As the most popular pro sport in America, the NFL makes news 365 days a year. For the first time since 1978, when the slate went from 14 to 16 games, the NFL lengthened the regular season again this year. The 2021 NFL schedule was released on May 12 and all 32 teams will play 17 games during the 18-week season. That means NFL fans get an added week of NFL betting and fantasy football. It will also affect win total wagering.
Week 1 opens with Dallas visiting defending NFL champion Tampa Bay on September 9. The week ends with Las Vegas hosting Baltimore in the Monday Night Football fight. Regular season action concludes with Seattle visiting Arizona on Jan. 9, 2022. Wild Card Weekend, Divisional Round playoffs, and Conference Championship Sunday follow. The season ends with Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022, at SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, Cali.
AFC North Division Futures Odds
Based on total wins, the AFC North was the most competitive division in the NFL last season. The four teams finished with a combined 38–25–1 record, which was two wins better than the 36–28 record posted by NFC West squads. The AFC North was also home to three of the seven AFC playoff teams. Pittsburgh (12–4) won the division, for the fourth time in seven years, but will they repeat with aging QB Ben Roethlisberger? Will Baltimore and Cleveland improve on their 11–5 records? Will Cincinnati (4–11–1) post their first winning record since the 2015 season? Let’s break down the AFC North.
With Offseason Team Activities (OTA) underway, sportsbooks have posted a variety of betting options for the 2021-22 NFL season. The list includes odds to win the AFC North Division regular season title and team win total prices. Bookmakers at FanDuel sportsbook are projecting a changing of the guard this season. The Ravens (+115) and Browns (+145) are currently the top two favorites to win the division. Prices are inflated after that, as the Steelers (+440) are slightly surprising as third. The Bengals (+2300) are forecast to finish last in the AFC North for a fourth straight year.
Baltimore won the AFC North the previous two seasons and the Ravens added new weapons on offense for QB Lamar Jackson. After finishing last overall, with just 182.4 pass yards per game, Baltimore stocked up on wide receivers during the offseason. Cleveland, one of just four teams that have never played in the Super Bowl, is looking to win AFC North for the first time in franchise history. The Browns’ last regular-season championship was way back in 1989 when they played in the AFC Central Division. The Browns were focused on adding pieces to their defense during the offseason.
Pittsburgh being listed as third favorites, with a generous moneyline price, looks like it may be a trap. The Steelers have a huge nationwide fan base and “public bettors” wager on them heavily throughout the season. Cincinnati is hoping second-year QB Joe Burrow returns to full health after he suffered a season-ending knee injury during Week 11 last year. The Bengals division-wining price is the second-highest behind the Texans’ +2700 odds to win the AFC South. While tempted to take the bait, and bet on Pittsburgh, I will take the plus moneyline and back Baltimore as AFC North champs.
AFC North Champion Prediction: Baltimore Ravens (+115) moneyline
We track our preseason picks and publish hedge betting advice during the regular season when warranted. SI premium subscribers receive betting plays, updates, and articles as soon as they are published.
Want even more NFL betting picks and analysis? Become an SI PRO member today and gain access to our exclusive Discord chat for premium plays in real-time!
Baltimore Ravens – AFC North Win Total Futures
After going through three distinct streaks, Baltimore finished second after winning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Cleveland. The Ravens opened with a 5–2 record, prior to battling COVID-19 issues during a 1–4 losing streak. Baltimore closed the season with five straight wins against teams that finished with a combined 28-51-1 record. Following a 20–13 Wild Card playoff win against Tennessee, the Ravens lost 17–3 to Buffalo in the Divisional round.
Entering his fourth season, QB Lamar Jackson regressed somewhat last season as his passing yards total dropped from 3,127 to 2,757. His touchdown passes also went down (36 to 26) and his interceptions (6 to 9) went up. The Ravens selected WR Rashod Bateman with their first pick (27th OA) in the 2021 NFL Draft. They also added free agent WR Sammy Watkins who will line up opposite Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. A 10–7 record will likely win the division.
