NFL Betting Odds: AFC North Predictions 2019

Date | AuthorDanny Vorgs

Last Updated: 2019-08-11

After years of bottom-dwelling, the Cleveland Browns are finally the headline-grabbing team in the AFC North. With ODB, Baker Mayfield, and wins in 5 of their final 7 games last season, the optimism certainly appears well-founded. Yet, to rise to the top of the North for the 1st time since their return to the NFL in 1999, the Browns must surpass long-time rivals the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals. Pittsburgh still appears a dangerous, veteran team while Baltimore remains well-coached with a wild card at quarterback. Additionally, the NFL model appears a bit higher on Cincinnati then the generally betting market. Could this finally be the Browns year…we shall see.

All of the AFC North teams were well previewed in detail by none other than Adam Burke himself and can be found here.

All the NFL previews examined the current spread for the 16 upcoming games for each team this season and applied the metric of expected win percentage to each of these lines to arrive at an implied wins total. This number could then be compared to the posted win total for each team. While we certainly know that a lot can (and will) change for all of these teams between late June and say a mid-December game in Week 15, it is a useful exercise to see how each team compares to one another at this stage assuming ideal circumstances for both teams.

As many readers likely know, I maintain a model for the NFL which creates a spread and total for each game that I rely on heavily in my handicapping and writing here at BTB. Therefore, for this series of articles, we thought it would be useful to apply my model spreads to the current lines and implied win totals listed at CG Technologies. As usual, some of these numbers will be in line with Vegas expectations while others will not. For each team, we’ll try to see why we agree or isolate the possible reasons for our divergence.

Baltimore Ravens

(Lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
(Personal NFL model lines based on expected starting Week 1 lineup as of July 19, 2019)

Week Opponent CG Tech. Line Expected Wins NFL Model Line Expected Wins
1 @ Miami -4 .66 -1.5 .53
2 Arizona -8.5 .80 -7 .75
3 @ Kansas City +7.5 .22 +8.5 .20
4 Cleveland -3.5 .64 -3.5 .64
5 @ Pittsburgh +3 .41 +3.5 .36
6 Cincinnati -7 .75 -5 .68
7 @ Seattle +4.5 .33 +5 .32
8 BYE
9 New England +2.5 .45 +4 .34
10 @ Cincinnati -1 .51 +.5 .50
11 Houston -2.5 .55 pk .50
12 @ LA Rams +7.5 .22 +6 .29
13 San Francisco -4 .66 -3.5 .64
14 @ Buffalo -1 .51 pk .50
15 NY Jets -5.5 .69 -4.5 .67
16 @ Cleveland +3 .41 +3 .41
17 Pittsburgh -3 .59 -2.5 .55

Win Total (CG Technologies): 8 (Over -130 / Under +110)
Expected Wins (CG Technologies): 8.40
Expected Wins (Personal NFL Model): 7.88

Last year the Ravens transitioned from Joe Flacco’s team to Lamar Jackson’s team and the results were positive overall. Baltimore earned 10 wins (6 of 7 started by Jackson), won the division, and finished 6th in Total DVOA according to Football Outsiders. In fact, those 10 wins were actually less than what would be expected from their play as they finished with 11.34 Pythagorean wins in 2019. Despite these solid 2018 numbers, the model is down on Baltimore in 2019 as there’s only one game (Week 12 @ Rams) where the model’s line favors them more than the current market number at CG Technologies. Let’s examine why…

As expected, the model places the greatest weight on the QB and last season, as a passer Lamar Jackson underwhelmed. He was at or near the bottom of nearly all standard and advanced passing metrics and was ranked the 34th QB according to Pro Football Focus with a poor grade of 56. While we know that Jackson’s strength lies in his running abilities at this point in his career and that does elevate him back up a bit, but his poor passing numbers compared to his NFL peers is an overall drag on the Raven’s ranking within the model at the start of the season.

Another area that took a hit in the model’s ranking was due to their player losses this offseason. LB CJ Mosley and Edge Rushers Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs all departed in free agency and project to be replaced by lesser players. Collectively, the loss of these players weakens the Front 7 which currently sits in the 23rd spot according to the model and shaves 1.2 points off of the Ravens overall power rank. Although they lost S Eric Weddle in the offseason, the Ravens secondary remains a top 5 unit as he was replaced with long-time Seahawk Earl Thomas. Overall the defense comes in at a solid 10th overall.

