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NFL 2018: AFC North Sports Betting & DFS Preview

The NFL is back and that means NFL DFS and sports betting is back! We’ve got a full series of previews for each division to ready you for the upcoming season.

As has been the case over the past decade, the AFC North should be led by the Pittsburgh Steelers and their rivals, the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers have a largely unchanged roster led by a handful of elite skill players and the Ravens are on the rise in terms of offensive personnel. The Cleveland Browns have seriously reloaded their personnel on both sides of the ball and may actually be more competitive than the Cincinnati Bengals, who could be looking at a last place finish.

Let’s take a closer look at each team’s chances this year and the fantasy implications of their offseason moves.

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Pittsburgh Steelers

Season Win Total: 10.5
Conference Odds: 11/2
Super Bowl Odds: 10/1
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Key player losses

Martavis Bryant

Draft picks

Terrell Edmunds, S
James Washington, WR
Mason Rudolph, QB
Chukwuma Okorafor, OT
Marcus Allen, S
Jaylen Samuels, RB
Joshua Frazier, DT

DFS relevant players

Le’Veon Bell
Antonio Brown
Ben Roethlisberger
JuJu Smith-Schuster
James Washington

Parting thoughts

The Steelers bring back their core offensive unit, which features arguably the best RB and best WR in football. Le’Veon Bell has led the NFL in carries in three of the last four seasons while Antonio Brown has finished as the top WR in PPR formats four years running.

Pittsburgh moved to more of a pass-heavy approach in 2017, finishing sixth in passing attempts and ninth in play volume rank. Brown is sure to draw double teams at times, which will allow JuJu Smith-Schuster to build on his breakout rookie season and 2017 Biletnikoff winner James Washington to carve out a role in the absence of mercurial WR Martavis Bryant.

As the only ostensible rivals to the Patriots in the AFC, the Steelers have a good chance to win a conference title. However, they went 8-2 in one-score games last season and could be due for negative regression. Betting on a Pittsburgh team that’s shown inconsistent effort in recent seasons to win 11 games seems a bit of a shaky proposition.


Baltimore Ravens

Season Win Total: 8
Conference Odds: 16/1
Super Bowl Odds: 40/1
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Key player additions

Michael Crabtree
John Brown
Willie Snead

Key player losses

Jeremy Maclin
Mike Wallace

Draft picks

Lamar Jackson, QB
Hayden Hurst, TE
Orlando Brown, OT
Mark Andrews, TE
Anthony Averett, CB
Kenny Young, LB
Jaleel Scott, WR
Jordan Lasley, WR
DeShon Elliott, S
Greg Senat, OT
Bradley Bozeman, C
Zach Sieler, DE

DFS relevant players

Alex Collins
Michael Crabtree
John Brown
Lamar Jackson
Javorius Allen

Parting thoughts

The Ravens shook up their entire receiving corps in a move that may have been correlated to drafting highly athletic QB Lamar Jackson. For now, veteran Joe Flacco seems to be holding off Jackson, yet he’s been a pedestrian passer with diminishing yards per attempt in four successive years.

Jackson has the potential to take the league by storm like DeShaun Watson did last year, and if he takes over the job, we could see a rise in the stock of interior receivers Willie Snead and rookie Hayden Hurst. Now, Michael Crabtree secured 13 red-zone TDs in three years with the Raiders and has converted 42.2 percent of career targets inside the 10 into scores. His stock may take a slight hit if Jackson wins the job, but he’s a strong candidate to lead the Ravens in red-zone targets based on the skill sets of John Brown and Snead.

Alex Collins emerged as the undisputed lead dog in Baltimore’s backfield by averaging 95.6 scrimmage yards over his final five appearances last year. He should handle early-down work with Javorius “Buck” Allen soaking up third downs and seeing spikes in usage when the Ravens fall behind.

A franchise with great pedigree and one of the better head coaches around in John Harbaugh, the Ravens are fully capable of winning eight or more games and potentially making the playoffs. This group of receivers is far more dangerous than what Flacco was working with last year. Finally, if Jackson takes over, Baltimore could be very exciting on offense to go along with a perennially strong defense.


