Futures Betting Primer for the 2018 NFL Season – AFC North

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NFL AFC North Futures - Pittsburgh Steelers

With the 2018 NFL regular season fast approaching – the first game of the year kicks off on Thursday, September 6 – it’s time for bettors to take a serious look at the futures betting market.

Anything can happen in one game, but over the course of a grueling 16-game campaign, the cream tends to rise to the top in this league. With that in mind, savvy bettors can take advantage of futures betting by pouncing on divisional title odds*, Super Bowl championship prospects, and a few fun proposition wagers based on player performance.

To help you sharpen your futures betting skills, we’ll be covering all eight of the NFL’s divisions, continuing with the AFC North.

*All odds and lines included in this page were provided by online sportsbook Bovada on August 07th, 2018.

Odds to Win AFC North& Super Bowl 53

Team Odds to Win AFC North Odds to Win Super Bowl 53
Pittsburgh Steelers -280 +1200
Baltimore Ravens +400 +4000
Cincinnati Bengals +1000 +10000
Cleveland Browns +1200 +7500

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a perennial playoff contender, and with three of the last four AFC North crowns on their collective mantle, it’s no surprise to see the Terrible Towels holding a big edge to win the North. But the Baltimore Ravens are usually lurking as a Wild Card team, while the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns both boast retooled rosters. You’ll find team capsules below for all four pieces of the AFC North puzzle below:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Odds: (-280) to win AFC North – (+1200) to win Super Bowl 53

2017 Results:

  • 13-3
  • AFC North Champions
  • Lost 45-42 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round

Key Additions:

  • S Morgan Burnett
  • LB Jon Bostic

Key Departures:

  • LB Ryan Shazier (Injury)
  • WR Martavis Bryant
  • S Mike Mitchell
  • CB William Gay

Top 5 Draft Picks:

  • S Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech (#28 overall)
  • WR James Washington, Oklahoma State (#60 overall)
  • QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State (#76 overall)
  • OT Chukwuma Okorafor, Western Michigan (#92 overall)
  • S Marcus Allen, Penn State (#148 overall)

Key Quote:

We all know Le’Veon is a competitor and he’s always highly conditioned. We know he’s going to be taking care of his body and be highly conditioned.
One thing about Le’Veon that makes him special is he takes this game seriously; there’s never a doubt about his (commitment) to the game. He’s physically ready.
I know when he walks into the building, when he shows up, you know what you’re going to get: you’re gonna get a guy ready to take 400, 500 carries, a guy who’s willing to run, to catch the ball, a guy who can do it all.

– WR Antonio Brown, on RB Le’Veon Bell’s second year sitting out training camp as part of a protracted contract holdout

2018 Schedule:

Week Date Opponent
1 Sep.9 @ Cleveland Browns
2 Sep. 16 vs Kansas City Chiefs
3 Sep. 23 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4 Sep. 30 vs Baltimore Ravens
5 Oct.7 vs Atlanta Falcons
6 Oct. 14 @ Cincinnati Bengals
8 Oct. 28 vs Cleveland Browns
9 Nov. 4 @ Baltimore Ravens
10 Nov. 08 vs Carolina Panthers
11 Nov. 18 @ Jacksonville Jaguars
12 Nov. 25 @ Denver Broncos
13 Dec. 2 vs Los Angeles Chargers
14 Dec. 09 @ Oakland Raiders
15 Dec. 16 vs New England Patriots
16 Dec. 23 @ New Orleans Saints
17 Dec. 30 vs Cincinnati Bengals

*(Opponents Went 122-134 in 2017 = T-25thMost DifficultSchedule)*

Aside from the Patriots in the AFC East, no team is more heavily favored to win their division than the Steelers.

And for good reason. Pittsburgh has topped the AFC North for the last two seasons, and three out of the last four. The team returns its vaunted three-headed offensive beast, with QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, and WR Antonio Brown fueling a 400+ point season in 2017 en route to a 13-3 record.

Combined with their typically stout defense, the Steelers were never challenged for the division crown last year, beating the Ravens by a 4-game spread. And from the looks of the betting board, Pittsburgh is likely to experience another easy path to the postseason.

Simply put, the Steelers are head and shoulders better than any of their three divisional rivals. They shouldn’t have much trouble at all banking that (-280) line for AFC North bettors, but the real drama lies in the team’s Super Bowl odds.