The other units on the offense remain solid but not above league average. The offensive line returns intact and boosts quality players in T Ronny Stanley and G Marshall Yanda however the PFF grades of the Ravens other interior line players are uninspiring. RB Mark Ingram and rookie WR Marquise Brown are notable players added to the skill position unit which should be an upgrade over RBs Buck Allen, Ty Montgomery, and WR Micheal Crabtree who left this offseason.

Overall, it seems as though the Baltimore Ravens are more than the sum of their collective parts. This speaks to the continued excellence of the front office and coaching staff as they were able to successfully navigate midseason from one of the NFL’s most pass-heavy offenses to one of the NFL’s most run-heavy. I have no doubt that they have a vision for how they would like to utilize Lamar Jackson this season as he continues to adjust to the professional level and grows as a passer. This is evidenced by the promotion of former Colin Kaepernick OC Greg Roman to this position on the Ravens. The issue here is how often Jackson will find himself behind in the game and in likely passing situations. In this regard, the schedule sets up nicely. After getting his feet wet with the #32 and #31 overall teams according to the model (Miami and Arizona), he will only play 4 of the remaining 14 games against teams which the model places in the top 10 offensively. Additionally, Warren Sharp projects the Raven’s to play one of the NFL’s worst slates of run defenses. Together this sets up nicely for the Ravens and Jackson to find success this season. Therefore, we’ll go against the model’s projection for Baltimore and lean over 8 wins for 2019.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

(Lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
(Personal NFL model lines based on expected starting Week 1 lineup as of July 19, 2019)

Week Opponent CG Tech. Line Expected Wins NFL Model Line Expected Wins
1 @ Seattle +8 .21 +6 .29
2 San Francisco pk .50 -3.5 .64
3 @ Buffalo +4 .34 +1 .49
4 @ Pittsburgh (Monday Night) +9 .19 +4.5 .33
5 Arizona -4 .66 -7 .75
6 @ Baltimore +7 .25 +5 .32
7 Jacksonville pk .50 -1 .49
8 LA Rams (London) +13 .11 +6 .29
9 BYE
10 Baltimore +1 .49 -.5 .50
11 @ Oakland +3.5 .36 -1.5 .53
12 Pittsburgh +3 .41 +1.5 .47
13 NY Jets -1.5 .53 -4.5 .67
14 @ Cleveland +8 .21 +4.5 .33
15 New England +7 .25 +4 .34
16 @ Miami +1.5 .47 pk .50
17 Cleveland +2 .46 +.5 .50

Win Total (CG Technologies): 6 (Over -125 / Under +105)
Expected Wins (CG Technologies): 5.94
Expected Wins (Personal NFL Model): 7.44

Projected to win just 6 games in 2019, the Cincinnati Bengals are not a team on most people’s radar as they appear buried in the shadows of their division rivals. On one hand, this makes sense. They are coming off their 3rd straight sub .500 season and have replaced long-time HC Marvin Lewis with a relatively unknown Zac Taylor who not only has two first names but also most recently served as Jared Goff’s quarterback coach under Sean McVay. And while they are probably the least talented team in the division and potentially headed for a 4th place finish, the model is far less down on the Bengals then most would expect.

If we recall, Cincinnati surprisingly sat at 4-1 after Week 5 of last season. Many called for their demise, which did eventually happen, but it wasn’t due to some regression to the mean after a number of fortunate bounces they received in those first few weeks. Rather it was largely due to the 5th most Adjust Games Lost to injury in the league. 61.1 of those lost games affected the Cincinnati offense as QB Andy Dalton (5), RB Gio Benard (5), TE Tyler Eifert (12), OT Jake Fisher (5), WR AJ Green (7), TE2 Tyler Kroft (11), and C Billy Price (3) all missed those games after the 4-1 start. This represents a loss of about half of the starting offense at various points from Week 6 on and is reflected in the numbers as the Bengals dropped from 6th in Offensive DVOA after Week 5 down to 22nd by year-end. One reason for optimism then is simply better injury luck.

Other reasons for positivity was the Bengal’s 2019 record in one-score games and their schedule. Nearly the antithesis of Miami’s lucky 7-1 record in those contests, the Bengals were an unfortunate 2-5 in one-score affairs. Typically one would expect this imbalance to right itself with an increased sample size of games. Additionally, the schedule did the Bengals no favors either as they played the #1 overall schedule in terms of opponent offensive efficiency. This year they are projected to play the 26th ranked schedule of opponent offensive efficiency which will certainly be welcomed.