Cincinnati Bengals

Season Win Total: 6.5
Conference Odds: 40/1
Super Bowl Odds: 100/1
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Key player losses

Jeremy Hill

Draft picks

Billy Price, C
Jessie Bates III, S
Sam Hubbard, DE
Malik Jefferson, LB
Mark Walton, RB
Davontae Harris, CB
Andrew Brown, DT
Darius Philips, CB
Logan Woodside, QB
Rod Taylor, OL
Auden Tate, WR

DFS relevant players

A.J. Green
Joe Mixon
Tyler Eifert
Andy Dalton
Gio Bernard

Parting thoughts

Cincinnati finished dead last in play volume last season and did almost nothing to upgrade its offensive weaponry this season. Jeremy Hill is gone, opening the door for second-year RB Joe Mixon to carry the mail. Yet the Bengals face the third-toughest schedule for RBs this season, and Mixon was underwhelming with a 3.52 YPC average last season. He could lose work to Giovani Bernard if his struggles continue, and Bernard is likely the superior option in PPR formats.

A.J. Green remains the prized piece of the Bengals’ offense with little-to-no-help from his secondary receivers. John Ross, Tyler Boyd and second-year man Josh Malone will look to step up opposite Green, but none can be trusted to draw double coverage away from Andy Dalton’s favorite target. Should Tyler Eifert (back, ankle) manage anything close to a full season, the Bengals’ passing game would see a decent spike in production with Green earning more looks at single coverage.

The Bengals’ win total is low at 6.5, but they could start with four consecutive losses as WLB Vontaze Burfict suffers his suspension, and they have tough draws (at Indianapolis, vs. Baltimore, at Carolina, at Atlanta) to open the season. The rest of the AFC North is improved with the Browns showing potential signs of life. Cincy will also have to face the staunch defenses of the AFC West. This seems more like a five- or six-win team in 2018.


Cleveland Browns

Season Win Total: 5.5
Conference Odds: 28/1
Super Bowl Odds: 66/1
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Key player additions

Jarvis Landry
Tyrod Taylor
Carlos Hyde

Key player losses

Isaiah Crowell
Terrelle Pryor
Corey Coleman

Draft picks

Baker Mayfield, QB
Denzel Ward, CB
Austin Corbett, OT
Nick Chubb, RB
Chad Thomas, DE
Antonio Callaway, WR
Genard Avery, LB
Damion Ratley, WR
Simeon Thomas, CB

DFS relevant players

Jarvis Landry
Carlos Hyde
Josh Gordon
Tyrod Taylor
Duke Johnson

Parting thoughts

Browns head coach Hue Jackson got his man in Tyrod Taylor, and he’s steadfast in his commitment to start the former Bills QB all season while No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield gets acclimated.

Taylor is a serious upgrade over DeShone Kizer, and the Browns’ offense stands to be one of the most improved in the NFL with slot maven Jarvis Landry joining the fold. Landry led the NFL with 112 catches last season and will continue to play with a chip on his shoulder as he leaves an aggravating situation in Miami.

Josh Gordon reported late to training camp and is apparently dealing with a hamstring injury. When he’s on the field, Gordon has top 10 WR talent, but he’s a bit of an unknown at this point. Should he suit up for Week 1, he’d provide the perfect downfield compliment with Landry dominating interior targets. The Browns reportedly offered Dez Bryant about a one-year contract of less than $5 million, but the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement. Cleveland seems ready to move on with Gordon back in the mix.

Then, Carlos Hyde is a volume-dependent RB with a shaky outlook on a team that could still have the weakest defense in the NFL. Rookie Nick Chubb is a bit of a redundant talent between the tackles, and both RBs could become weak options if the Browns play from behind and use third-down back Duke Johnson often.

With just four total wins over the last three seasons, the Browns seem like a longshot to win six games in 2018. Yet their odds to win the AFC and even the Super Bowl have spiked, indicating the popularity of betting on a bounce-back effort from the maligned franchise. That still seems like fool’s gold with only a pair of relatively easy games (against New York Jets and at Tampa Bay) on their non-division schedule. Winning five games would be enough of a victory for Cleveland, and that number is quite possibly where the Browns will land.


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