At (+1200) to win their third Lombardi Trophy of the Big Ben era (2004-), the Steelers hold the fourth best odds to win the Super Bowl. Roethlisberger won it all in 2005 and 2008, and he carried Pittsburgh to another Super Bowl appearance in 2010, when the Steelers lost to the Packers.

But one thing the veteran QB has failed to do during his storied career is beat the Patriots in the playoffs. Tom Brady outdueled Roethlisberger 41-27 way back in the 2004 AFC Championship game, and in 2016, the AFC title went to the Pats in a 36-17 romp.

Sufficed to say, backing the Steelers to win the Super Bowl is essentially a bet that they can finally slay the dragon known as New England. And that’s assuming Pittsburgh can even play its way into that fateful matchup.

Last season’s playoff run was cut short after just one game, as the upstart Jaguars survived a 15-round brawl to beat the Steelers 45-42 in the Divisional round. Jacksonville’s reward for the big win was, you guessed it, a date with the Pats in the AFC Championship game – so yet again, all roads go through New England in this conference.

Another interesting angle for Steelers bettors involves the team’s Win Total of 10.5 (+105 on Over / -135 on Under). That’s the second-highest Win Total in all of football behind – as you might’ve suspected – New England (11), but the (-135) line on the Under suggests bookmakers expect a significant regression in Pittsburgh this time around.

That may be due to the messy relationship between Bell and the team’s brass. With the electric RB sitting out his second straight training camp while seeking a contract extension, nobody can be certain which version of Bell will show up for Week 1.

Bell only managed to top 100 yards rushing on one occasion through Pittsburgh’s first 8 games last year, and twice his production failed to crack the 50-yard plateau. Of course, the dual threat did post a few gaudy receiving lines during that stretch, but the Steelers need Bell churning on the ground to get their offense in high gear.

But as the quote above makes clear, Brown and the rest of Bell’s teammates have his back. They fully expect the RB who flashed for 134-, 179-, and 144-yard games in the second-half of 2017 to return in full force, and for bettors that believe the same, pounding the Over on 10.5 wins only makes sense – especially given the team’s 25th-most difficult schedule.

Baltimore Ravens

Odds: (+400) to win AFC North – (+4000) to win Super Bowl 53

2017 Results:

  • 9-7
  • Missed the Playoffs (on tiebreakers)

Key Additions:

  • WR Michael Crabtree
  • WR John Brown
  • QB Robert Griffin III
  • TE Hayden Hurst

Key Departures:

  • OT Austin Howard
  • WR Jeremy Maclin
  • RB Danny Woodhead
  • S Lardarius Webb

Top 5 Draft Picks:

  • TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina (#25 overall)
  • QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville (#32 overall)
  • OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma (#83 overall)
  • TE Mark Andrews, Oklahoma (#86 overall)
  • CB Anthony Averett, Alabama (#118 overall)

Key Quote:

Does it matter what I say? You guys will probably link it to Lamar anyway.
I’m taking it as I always take it. I’m working hard.
Obviously everybody, whether they felt good or bad about [Lamar getting drafted], there was a certain feeling, and you can’t hide that.

– QB Joe Flacco, on he Ravens drafting QB Lamar Jackson in the 1st round, and how he feels about potentially being replaced down the road

2018 Schedule:

Week Date Opponent
1 Sep.9 vs Buffalo Bills
2 Sep. 13 @ Cincinnati Bengals
3 Sep. 23 vs Denver Broncos
4 Sep.30 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
5 Oct.7 @ Cleveland Browns
6 Oct. 14 @ Tennessee Titans
7 Oct. 21 vs New Orleans Saints
8 Oct. 28 @ Carolina Panthers
9 Nov. 4 vs Pittsburgh Steelers
11 Nov. 18 vs Cincinnati Bengals
12 Nov. 25 vs Oakland Raiders
13 Dec. 2 @ Atlanta Falcons
14 Dec. 9 @ Kansas City Chiefs
15 Dec. 16 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
16 Dec. 23 @ Los Angeles Chargers
17 Dec. 30 vs Cleveland Browns

*(Opponents Went 125-131 in 2017 = 21stMost DifficultSchedule)*

If the quote above from QB Joe Flacco is any indication, the Ravens could be in for quite the emotional roller coaster in 2018.

Flacco has been a stalwart signal-caller in Baltimore for the last 10 years, reaching the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, and capping that early run off with a Super Bowl MVP award in 2012. At that time, Flacco ranked among the best quarterbacks in the league, and the Ravens’ future appeared to be in safe hands.