When examining their roster the Bengals are not a complete package and do have holes; most notably along the offensive line where they rank 32nd in the NFL according to the model. Unfortunately, while the Bengals did address this issue by taking Alabama T Jonah Williams in the 1st round, he was injured before camp and will be out for all of 2019. If this unit can be just decent however the rest of the offense looks solid. Dalton is a serviceable veteran and the skill position (#8 in the model) talent boosts RBs Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard, WRs AJ Green and Tyler Boyd, and talented TE Tyler Eifert. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals did loss LB Vontaze Burfict (which may be a good thing) but still roll out some talented secondary players as well as stud DT Geno Atkins. Linebacker will be a liability for the Bengals but overall the model sees them as a below-average-but-not-awful 23rd overall.

No one’s going to confuse the 2019 Cincinnati Bengals for a true Super Bowl contender. Their offensive line could be absolutely terrible, Dalton is what he is, and more talent is needed on the defense. However, we are not betting on the Bengals to win the Super Bowl or their division. We only need them to win 6 games to push. Given a fresh attitude that a young new coach will provide as well as a likely regression to the mean with regards to injury, one-score games, and the schedule luck we see the Cincinnati Bengals as capable of reaching that bar. In what may be the largest divergence between the betting market and the model we’ll back the Bengals over the 6 wins this year.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

(Lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
(Personal NFL model lines based on expected starting Week 1 lineup as of July 19, 2019)

Week Opponent CG Tech. Line Expected Wins NFL Model Line Expected Wins
1 @ New England (Sunday Night) +6 .29 +7.5 .28
2 Seattle -3 .59 -4 .66
3 @ San Francisco pk .50 pk .50
4 Cincinnati (Monday Night) -9 .81 -4.5 .67
5 Baltimore -3 .59 -3.5 .64
6 @ LA Chargers (Sunday Night) +4.5 .33 +4 .34
7 BYE
8 Miami   (Monday Night) -10 .84 -9.5 .81
9 Indianapolis -2.5 .55 +.5 .50
10 LA Rams pk .50 pk .50
11 @ Cleveland (Thursday Night) +2.5 .45 +1.5 .47
12 @ Cincinnati -3 .59 -1.5 .53
13 Cleveland -3.5 .64 -3 .59
14 @ Arizona -3.5 .64 -3 .59
15 Buffalo -7 .75 -8.5 .80
16 @ NY Jets -1.5 .53 -1 .51
17 @ Baltimore +3 .41 +2.5 .45

Win Total (CG Technologies): 9.5 (Over -120 / Under +100)
Expected Wins (CG Technologies): 9.01
Expected Wins (Personal NFL Model): 8.77

As a franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been nearly as consistent as the New England Patriots this century. They have had 15 straight non-sub .500 seasons, made the playoffs in 8 of Tomlin’s 12 years, and collected 2 Super Bowls since the year 2000. While the Steel City churned out yet another winning season, no one would summarize it as a success. Going from a 7-2-1 record after Week 11, the Steelers collapsed to a disappointing 9-6-1 record down the stretch and missed the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion. It was an appropriate ending to a tumultuous season in Pittsburgh. Between the neverending Le’Veon Bell uncertainty, to the antics of Antonio Brown, to the constant Roethlisberger retirement rumors, it seemed like there was always drama in Pittsburgh last year. Now that Bell and Brown have moved on the general belief is that things will settle down and the Steelers will return to their winning ways. With the talent still present on the roster this appears a likely scenario, however, conventional wisdom would also say that losing two of the league’s premier skill position players would have a negative effect on a team…right?

Without Bell, the Steelers remained a quality offensive unit in 2018 as they finished top 10 in many categories including Offensive DVOA (6th), Points per Game (6th), and Yards Per Play (5th). It was thought that his absence would lessen the threat of the Pittsburgh running game however RB James Conner filled in seamlessly earning nearly an identical grade from PFF (73.0) as Bell did in his 2017 season (72.2). The team’s rush efficiency was a solid 11th according to Warren Sharp and 12th according to Offensive DVOA. With a legitimate replacement for Bell, Big Ben continued to do his thing in the air as he had a season typical of his career. Numerous examples, including Conner in Pittsburgh and CJ Anderson with the Rams have shown that RBs are somewhat replaceable in the NFL however there aren’t analogous examples at the WR position where Roethlisberger will no longer have Brown either. The Steelers did address the issue this offseason by signing Donte Moncrief and using their 3rd round pick in Diontae Johnson. They will compete for time with 2nd year WR James Washington and pair with their “other” excellent receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. It’s unlikely the newcomers will fully replace Brown’s production in 2019 however the Steelers have a notable history of drafting WRs and should be able to navigate without a dramatic drop-off in offensive production. Collectively the Steelers skill position players rank a poor 27th but if Washington takes a step in his 2nd year and Moncrief returns to form after a year of attempting to catch balls from Blake Bortles in Jacksonville, this group could rise as the year goes along. Pittsburgh’s best overall offensive unit, their offensive line, returns generally intact. The only loss was RT Marcus Gilbert who moved on to Arizona this offseason however he only started 12 games the past 2 seasons. The model places the Steeler O-line 7th.

