Tony Finn’s 2020 AFC North Preview and Predictions

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AFC North Betting Preview from Las Vegas

When the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs meet in Week 3, it will be the eighth time that the reigning NFL MVP will meet the reigning Super Bowl MVP the following year. The Super Bowl MVP is 6-1 in the previous seven matches. This year will find Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson as first pair under the age of 25 to win those awards squaring off.

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YEAR / REIGNING MVP / SB MVP
1993 / Steve Young / Troy Aikman (went on to lead the Cowboys to a second straight Super Bowl championship)
2004 / Peyton Manning / Tom Brady (went on to lead the Patriots to a second straight Super Bowl championship)
2012 /Aaron Rodgers / Eli Manning
2017 / Matt Ryan / Tom Brady (went on to lead the Patriots to a 23-7 regular-season victory over Ryan and his Falcons teammates. The Pats did lose the 2018 Super Bowl to the Philadelphia Eagles)

The 1993 regular season saw Aikman and the Cowboys defeat the Packers 26-17 in Week 7. Aikman and company downed Green Bay for a second time that season but this coming in the January 1994 NFL Championship game.

The 2004 campaign found Brady and his teammates defeating Peyton Manning and the Colts twice. The Patriots earned a Week 1 victorry at Gillette and a second in the Divisional Round of the postseason. The 2012 New York Giants behind the play of quarterback Eli Manning took down Aaron Rogers and the Pack by a 38-10 margin. The 2017 game between Ryan and Brady was all New England. The Pats were 23-7 winners in that mid-season (Week 7) affair. After defeating Atlanta in the 2017 SB the Brady Bunch fell victim to the Eagles a year later dropping to 15-4 on the season with a season ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Super Sunday.

BALTIMORE RAVENS
2019 Record: 14-2, first in AFC North

Returning Starters
Offense: 10 | Defense: 5

Projected Starting Quarterback: Lamar Jackson
Backups: Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley

Jackson ranked first in Total QBR (81.8) last season. Jackson’s rating was the third-highest single-season QBR in the past 10 seasons. With 10 returning starters on offense and the addition of Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins via the draft the Ravens’ offense figures to be as formidable as they were in 2019. Consider that the Ravens led the league in zone-read rushing attempts and now add Dobbins who topped the FBS in zone-read carries. The marriage between Baltimore’s offensive scheme and Dobbins is a perfect match.


Key Additions: OG D.J. Fluker, DE Calais Campbell

Key Losses: WR Seth Roberts, TE Hayden Hurst, OG Marshal Yanda, OL James Hurst, DT Chris Wormley, DT Michael Pierce, DT Domata Peko, LB Patrick Onwuasorm LB Pernell McPhee, CB Brandon Carr, S Tony Jefferson

Season Win Total: 11.5 wins (o -105 / u -115) current odds at Caesars Entertainment as of July 16, 2020.
AFC North Odds: -300

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
2019 Record: 8-8, second in AFC North

Returning Starters
Offense: 10 | Defense: 10

Projected Starting Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger
Backups: Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Paxton Lynch

The first half of the 2019 season found more watercooler-speak in relation to the New England Patriots defense than that Tom Brady and his teammates eight-straight wins. In addition, the Pats defense was being heralded as the best ever. Lest we forget that the mid-way point of last year more football fanatics were verbally replaying the woes of Kansas City with an injured Mahomes.  Furthermore Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens were boldly making a statement in the AFC and were easily the best of the AFC North.  In the NFC the San Francisco 49ers were a perfect 8-0 and rulers on the left-coast.

The Patriots 8-0 start was more about their soft schedule than who they actually were as a unit on both sides of the ball. And the Steelers were finding a way to win and stay in the postseason chase without future Hall of Fame QB Ben Roethlisberger.

Outside of likely being future first entry Hall of Fame quarterbacks both Tom Terrific and Big Ben should now be spoken of as average. This because of their age, propencity to injury and the skill set around them. The debate or most interesting query in relation to the two should be more about which of the duo will be the first to surpass Brett Favre as the quarterback who leads the NFL all time in career sacks.

As Roethlisberger goes so go the Steelers. At this point in his career, at 37-years of age, the offensive lineman turned QB is an injury waiting to happen. Big Ben and his career sack rate (6.5 percent) is almost double that of Brees, Andrew Luck and past Indianapolis offensive lines that were suspect at best, Phillip Rivers, and Matthew Stafford. The Steelers starting quarterback has struggled with his accuracy down field the last two seasons. Roethlisberger’s passing attempts of which carry 20 yards of air or more rank at the bottom of qualified quarterbacks since 2018. And only Mitchell Tribisky, Josh Rosen and young gun Josh Allen have a lower completion percentage than Big Ben on throws with at least 20 yards of air.

There were plenty of articles at a large number of NFL portals calling the Steelers defense the best of NFL 2019. Yet the second coming of the Steel Curtain was NFL media-speak. Yes, entering Week 14 of last season the unit ranked 5th in the league in total defense. And the Pittsburgh defensive numbers showed that they were allowing less than 210 passing yards per game. In addition they ranked first in sacks per game and were allowing opposing QBs a passer rating of just 81.2. But as is the case in life things are not always as they seem.

