How to cope with key AFC North teams this season

I’m slowly working on each NFL division for the upcoming season. I don’t just like looking at the overall wins of the season; I’m looking for information that can help me week by week once the season starts. Having combed through every team in the AFC North, here are the data points I’m considering for either a preseason or inseason future.

Joe Burrow was a star last year with 47 touchdowns and just over 4,600 passing yards. Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase was pure heat. Chase ranked third in the NFL for deep goals and fifth for yards after catch. Taking on weekly chase overs at the prop market was worth its weight in gold. However, that was against the second-lightest schedule for the defense. Burrow and the Bengals offense played zero games against a top 10 pass defense. It’s no wonder Bengal’s receivers finished second in the league in YAC.

This year, the Bengals are expected to face the toughest pass defense schedule ever. That’s a huge shift — the biggest of any 32 teams. For me, however, that doesn’t mean undercutting Cincinnati’s win of the season overall. It’s still Burrow, and some offensive line improvements could keep this team competitive even against a tougher schedule.

How I want to play against the Bengals this season

I’m still interested in backing chase overs with the longest reception. Though the Bengals face a tough schedule, that won’t happen until later in the season. In Weeks 1-6, the Burrow Chase connection will have opportunities to score on these overs as all six defenses they face have been ranked 18th or worse in yards per completion. After week 6 things might get a little more difficult. In the 11 games remaining, seven will face top-half teams in opposing yards per degree, six against teams in the top 10. Give me Chase the longest reception over…right at the start of the season.

Interesting: Last year the Bengals were underdogs in 15 games. This year they are in three underdogs. With such a big shift in perception, I don’t want to touch on the overall wins of the season.

The Ravens have been plagued by injuries over the past year, with lost players at key positions like DB, WR, OL and RB. QB Lamar Jackson was also absent for some time through injury. With too many injured players to list, it’s easier to note that the Ravens were ranked 32nd in terms of team health. Injuries certainly could have played a key role in the Ravens’ offense, which ranks 31st in third-lowest conversion rate, fifth-worst in turnover margin and 32nd in sack margin. I’m looking for flips from one season to the next. Just as the Bengals faced the easiest and now the hardest schedule, the Ravens faced the 16th hardest schedule last year but are expected to face the second-easiest schedule this year. That alone is reason enough for me to bite into Baltimore again.

And when you look at the quarterbacks the Ravens defense will be facing, oh boy, it might feel good. If this team stays healthy they could see Kenny Pickett (rookie), Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence and Sam Darnold.

How I want to play against the Ravens this season

There are a few options that come to mind with this team.

1. Ravens make the playoffs? Yes (-165)

Baltimore was No. 1 after Week 12, then lost six straight games and missed the playoffs. Jackson missed five of those games. Backup QB Tyler Huntley was certainly good at covering spreads, but the team needed Jackson to close out wins. Four of the five losses without Jackson were three points or less.

2. Ravens wins AFC North (+155)

The 8-9 Ravens could have finished 14-3. Of the nine losses they had, six were six points or less. With some injury regression and a really friendly schedule, the Ravens could be ready to roll. plus money? I accept it.

3. Supporting Raven’s ATS, especially as an underdog

The Ravens finished last season 8-9 ATS overall but went 21-10 ATS the previous two seasons. Last year seemed like an exception so I’ll look to Baltimore for more spread coverage – especially as an underdog. The Ravens were 5-1 ATS as underdogs last season, which has made them 9-1 ATS as underdogs in the last three seasons and 14-4 in the last four. That’s the best underdog ATS record in the NFL. The Ravens are expected to be underdogs in Week 4 (against Buffalo), Week 8 (in Tampa Bay) and Week 18 (in Cincinnati).

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