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AFC North betting preview: Time for the new guard

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August 16th, 2021

The 2021 NFL season is nearly upon us. To get you primed for pro football, let’s break down what to expect from each team in the AFC North. 

AFC North 2021/2022

Sun, January 9 2022, 6:00 PM

Baltimore Ravens

+120

Cleveland Browns

+145

Pittsburgh Steelers

+450

Cincinnati Bengals

+2400

Baltimore Ravens

2020 record: 11-5
Key additions: Sammy Watkins (WR), Kevin Zeitler (G), Alejandro Villanueva (OT)
Key departures: Matt Judon (edge), Yannick Ngakoue (edge), Orlando Brown Jr. (OT)

The Ravens worked hard this offseason to bolster their offense around superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson. They added talent at wide receiver, with Sammy Watkins through free agency and Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace through the Draft.

The Ravens also added a guard and a tackle through free agency, who will start immediately, and another lineman through the Draft, who could make an impact this season.

It's clear Baltimore had clear goals going into 2021 — give Jackson some more targets, to go with Hollywood Brown and Mark Andrews, and strengthen an offensive line that allowed 32 sacks last year.

Baltimore is the favorite in this division for a reason, and Jackson is likely to return to MVP form after a disappointing season last year.

The big question mark for the Ravens will be on the defensive end, after they lost multiple key pieces without a ton of new replacements.

Cleveland Browns

2020 record: 11-5
Key additions: John Johnson III (S), Jadeveon Clowney (edge), Anthony Walker Jr. (LB)
Key departures: Sheldon Richardson (DT), Terrance Mitchell (CB), Larry Ogunjobi (DT)

The Browns finally returned to the playoffs in 2021, after a long absence. They spent years rebuilding the offense, on a quest for the right pieces and the right quarterback. They finally found the right combination, with Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and more.

However, the defense still needed some more fine tuning for the Browns to become a serious contender. They went out and did just that this offseason. The Browns added Jadeveon Clowney to go opposite superstar Myles Garrett and shored up the middle of the defense, with a new starting defensive tackle, middle linebacker, and safety.

They also added a new cornerback, Greg Newsome, with their first-round draft pick. The 22nd-ranked passing defense last season will have a much better pass rush and coverage to help improve that number.

Cleveland has not won this division since its creation, in 2002. This is the year for the Browns to make a run, with an improved defense and a more experienced offense.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2020 record: 12-4
Key additions: Najee Harris (RB), Pat Freiermuth (TE), Joe Haeg (OT)
Key departures: Bud Dupree (edge), Maurkice Pouncey (C), Alejandro Villanueva (OT)

The defending divisional champions had a rough offseason.

Future hall of fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lost his starting center, left tackle, and running back from last season. The defense lost two starters, including former Pro Bowler Bud Dupree.

The Steelers added some key players through the Draft, but all signs point toward a rebuilding year. Big Ben still has receiving talent around him, but with a lack of an offensive line and a less-than-stellar defense, it may not matter.

The new guard is ready to take over in the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals

2020 record: 4-11-1
Key additions: Ja'Marr Chase (WR), Riley Reiff (OT), Chidobe Awuzie (CB)
Key departures: A.J. Green (WR), Geno Atkins (DT), Carl Lawson (edge)

If this was 2014, the Bengals' departures would be concerning, but it is 2021, and the franchise knew it needed to move on from declining superstars.

The first-round pick of Ja’Marr Chase gave quarterback Joe Burrow his old LSU teammate, who was considered better than Justin Jefferson in college. The Bengals also got an important tackle through free agency, Riley Reiff, who will give the young quarterback some extra protection.

Cincinnati is an extreme longshot to win the division, but the Bengals are making strides in the right direction.

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