But Baltimore has only been back to the playoffs once since then, losing to the Patriots in the 2014 Divisional round. And over the last three seasons, Flacco has led the Ravens to a middling 22-26 record, including a 9-7 run last year that wasn’t enough to make the postseason dance.

All things considered, Flacco’s age and disturbing lack of production in 2017 combined to force the front office’s hand. Baltimore used the last pick of the 1st round in the most recent Draft to select Flacco’s heir apparent, playmaking QB Lamar Jackson out of Louisville.

Flacco and Jackson couldn’t be more different in terms of style, with the veteran opting for a dropback, standup, and fire passing routine, while the rookie likes to scramble and throw on the run. Those abilities led Jackson to the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2016, and if Flacco isn’t careful, Jackson could easily be anointed the new starter at some point this year.

With all of that going on, it’s no wonder a typically talented Ravens team is just (+400) to win the North for the first time since 2012. But all Baltimore divisional backers need to score on those juicy odds is a slip-up from Pittsburgh, which very well could be in the cards considering Roethlisberger’s advanced age and injury history.

And the last time Baltimore won the North, they steamrolled to a Super Bowl win, so why not sandwich a (+400) longshot on the division with a (+4000) flier on another title?

Well, because the bookies expect Baltimore to be a .500 team at best, based on their Win Total of 8 (-140 on Over / +110 on Under) anyway. Sure, the lines do lean towards the Over, but a Win Total of 8 is far from encouraging for a team that went 9-7 last year.

If you suspect Jackson’s selection suggests Flacco’s time with the Ravens is ticking away, grabbing the (+110) on the Under could be a savvy play. After all, switching quarterbacks midstream doesn’t tend to work out well in any circumstances, and rookie signal-callers usually struggle.

Cincinnati Bengals

Odds: (+1000) to win AFC North – (+10000) to win Super Bowl 53

2017 Results:

  • 7-9
  • Missed the Playoffs

Key Additions:

  • LB Preston Brown
  • LT Cordy Glenn
  • DT Chris Baker

Key Departures:

  • CB Adam Jones
  • C Russell Bodine
  • LB Vontaze Burfict (4-game suspension)

Top 5 Draft Picks:

  • C Billy Price, Ohio State (#21 overall)
  • S Jesse Bates III, Wake Forest (#54 overall)
  • DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State (#77 overall)
  • OLB Malik Jefferson, Texas (#78 overall)
  • RB Mark Walton, Miami (#112 overall)

Key Quote:

He looks good. Completely different than he did last year. You can tell he worked hard. It looks like he’s getting back to where he was. He looks smooth. Everyone knew he was fast, but he’s not just a straight-line guy. He can stop and go. He’s got some shiftiness to him.
Last year he was trying to learn and rehab his shoulder at the same time. But seeing it on paper and actually going out and doing it are two completely different things.
Now that he’s had an offseason to get healthy, you can tell. He’s catching the ball really well. He’s going up and getting it the little we’ve done so far.

– QB Andy Dalton, on second-year WR John Ross improving after injuries impacted the 2017 Draft’s 9th overall pick in his rookie season

2018 Schedule:

Week Date Opponent
1 Sep. 9 @ Indianapolis Colts
2 Sep. 13 vs Baltimore Ravens
3 Sep. 23 @ Carolina Panthers
4 Sep.30 @ Atlanta Falcons
5 Oct.7 vs Miami Dolphins
6 Oct. 14 vs Pittsburgh Steelers
7 Oct. 21 @ Kansas City Chiefs
8 Oct. 28 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
10 Nov. 11 @ New Orleans Saints
11 Nov. 18 @ Baltimore Ravens
12 Nov. 25 vs Cleveland Browns
13 Dec. 2 vs Denver Broncos
14 Dec. 9 @ Los Angeles Chargers
15 Dec. 16 vs Oakland Raiders
16 Dec. 23 @ Cleveland Browns
17 Dec. 30 @ Pittsburgh Steelers

*(Opponents Went 121-135 in 2017 = T-29thMost DifficultSchedule)*

The only good thing going on in Cincinnati is the team’s light schedule, which ranks as the 29th-most difficult in the league.

A steady diet of doormats like the Browns (2x), Buccaneers, and Broncos could be enough for the Bengals to feast, but don’t count on it. Cincinnati won at least 10 games from 2011 through 2015, but head coach Marvin Lewis failed to capitalize on any of those chances, reeling off a disastrous 0-7 record in playoff games.

In fact, the Bengals haven’t notched a playoff victory since 1990, meaning very few of the players on today’s roster were even alive when Cincinnati last experienced postseason success.

