season win totals.
The 2021 win totals are courtesy of PointsBet.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: OVER 10.5 (-150) - UNDER 10.5 (+125)
The Ravens once again lead the AFC North in win totals as Lamar Jackson and company are ready for another Super Bowl chase. Baltimore finished 11-5 last season, one game short of the AFC Championship.
This season's main differences in the Ravens are on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line received a significant boost signing Kevin Zeitler from the Giants and Alejandro Villanueva from the rival Steelers.
The Ravens are all-in on J.K. Dobbins as the starting running back after passing on another season with Mark Ingram. Baltimore drafted Rashod Bateman and signed veteran Sammy Watkins out wide to compliment Jackson's weaponry.
Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown remain relevant fantasy options as the top passing targets, but Gus Edwards and Nick Boyle should receive steady volume as well in addition to the previous receivers mentioned.
The defensive side of the ball appears to be all 11 starters returning for another run at repeating as one of the NFL's best defenses. Baltimore finished top 10 in both rushing and passing yards allowed and touchdowns permitted, both through the air and on the ground.
When you break down the Ravens' schedule, an opening Monday Night Showdown in Vegas followed up by a Sunday Night matchup on NBC with the Kansas City Chiefs sets up for some exciting football.
After that, there is a favorable chance the Ravens win the next five games to enter the bye week.
The second half of the schedule for the Ravens will be some tough sledding into the Winter. Don't get me wrong, Baltimore will be favored in all or most of those games, but the upset potential is there.
Weeks 10-13 feature three road games in 24 days against winnable opponents.
If the Ravens can manage those four weeks going 3-1 or better, they run into the Browns and Packers, which could be daunting (depending on Aaron Rodgers).
The final three games of the regular season could be a 3-0 sweep. Based on that, I have the Ravens in the ballpark of 11-12 wins.
That more than likely enough to be crowned AFC North Champs once again. Unless the next squad has something to say about that.
Pick: Ravens Over 10.5 Wins
CLEVELAND BROWNS: OVER 10.5 (+100) - UNDER 10.5 (-121)
The Browns made noise in the offseason, bringing in Jadeveon Clowney and Malik Jackson to boost their defensive line. Now with Myles Garrett and Andrew Billings, Cleveland has what appears to be the (arguably) best defensive line in all of football.
That, mixed with a tremendous offensive line and excellent one-two punch on the ground provides a recipe for successful AFC North football.
The schedule for the Browns sets them up for another double-digit victory season. An opening clash with the Chiefs in Week 1 sets up for a playoff atmosphere to start the season.
Weeks 2-11 set up for a potential dominant start for the Browns with six home games in that stretch. Cleveland has a back-to-back with Baltimore, which will provide a favorable spot for the Browns, having a bye week between meetings.
The final four games could feature the Browns as the only potential playoff team (Aaron Rodgers again). The Browns have an eight-day break between the Packers and Steelers matchups, another favorable spot for the schedule.
The Browns should be all-around contenders for a deep run, not like last year, but better. This project is starting to take off and Kevin Stefanski is doing a great job bringing his rushing resume to Cleveland.
With the backs to the offensive and defensive lines, along with play-makers, the Browns are a solid bet to win more than 10 games.
Pick: Browns Over 10.5 Wins
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PITTSBURGH STEELERS: OVER 8.5 (-105) - UNDER 8.5 (-115)
The Steelers are projected at the third-highest win total of the division. You are betting on whether or not the Steelers can finish above .500 this season.
Pittsburgh's offense will have one of its weakest lines of Ben Roethlisberger's career while having another excellent receiving core. Pittsburgh drafted Najee Harris and an array of offensive talent ranging from the line to the tight end position.
Roethlisberger recorded the quickest time to throw (2.3 seconds) last season. Pittsburgh will likely have the same approach this year, with Big Ben being limited in movement at 39 years old. With JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron and a few others that will contribute, the offense should be similar to what we witnessed in 2020.
The defense should return as one of the better units in the conference, but losing Bud Dupree to the Titans was a significant loss.
The Steelers' schedule features back-to-back home games three separate times in the first 10 weeks. That will benefit Pittsburgh, especially in the first six games, before the bye week.
The Steelers will have to take advantage of those games because the final two months of the season will be brutal. In December, Pittsburgh plays Baltimore, Minnesota, Tennessee and Kansas City. In January, Pittsburgh faces Cleveland and Baltimore to wrap up the regular season.
Yikes. Pittsburgh will be lucky to go 3-3 in that stretch and that six-game span will determine whether or not the Steelers make the postseason for consecutive seasons.
With Roethlisberger aging and the offensive line owning too many holes, back the Steelers to underperform this season.
Pick: Steelers Under 8.5 Wins
CINCINNATI BENGALS: OVER 6.5 (+100) - UNDER 6.5 (-125)
Joe Burrow and the Bengals are expected to finish last in the division, but the question is, for how long? With Ja'Marr Chase joining the team, Cincy's offense improved, but the defense still needs help.
The Bengals schedule features a ton of matchups with teams led by new quarterbacks. The Jaguars, Jets, Bears and Lions all have new signal-callers, along with the Packers, 49ers and Broncos being three more possibilities.
There is a reasonable probability Cincy can steal more than a few victories from those squads, but they will not come easy. The Bengals went 2-5-1 in the first eight games of last season and 2-7-1 with Burrow under center. However, in those 10 games with Burrow, the Bengals played six teams (seven games) against teams that made the playoffs.
Surprisingly, Cincy finished the season ranked sixth in the league allowing opposing teams to complete 62.8% of passes. The real issue with the defense was 2,368 rushing yards allowed. That was fourth-most in the league and the Bengals permitted the second-most yards per carry (5.1).
I like the Bengals to get six to seven wins when I go through their schedule and given the + odds are on the Over, that is where I would take my shot. The final three games of the season are against the Ravens, Chiefs and Browns, so the wins will have to come early.
Without Burrow, Cincy went 2-4, experimenting with different quarterbacks in wins over Houston and Pittsburgh. They will need him healthy and this is the iffiest team to grab and Over or Under of the four if you ask me. Expect the Bengals to go 6-11 or 7-10 this season and have a top 10 draft pick once again.
Pick: Bengals Over 6.5 Wins
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