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According to Oddsmakers, AFC North is Pittsburgh’s to Lose

Prior to the 2017 NFL season, my headline for this article was “Can anyone catch the Steelers in the AFC North?” Through seven weeks of action, it appears the correct answer to that question is a simple “No.”

Sitting pretty with a solid 5-2 SU record, the black and gold have been tabbed as massive -1400 favorites to garner the division banner at Bovada. Prior to Week 1, they were -150. Such is life when you share a division with the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

The Ravens (+1000) and Bengals (+1200) are long shots to upset the Steelers, and the Browns aren’t even available to wager on at this point thanks to their 0-7 SU record. While Cleveland is once again out of the mix, Baltimore (3-4) and Cincinnati (2-4) can still make a run but they’ll have to turn things around in a hurry.

Pittsburgh looked vulnerable a few weeks ago when Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions against a stellar Jacksonville defense, but the Steelers have rebounded since then and appear to be back on track in the wake of convincing wins over the Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs.

The Ravens are a mess on offense and have been up and down on defense, while the Bengals have looked better after a terrible start but don’t have the weapons to match up against the top teams in the conference. Anything can happen in the NFL and it’s certainly been a weird year so far, but it’s a big risk to bet on either of these squads as of now.

Odds to Win 2017 AFC North Division
Pittsburgh Steelers-1400
Baltimore Ravens+1000
Cincinnati Bengals+1200

Odds as of October 25 at Bovada

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Unlike other divisions in the NFL *cough* AFC East *cough*, the AFC North is perennially a toss-up. Since 2007, only the Pittsburgh Steelers in ’07 and ’08 and Baltimore Ravens in ’11 and ’12 have claimed the banner in back-to-back campaigns. According to oddsmakers, that’s likely to happen again in 2017.

At Bovada, the Steelers are -150 favorites to win the North, with the Bengals (+300), Ravens (+350) and Cleveland Browns (+2500) all trailing the black and gold.

Fresh off a run to the AFC championship game, the Steelers are primed to get back to the promised land once again this season. Led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers offense is downright terrifying and has the potential to carry them on any given night. The defense is no slouch either, as the young core in place has transformed them into a top-10 unit in the league with a bright future. They deserve the favorite label.

After winning the Super Bowl in 2012, the Ravens have been largely mediocre and haven’t made the playoffs in two years. It’s the first time since 2005 that the franchise has failed to reach the postseason in consecutive seasons and the first time since 1999 that the team has gone two years in a row without posting a winning record.

Not all is lost, though, as the Ravens had a solid offseason thanks to the defensive additions of ex-Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson and ex-Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr. On offense, Danny Woodhead was brought in to strengthen the backfield and Jeremy Maclin, widely perceived as the best wide receiver on the free-agent market, was signed to become the new No. 1 pass catcher in Maryland. The Ravens will be better than they were in recent years, but it’s going to be tough for them to catch the mighty Steelers.

Many people around the league think the Bengals’ window is closing, and it’s an easy argument to make. The 2016 season was a nightmare for Cincy fans, as the team bumbled and stumbled its way to a 6-9-1 record. It’s been 26 years since the Bengals won a playoff game – a trend that’s clearly weighing heavily on the franchise and its quarterback and leader, Andy Dalton.

Staying healthy has been a major issue for the club over the last few campaigns and they’ll need all hands on deck to make a run at the AFC North crown in 2016. If the Bengals can learn how to win the close games (they went 1-5-1 in contests decided by seven points or less a year ago), they’ll remain competitive, at least for now.

As for the Browns? Hey, at least they didn’t go winless. Cleveland hasn’t had a winning record since 2007 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 1994. Such is life in the Factory of Sadness. For the first time in a while, the squad is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Hue Jackson is a solid coach with a lot of patience and the Browns made three picks in the first round of the NFL draft, including the consensus best player available, Myles Garrett. Don’t expect Cleveland to become a threat in the AFC North in the near future, but don’t expect another one-win effort either.

Odds to Win 2017 AFC North Division
Pittsburgh Steelers-150
Cincinnati Bengals+300
Baltimore Ravens+350
Cleveland Browns+2500

Odds as of September 1 at Bovada

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Play within the AFC North has not been especially fantastic this season, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have done enough to cement themselves as the favorites to win the division.

After eight weeks of play in the NFL, the Steelers are -200 faves to win the AFC North. Pittsburgh, at 4-3, currently has the only winning record in the division. The remaining schedule looks pretty easy for the Steelers, as they play only two teams with a winning record in their final nine games, which include two against the godawful Cleveland Browns.

The Cincinnati Bengals sit second in the standings (3-4-1) and the odds (+300). The Bengals’ wins have come against teams with a combined 6-17 record while their losses have come against teams with a combined 23-7 mark. If the Bengals could just start scoring points, they would be a tough opponent, as they have the fifth-ranked passing attack and sixth-ranked rushing attack, but are just 20th in points per game.

The Baltimore Ravens find themselves at 3-4 at the midseason mark with oddsmakers putting them at +450 to win the AFC North. The Ravens started the season 3-0 and have since lost four straight with quarterback Joe Flacco looking absolutely not elite. The only qualifying quarterbacks with a worse passer rating than Flacco are Ryan Fitzpatrick, Blaine Gabbert and Brock Osweiler. The defense continues to be great, but the offense kind of sucks.

Then there are the Browns. Yeah, we are halfway through the season and they’ve already been removed from oddsboards. Cleveland is the worst team in football and it’s not even a conversation.

2016 AFC North Odds

Odds as of November 2 at Bovada

  • Pittsburgh Steelers +200
  • Cincinnati Bengals +300
  • Baltimore Ravens +450

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The AFC North is always a dog fight, and the race to become division champion in the 2016 NFL campaign will be no different.

It’s a three-way race for supremacy according to oddsmakers, as the Pittsburgh Steelers (+120), Cincinnati Bengals (+180) and Baltimore Ravens (+300) are the frontrunners at Bovada. The lowly Cleveland Browns are once again on the outside looking in at +2000. Hey, at least Johnny Football is out of town!

Unlike other divisions that feature perennially dominant teams, the AFC North has been extremely tough to predict in recent years. The Bengals won the banner in 2015 and 2013, while the Steelers represented the division in 2014. The Ravens towered over everyone in 2011 and 2012, the latter which culminated in a Super Bowl victory.

Like all top quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger is the key to the Steelers’ playoff chances. When Big Ben went down with a knee injury in 2015, Pittsburgh’s offense sputtered. In 11 games with Big Ben the Steelers threw 21 touchdowns, but without the veteran signal-caller they managed only five. The average passing yards per game fell from 358 with Roethlisberger to 177 with him on the sidelines.

The Bengals have a history of excelling in the regular season and crashing and burning in the playoffs, and the 2015 postseason was more of the same for Marvin Lewis’ crew. In the wake of Cincy’s Wild Card loss to the Steelers, the Bengals have now gone 25 consecutive seasons without a playoff win. They also became the first team in NFL history to lose five consecutive playoff games in the first-round.

Baltimore was down and out last year at 5-11, but they have a habit of bouncing back with ease. Injuries were a major factor for that putrid record, as 22 Ravens hit the injured reserve throughout the course of the campaign. Joe Flacco has established himself as a solid yet unspectacular quarterback and John Harbaugh is a top-tier head coach. Expect to see a different Baltimore team this time around.

2016 AFC North Odds

Odds as of August 10 at Bovada

  • Pittsburgh Steelers +120
  • Cincinnati Bengals +180
  • Baltimore Ravens +300
  • Cleveland Browns +2000