2021 NFL: AFC North Division Preview

by Sean Murphy

In the second installment of our series of NFL division previews, we take a look at the AFC North, which promises to be one of the most competitive divisions in football. Here's a quick look at what to expect from each division.

Odds to win (courtesy of BetOnline)

Baltimore Ravens +110
Cleveland Browns +140
Pittsburgh Steelers +370
Cincinnati Bengals +2300

Baltimore Ravens

The hope heading into 2021 is that Baltimore can get more from its passing game with the additions of wide receivers Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman. I'm not holding my breath. We can expect to see the Ravens continue to focus on moving the football with their dynamic ground attack with running back J.K. Dobbins primed for a big season after running for just shy of 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. Lamar Jackson has been a monster in the regular season and there's little reason to expect anything different this year. Defensively, the Ravens lost Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue to free agency. The cupboard is by no means bare, however, and the addition of veteran Justin Houston should help keep the pass rush on track. The Ravens open the season with back-to-back primetime games.

Cleveland Browns

Browns doubters are suddenly few and far between following last year's playoff run. The roster remains relatively unchanged from last season and that's obviously not a bad thing. It does remain to be seen whether the Browns offense can reach the heights it did a year ago with Odell Beckham Jr. still dealing with a knee injury and Jarvis Landry not getting any younger. Nick Chubb will once again be asked to shoulder much of the load - a role he has proved more than capable of handling. Note that Cleveland will open the season by playing three of its first four games on the road, including a return visit to Kansas City in Week 1 - the scene of its playoff demise last January.

Pittsburgh Steelers

I'm fairly high on the Black and Gold entering the new season, which could serve as the 'last ride' so to speak for the combo of head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers are brimming with talent on both sides of the football with the addition of potential Rookie of the Year candidate Najee Harris in the backfield serving as the showpiece. While the defense is set, the offense will need Big Ben to be the quarterback he was early last season rather than the one that regressed heavily down the stretch. Most have the Steelers ranked as having the most difficult schedule in the NFL this season. That schedule includes five primetime games. It all gets started with a difficult test right out of the gate as Pittsburgh heads to Buffalo to face the Bills.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals boast a lot of potential with Joe Burrow returning from last November's devastating season-ending injury but they're still likely a couple of years away from possibly contending for the division crown. The offense should be fine once Burrow gets re-acclimated as he has a host of weapons to work with, including highly-touted draft pick Ja'Marr Chase. All indications are that Burrow got stronger as camp went on and he'll be working behind an improved offensive line compared to a year ago. Defensively, the Bengals have plenty of holes. In fact, the Bengals may possess one of the worst defenses in football which should lead to plenty of shootouts. Cincinnati's Thursday night game against the Jaguars marks its only primetime game of the season. A three-game homestand from Week 12-14 will feature matchups with potential playoff teams - the Steelers, Chargers and 49ers.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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