The defense should be similar to the steady unit we saw in 2018. Finishing 13th in both Warren Sharp’s Defensive Efficiency metric and Football Outsiders Defensive DVOA, the Steeler defense did not lose any notable players this offseason. They did use their 1st round pick to select LB Devin Bush out of Michigan. He will replace journeyman LB Jon Bostic and will likely be an upgrade. The strength of the defense is the Front 7 which boosts a very stout 3-4 defensive line. The model places them at the 11 spot. The secondary returns intact and has some quality veterans however it lacks an elite, game-changing player a la Patrick Peterson or Jaylen Ramsey. This unit ranks a decent 21st.

Consistent, quality football is the expectation in Pittsburgh. With a diva-less locker room and a talent pool the model sees as still the best in the division, the Steelers certainly have the capability of returning to expectations in 2019. Roadblocks to success could potentially be seen in a dramatic decline in Roethlisberger’s play, a regression in the play of the defense (specifically the secondary), or surprisingly HC Mike Tomlin. While the 1st two seem unlikely, It is possible that the issues arising from Brown and Bell were symptomatic of wider player displeasure stemming from Tomlin. If he does not meet expectations this year he could quickly find himself on the coaching hot seat. This is certainly a possibility worth keeping an eye on however I’m going to assume Tomlin returns Pittsburgh to the playoffs when all’s said and done. Unfortunately, though, we aren’t betting the Steelers to make playoffs here but rather over or under wins and 9.5 looks a little too high especially given the juice. I do expect things to settle down in Pittsburgh but 9 looks like a more realistic expectation for the Steelers in 2019. Under 9.5 +100 is the play for the Steelers in 2019.

 

Cleveland Browns

(Lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
(Personal NFL model lines based on expected starting Week 1 lineup as of July 19, 2019)

Week Opponent CG Tech. Line Expected Wins NFL Model Line Expected Wins
1 Tennessee -5 .68 -2.5 .55
2 @ NY Jets pk .50 pk .50
3 LA Rams +3 .41 +1.5 .47
4 @ Baltimore +3.5 .36 +3.5 .36
5 @ San Francisco +2.5 .45 +1 .49
6 Seattle -1 .51 -2.5 .55
7 BYE
8 @ New England +8.5 .20 +8 .21
9 @ Denver +1 .49 +2 .46
10 Buffalo -7 .75 -7 .75
11 Pittsburgh -2.5 .55 -1.5 .47
12 Miami -8 .79 -8 .79
13 @ Pittsburgh +3.5 .36 +3 .41
14 Cincinnati -8 .79 -4.5 .67
15 @ Arizona -3 .59 -2 .54
16 Baltimore -3 .59 -3 .59
17 @ Cincinnati -2 .55 -.5 .50

Win Total (CG Technologies): 9 (Over -130 / Under +110)
Expected Wins (CG Technologies): 8.57
Expected Wins (Personal NFL Model): 8.31

So I used to watch Sunday NFL games in a local sports bar mostly populated by Eagles fans although, like any sports bar in America, you can always find a smattering of people representing the NFL spectrum. For years, there was an elderly Cleveland fan that would religiously sit at the same spot and watch his Browns every Sunday. He didn’t say much but he earned my respect as he always showed up through some very lean years. Unfortunately, his health appeared as good as the Browns played and eventually he disappeared. During the Browns late-season run, I couldn’t help but think of him. As we look ahead to 2019, hopefully, this gentleman and all of Cleveland get to see something special…they deserve it!