Key Players Resigned: ILB Chris Board, OLB Tyus Bowser, TE Nick Boyle
Key Additions: WR Sammy Watkins, TE Josh Oliver, G Kevin Zeitler
Key Departures: WR Willie Snead, DE Yannick Ngakoue, DE Jihad Ward
Key 2021 Draft Picks: WR Rashod Bateman, DE Odafe Oweh, OG Ben Cleveland
Baltimore Ravens Win Total Prediction: UNDER 11.0 (-120) wins
Cleveland Browns – AFC North Win Total Futures
Prior to posting an 11–5 record last season, the Browns went 51–140–1 during 12 straight losing seasons. Continuously bogged-down by personnel turnover, including seven different General Managers, plus nine head coaches, the perpetual rebuild in Cleveland finally produced a winning record. You can add 10 starting quarterbacks to the turmoil the Browns have been going through since the start of the 2008 season.
Baker Mayfield enters his fourth NFL season with Cleveland. While his 2019 statistics didn’t set a very high bar, Mayfield posted improved number across the board. Most notable, his interceptions dropped from 21 in 2019 to just eight last season. Cleveland is hoping WR Odell Beckham returns to form after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 7. Cleveland enters the season with a solid core on offense and defense.
Key Players Resigned: WR Rashard Higgins, OLB Malcolm Smith, PK Cody Parkey
Key Additions: SS John Johnson, DE Takkarist McKinley, DT Malik Jackson
Key Departures: SS Karl Joseph, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Tavierre Thomas
Key Draft Picks: CB Greg Newsome II, WR Anthony Schwartz, OT James Hudson
Cleveland Browns Win Total Prediction: UNDER 10.5 (-115) wins
Pittsburgh Steelers – AFC North Win Total Futures
Pittsburgh had a hot start as they opened the 2020 NFL campaign with a 12-game winning streak. COVID-19 related scheduling issues impacted the Steelers after that, and they lost four of their final five games. Pittsburgh clinched the AFC North title with a win against Indianapolis in Week 16. They lost 48–37 to archrival Cleveland in the AFC Wild Card playoffs. Pittsburgh focused on improving their offense during the draft.
The Steelers finished last with a meager 84.4 rushing yards per game last year. It was the third straight season Pittsburgh had a bottom-five rushing offense. After four seasons in Pittsburgh, RB James Connor joined Arizona as a free agent. Filling the gap, the Steelers selected Alabama Crimson Tide star RB Najee Harris with the 24th pick in the first round. I am betting on Big Ben producing at least one more solid season.
Key Players Resigned: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, FS Sean Davis, IDL Tyson Alualu
Key Additions: OT Joe Haeg, S Miles Killebrew, C B.J. Finley
Key Departures: RB James Connor, EDGE Bud Dupree, CB Mike Hilton
Key 2021 Draft Picks: RB Najee Harris, TE Pat Freiermuth, OG Kendrick Green
Pittsburgh Steelers Win Total Prediction: OVER 8.5 (-105) wins
Cincinnati Bengals – AFC North Win Total Futures
A new era began in Cincinnati last year as rookie QB Joe Burrow made his NFL debut. Selected first overall, during the 2020 NFL Draft, the former LSU Tigers star played as advertised. Borrow posted 2,688 passing yard, with 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He added 144 rushing yards, and three scores, prior to tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 11. Burrow has been participating in the Bengals’ OTA passing drills.
RB Joe Mixon was another key player to miss time as he sat out the final ten games due to a foot injury. Mixon has been a full participant during the Bengals’ OTAs as well. Reuniting with his former LSU quarterback, Cincinnati selected WR Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth overall pick in the draft. The Bengals have the talent to be an explosive offense this season. With a lean towards OVER, I am passing on the Bengals’ win total odds.
Key Players Resigned: QB Brandon Allen, LS Clark Harris, RB Samaje Perine
Key Additions: RT Riley Reiff, CB Chidobe Awuzie, DE Trey Hendrickson
Key Departures: RB Giovani Bernard, WR John Ross, PK Randy Bullock,
Key 2021 Draft Picks: WR Ja’Marr Chase, OT Jackson Carman, DE Joseph Ossai
Cincinnati Bengals Win Total Prediction: PASS
More NFL Betting from Sports Illustrated