And despite his 14-year tenure on the sidelines, Lewis appears to have lost this Bengals team for good. After going 12-4 in 2016 – only to let the Steelers escape the Wild Card round despite scoring nothing but field goals in a crushing 18-16 loss – Lewis has presided over 6-9-1 and 7-9 seasons the last two years.

QB Andy Dalton had his worst year as a pro since his rookie run too, further compounding worries about the Bengals. He seems optimistic about second-year wideout John Ross, as shown in the quote above, but Ross can’t catch ‘em if Dalton and his 59.9 percent accuracy rate from 2017 return.

All in all, passing on the Bengals’ divisional and Super Bowl chances seems like a lock. And conveniently enough, their Win Total of 6.5 (-145 on Over / +115 on Under) perfectly straddles the line between Cincinnati’s last two seasons of futility.

Cleveland Browns

Odds: (+1200) to win AFC North – (+7500) to win Super Bowl 53

2017 Results:

  • 0-16
  • Missed the Playoffs
  • Second 0-16 season in NFL History

Key Additions:

  • QB Tyrod Taylor
  • WR Jarvis Landry
  • RB Carlos Hyde
  • OT Chris Hubbard
  • CB T.J. Carrie

Key Departures:

  • WR Corey Coleman
  • DB Corey White
  • CB Jamar Taylor

Top 5 Draft Picks:

  • QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (#1 overall)
  • CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State (#4 overall)
  • OL Austin Corbett, Nevada (#33 overall)
  • RB Nick Chubb, Georgia (#35 overall)
  • DEChad Thomas, Miami (#67 overall)

Key Quote:

They’re getting a winner. They’re getting somebody that’s gonna turn that franchise around.
They’re getting somebody that no matter what happens, no matter what anybody else on the outside thinks of that franchise, I’m gonna put belief and I’m gonna put new life into that. And I’ll do everything I can to win and everything for my team and the coaching staff.
They’re gonna get the biggest competitor they’ve ever seen. That’s what I brought to OU, and that’s always been what I believe in.

– QB Baker Mayfield, on what the Browns would be getting if they took him as the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft

2018 Schedule:

Week Date Opponent
1 Sep. 9 vs Pittsburgh Steelers
2 Sep. 16 @ New Orleans Saints
3 Sep. 20 vs New York Jets
4 Sep.30 @ Oakland Raiders
5 Oct. 7 vs Baltimore Ravens
6 Oct. 14 vs Los Angeles Chargers
7 Oct. 21 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8 Oct. 28 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
9 Nov. 4 vs Kansas City Chiefs
10 Nov. 11 vs Atlanta Falcons
11 BYE
12 Nov. 25 @ Cincinnati Bengals
13 Dec. 2 @ Houston Texans
14 Dec. 9 vs Carolina Panthers
15 Dec. 16 @ Denver Broncos
16 Dec. 23 vs Cincinnati Bengals
17 Dec. 30 @ Baltimore Ravens

*(Opponents Went 134-122 in 2017 = T-5thMost DifficultSchedule)*

Bettors interested in the Browns can get their best look at the team through HBO’s hit series “Hard Knocks,” which chronicles Cleveland’s 2018 training camp.

And if you do, you’ll find a rejuvenated franchise ready to turn the corner on 2017’s infamous 0-16 debacle. Only two NFL teams have ever finished the season without a single win, and naturally, the star-crossed Browns are now one them (along with the 2008 Lions).

But it’s a new year, and Cleveland’s aggressive front office has churned the roster in a major way. They essentially had four picks in the 1st round, snagging four of the top-35 picks in this year’s draft – led by QB Baker Mayfield.

He might not be ready for the big stage just yet, but nobody’s told Mayfield that, as the quote above makes eminently clear. In the meantime, Cleveland will roll with QB Tyrod Taylor, who has a fancy new toy to play with in slot receiving speedster Jarvis Landry.

The optimism is real in the Dawg Pound, and while the (+1200) and (+7500) lines to win the North and the Super Bowl, respectively, are nothing but a lark – bettors should take a peek at their Win Total of 5.5 (-150 on Over / +120 on Under).

Jumping from exactly zero wins to 6 may seem like a leap of faith, but the heavy (-150) lean suggests that oddsmakers see something in the 2018 Browns that most casual fans can’t.

Is this the season the lowly Browns turn the corner? If recent history is any indication, I wouldn’t bet on it. But can the Steelers stay on top? Only time will tell.

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