Emotions and goodwill aside, it finally appears that Clevelanders do indeed have a team worth their Sunday afternoons. This was evident early last year when the Browns started 1-1-1 (baby steps) but it wasn’t until HC Hue Jackson was finally given the ax after Week 8 that the Browns began to shine. Finishing up 5-3 under new HC Freddie Kitchens, the Browns saw their Total DVOA rise from -19.9 (27th) under Jackson to -2.8 (17th) by seasons end. The mercy killing of Jackson may have had a positive effect on the locker room and the overall record but it had an even more beneficial outcome on the offense as they climbed from an Offensive DVOA of -26.1 (30th) to a -1.1 (17th) over the same time span. It is worth noting that during the Kitchens/Mayfield period, the Browns only played 3 teams that finished up 2018 with a winning record and there was a notable dip in Mayfield’s passing efficiency when he played against quality pass defenses in those games. This year the Browns are projected to play a much more difficult slate of passing defenses then last season however Mayfield will have had an offseason of preparation as well as some shiny new weapons. Most notable of Baker’s skill-position toys is obviously Odell Beckham Jr. OBJ gladly grabbed the “AFC North Diva WR” crown this offseason and brings a game-changing dynamic to the Browns passing attack. His role with his new team will be interesting to watch as Mayfield’s 2018 7.7 YPA hasn’t been met by Eli since 2011, way before Beckham arrived. Along with slot wide receiver Jarvis Landry and TE David Njoku, OBJ’s addition provides Baker Mayfield with a young core of high ceiling pass catchers. The addition of Kareem Hunt (who is suspended for the 1st 8 weeks of the season) alongside emerging RB Nick Chubb and veteran receiving threat Duke Johnson combines to give Cleveland the 3rd ranked skill position unit behind only the teams from LA. An area of weakness for the Browns appears to be their offensive line. Starting G Joel Bitonio and C J.C. Tretter have demonstrated solid play over their careers however the tackles appear weak (0 PFF grades over 70 in 10 combined years of NFL experience) while last year’s talented G Kevin Zeitler brings his play to the Giants via the OBJ trade. As a whole, the Cleveland offense ranks 12th overall according to the model and should be able to put up points with anyone this season, however, the model also sees the offensive line as Cleveland’s biggest issue listing it in the 21st spot.

Surprisingly, while the Cleveland Offensive DVOA rose significantly post-Hue Jackson, the defense declined noticeably as they fell from -11.7 (3rd) to -2.5 (16th) by seasons end. This is made even more curious as they only played 2 teams in those 8 games (Kansas City and Atlanta) that finished in the top 10 in Offensive DVOA and they also played the decimated Cincinnati offense twice. The good news here is that Cleveland played the 3rd most difficult slate teams with regard to offensive efficiency while they are projected to play the 22nd most difficult in this metric in 2019. They will also do so with some new pieces as well in DE Oliver Vernon and DT Sheldon Richardson. Vernon and Richardson will line up next to DT Larry Ogunjobi and former 1st round pick Miles Garrett to form a formidable defensive line. It is hoped that the additions will bolster the Browns run defense which struggled last season although neither addition is considered a high-level run-stuffer according to PFF. Cleveland used 2 of their 7 draft picks to address the linebacker position which currently lacks depth outside of LB Joe Shobert. The model ranks the Cleveland Front 7 in the 12th spot. The secondary is a mix of highly drafted youth in 2nd year CB Denzel Ward and rookie CB Greddy Williams along with a solid group of quality veteran players. This unit has notable upside potential as the young players acclimate to pro ball. As a unit the model grades out the Cleveland secondary 16th in the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns have won a combined 8 games over the past 3 years. Their 2019 win total currently sits at 9 juiced to the over. Clearly, the betting market is buying the hype on the Browns based on the talent they’ve accumulated over the past few drafts and the potential they flashed at the end of last season. Many in the gambling community appear to be fading this Browns fever, chalking it up to an overreaction to last season by the public. I am not in this camp. In 2017, I was high on Chicago’s chances and was a year early when they blossomed last season. To begin 2018, I was high on this Cleveland team which stumbled early on only to gain their footing later in the year. Therefore, I’m backing the Browns to make the step the Bears did last year and like other teams such as Seahawks, Rams, and Eagles did with their 2nd-year quarterbacks. Rejoice Browns fans of America’s sports bars, you will win 10 this year and no longer be looked upon with pity by your fellow patrons!

(Editor’s note: As the division previews get posted throughout the week, we’ll link to them at the bottom of the page. Read Danny’s thoughts on the AFC EAST, AFC SOUTH, AFC WEST, NFC EAST, NFC NORTHNFC SOUTH, and NFC West by clicking the appropriate link.)

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