What made the Steelers who they were, both on the team defensive stat sheet and the AFC North standings was that the ball was bouncing their way. Pittsburgh ranked 1st in the league in takeaways. And history almost always repeats itself. Over the last half-decade defenses that lead the league in creating turnovers were not nearly as successful the following season. This has been the case with at least nine of the eleven starters from the previous season returning. There isn’t a National Football League stat more deceiving than total turnovers in a season.

Pittsburgh returns 10 starters to a stop-unit that overachieved. The Steelers closed the 2019 campaign ranked second in defensive efficiency. But last year’s defense and the 10 returning starters this season will disappoint.

Key Additions: TE Eric Ebron, FB Derek Watt, DT Chris Wormley, DT, OL Stefen Wisniewski
Key Losses: TE Nick Vannett, OL B.J. Finney, DT Javon Hargrave, LB Anthony Chickillo, CB Artie Burns, S Mark Barron

Season Win Total: 9 wins (o -140 / u +120) current odds at Caesars Entertainment as of July 16, 2020.
AFC North Odds: +475

CINCINNATI BENGALS
2019: 2-14, last in AFC North

Returning Starters
Offense: 8 | Defense: 7

Projected Starting Quarterback: Joe Burrow
Backups: Ryan Finley, Jake Dolegala

The Bengals were fortunate to win two games a season ago. And with those pair of victories come the spoils of having the top slot in the amatuer draft which gained the Bengals LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrows. The return of A.J. Green won’t creat more thrills than spills this season. Not with a rookie behind center. And Green, a seven-time Pro Bowl receiver, has missed 29 games since 2016. He enters 2020 at less than 100 percent and will never be what he was a half decade ago.

Across the last 10 years, overall No 1 QB picks that started as rooks in Week 1 are 0-4-1. Those five found a 2010 Bradford, ’11 Newton, ’12 Luck, ’15 Winston & ’19 Murray absent a victory in the career debuts. Burrows, likely the 5th to debut as a rookie in Week 1, likely finds similar results.

The Finn Factor chart ranks Cincy’s OL No. 31 out of 32 teams for the 2020 campaign. The Bengals surrendered a ridiculous 150 yards rushing per game last season. And as soft as the AFC North (Steelers, Bengals and Browns) is behind the Baltimore Ravens it is a division with capable running backs, e.g. Lamar Jackson, Nick Chubb, and James Conner.

Key Additions: TE Eric Ebron, FB Derek Watt, DT Chris Wormley, DT, OL Stefen Wisniewski
Key Losses: TE Nick Vannett, OL B.J. Finney, DT Javon Hargrave, LB Anthony Chickillo, CB Artie Burns, S Mark Barron

Season Win Total: 5.5 wins (o -125 / u +105) current odds at Caesars Entertainment as of July 16, 2020.
AFC North Odds: +3500

CLEVELAND BROWNS
2019: 6-10, third in AFC North

Returning Starters
Offense: 9 | Defense: 7

Projected Starting Quarterback: Baker Mayfield
Backups: Case Keenum, Garrett Gilbert, Kevin Davidson

Cleveland has the most talent in the AFC North save Baltimore. They are once again starting over in the coaching department. New bench boss Kevin Stefanski is the franchise’s 12th coach since the team returned to the NFL in 1999. Baker Mayfield has a new offensive coordinator in Alex Van Pelt. Furthermore, the team has a first-year general manager by the name of Andrew Berry.

Mayfield carries the weight of an ugly 2019 campaign as well as a 17-year Cleveland postseason drought into training camp. If it were not for bad luck and Jameis Winston the Browns field general would have no luck and be coming off a season in which he led the league in interceptions. Only Winston threw more picks (30) than Mayfield’s 21.

Stefanski and Van Pelt have a playbook with quick-hitting slants, jailbreak screens, and a vast array of running plays for running back Nick Chubb and 12th Man of the Year candidate Kareem Hunt The offensive line, easily one of leagues worst fronts,  will look to free agent Jack Conklin and rookie Jedrick Wills Jr to overachieve. And do so by opening running lanes for the tailbacks and allowing Mayfield 3-plus seconds to work through his progressions in passing situations.

Considering the strength, or lack thereof, in the AFC North only a Week 3 home-field loss to the Kansas City Chiefs can prevent the media and Dog Pound from talking about a 16-0 season when Baltimore comes out of their late November bye week undefeated.

Key Additions: QB Case Keenum, FB Andy Janovich, TE Austin Hooper, OT Jack Conklin, DT Andrew Billings, DE Adrian Clayborn, LB B.J. Goodson, CB Kevin Johnson, S Karl Joseph, S Andrew Sendejo

Key Losses: QB Drew Stanton, TE Demetrius Harris, LB Christian Kirksey, LB Joe Schobert, CB T.J. Carrie (Colts), S Eric Murray, S Damarious Randall

Season Win Total: 8.5 wins (o -120 / u EVEN) current odds at Caesars Entertainment as of July 16, 2020.
AFC North Odds: +450

Ready to dive into some homework for the 2020 NFL season? Ralph Michaels has released his 24-page NFL Betting Guide, which includes three years’ worth of stats, regular season win totals, power ratings, strength of schedule numbers and much more! The best part? It’s completely free. Just head to Ralph’s page and download your copy today.

2020 NFL Predictions, Odds and Betting Tips: NFC East

In this episode of the Opening Line Report, professional handicappers Teddy Covers and Drew Martin break down the NFL regular season win totals for the AFC North and review each team’s outlook for the upcoming year.

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