Ravens Can Reach New Heights in AFC North

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We continue our profile of every NFL division ahead of the planned kick-off in September. Today it's the turn of the AFC North.

Lamar Jackson runs with the ball in an NFL game

The Baltimore Ravens strolled to a second consecutive AFC North title last season with a 14-2 record and the status quo looks unlikely to change in the division, despite improvements by all three of their rivals.

The Ravens are 1/2* favourites to retain their divisional crown and will expect to finish top of the pile as they set their sights on Super Bowl glory. Led by last year’s MVP Lamar Jackson, Baltimore look formidable but the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns will both expect to run John Harbaugh’s men a bit closer this time around.

The Cincinnati Bengals, who went 2-14 last term, are likely to prop up the rest of the division again but could prove to be the wildcard in the AFC North after drafting quarterback Joe Burrow with the first pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

Baltimore Ravens

The 2019 regular season couldn’t have gone much better for Baltimore as they swept nearly all before, grabbing the AFC’s No.1 seed as they eased into the play-offs. In the biggest shock of the season, they then lost to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round but all the pieces are there for another run at the Super Bowl.

The Ravens are 7/1 to win the Lombardi Trophy with quarterback Jackson set to be the star of the show once again and priced at 6/1 to retain his MVP prize.

In his first year as a starter, Jackson was the focal point of the highest-scoring offense in the NFL, helping the Ravens top the rushing standings, alongside running-back Mark Ingram III.

Baltimore have added to Jackson’s options by drafting running-back J. K. Dobbins and wide receiver Devin Duvernary, while restocking on the offensive line following the departure of star guard Marshal Yanda.

Despite their defence ranking fourth last year, Baltimore have added Calais Campbell in the hope of increasing their sack count and look extremely dangerous on both sides of the ball.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers 2019 season was ruined in game one when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down injured and they struggled to 8-8, narrowly missing the play-offs after a remarkable effort by their defence.

Even with Roethlisberger back fit, the defence is still likely to be the star of the show with Pittsburgh keeping all the key pieces that saw them ranked first in sacks and interceptions last year. Bud Dupree re-signing was the biggest story of their off-season.

On offense, the addition of tight-end Eric Ebron and a few nice college prospects from the draft will see Pittsburgh raise their game and they should feature in the play-off race again, while they are 7/2 to win the AFC North.

Cleveland Browns

Last year was a huge disappointment for the Browns, who went 6-10, and 2020 looks a make-or-break campaign for this star-studded roster with a particular focus on quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Entering his third season in the NFL, Mayfield has plenty of weapons at his disposal, most notably Odell Beckham Jr, and the Browns addressed the QB’s protection by drafting tackle Jedrick Wills in the first round.

The big question now is whether Mayfield can consistently deliver on the potential he has shown in flashes since drafted No.1 overall in 2018.

On defence, the Browns needed to address stopping the run but still look to have problems at linebacker, although they appear well-stocked elsewhere.

With first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski now in the hot seat, Cleveland could be the team which makes the biggest leap forward in the AFC North and are 11/2 to win the division.

Cincinnati Bengals

Zac Taylor’s first year as head coach of the Bengals couldn’t have gone much worse, losing key players to injury and inheriting a squad in need of dismantling.

However, with Burrow now on board, fresh from an incredible college season with LSU, there appears to be light at the end of a very long tunnel for the Bengals.

Burrow should be able to call upon star wide receiver AJ Green after he missed the whole of last season, while Tee Higgins has the potential to be the offensive rookie of the year.

While improving the offense in the draft, the Bengals spent big on defence in free agency, bringing in the likes of Vonn Bell, Trae Waynes and D. J. Reader to improve a defence that was far too easy to score upon last year.

Cincinnati are at the start of a long-term rebuild but at least can hope for a few more wins this season.

Read more from our NFL tipster when he looks over the AFC South division.

*All odds correct at time of writing

Chris is broadcast and written journalist with a wealth of experience, across a number of different sports. As well covering football on the radio, he is a regular online and print contributor on the likes of rugby union, American Football and Formula One.
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