2022 Season Reviews: AFC North


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2022 Season Reviews: AFC North

I wanted to do quick-hitting postmortem reports on every team since I spent so much time this summer breaking down all 32 franchises from a betting perspective for the 2022 season. It’s a good way for me to put a bow on the season that just finished while also getting a leg up on my early research for the 2023 season.

AFC North Reviews

1. Cincinnati Bengals

  • Record (ATS): 12-4 (12-3-1)

  • Season Win Total: Over 10

  • One-possession Record: 5-3 (1-1 postseason)

  • Postseason Record: 2-1 (1-2 ATS)

  • Division Odds: +175

  • Playoff Odds: -145

  • Over/Under record: 6-9-1

  • PPG: 26.1(7th)

  • PPG Allowed: 20.1 (6th)

  • Average Scoring Margin: +6.0 (6th)

  • Turnover Differential: +6 (6th)

Season Review

The Bengals proved that their run to Super Bowl LVI was no fluke with their second deep run into the playoffs in Joe Burrow’s third season. Cincinnati ended the regular season on an eight-game winning streak and a 7-0-1 ATS mark in that span, which helped them to finish with the NFL’s best ATS winning percentage at .800 (12-3-1). They won 12 of their final 14 games after an 0-2 start, which matched the franchise’s previous best record set in 2015, 1988, and 1981. They won back-to-back division titles (+175 odds) for the first time since they won the AFC Central in 1981-82. Cincinnati also made back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances for the first time in franchise history.

Cincinnati survived the Wild Card Round thanks to Sam Hubbard’s improbable 98-yard fumble return TD against the Ravens before its three-score beatdown of the Bills in the Divisional Round. The Bengals finally fell to the Chiefs in the fourth career matchup between Burrow and Patrick Mahomes on a last-second field in the conference title game, which ended Cincinnati’s 10-game winning streak. Burrow failed to lead the league in completion percentage (70.4%>68.3) and YPA (8.9>7.4) for the second straight year, but his touchdown passes went up (34<35) even with stud Ja’Marr Chase missing four games for a hip injury. Chase saw his YPR plummet from 18.0 to 12.0 yards in his second season, but he actually finished with six more receptions (81<87) despite playing five fewer games with the Bengals transitioning to a quick passing attack to protect Burrow.

What to look for this off-season

Burrow is eligible for a contract extension and he’ll likely be the next player to reset the quarterback market, although his fellow 2020 classmate Justin Herbert may also have a say in it. Mike Brown is one of the league’s more conservative owners, but he’s never skimped on paying his quarterbacks like Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer. Burrow’s extension will eat up some of their top-five cap space, and they have a number of top free agents they’d like to keep in the fold like Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell, Eli Apple, Hayden Hurst, and Samaje Perine. Cincinnati could release Joe Mixon to free up some space after he fell out of favor in the postseason. The Bengals will have difficult waters to navigate to keep Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase in the fold with Burrow as they’ll be looking for big contract extensions in the near future. The Bengals aggressively attacked their offensive line issues last off-season, but LT Jonah Williams has been an underwhelming option and RT La’el Collins is recovering from a torn ACL. This year’s rookie class is loaded with tight end prospects if they’d let Hurst walk in free agency. It won’t be surprising if the Bengals attack offensive tackle, tight end, and cornerback with their early draft picks.

2. Baltimore Ravens

  • Record (ATS): 10-7 (6-9-2)
  • Season Win Total: Over 9.5
  • One-possession Record: 6-5 (1-0)
  • Postseason Record: 0-1 (1-0 ATS)
  • Playoff Odds: -165
  • Over/Under record: 5-12
  • PPG: 20.6 (19th)
  • PPG Allowed: 18.5 (3rd)
  • Average Scoring Margin: +2.1 (8th)
  • Turnover Differential: +4 (t-9th)

Season Review

The Ravens faded hard in the final weeks of the season for the second straight year, which coincided with Lamar Jackson missing significant time at the end of each of those seasons. Baltimore at least returned to the postseason (-165 odds) after a one-year layoff, and they climbed over their season win total of 9.5 despite a 1-3 mark in the final four weeks. Lamar missed 11 games the last two seasons, including their heartbreaking loss to Cincinnati in the Wild Card Round. The Ravens had the Bengals on the ropes in the early fourth quarter and were poised to go up by a touchdown in the early fourth quarter before backup QB Tyler Huntley fumbled trying to go over the top of his offensive line from the two-yard line. Sam Hubbard returned the loose ball 98 yards to the house to end Baltimore’s bid at an upset victory.

Lamar was the second-favorite for the MVP at +550 odds — behind only Patrick Mahomes — after opening the season with 749/10 passing and 243/2 rushing in his first three games. Jackson posted just seven passing TDs and one rushing TD in his final nine games, but the Ravens still finished six in PPG (24.1) with Lamar compared to 27th in PPG (14.1) without him in the lineup. Baltimore foolishly avoided adding to their wide receiving corps even after trading #1 WR Marquise Brown to the Cardinals for a first-round pick. Rashod Bateman (Lisfranc) missed significant time for the second straight year to open his career, which left the Ravens to trot out a bunch of has-beens next to Mark Andrews. J.K. Dobbins also struggled to get healthy after missing the entire 2021 season for a knee injury, but he finally showed his second-round pedigree with 57/397/1 rushing (7.0 YPC) in the final four regular season games. The Ravens limited opponents to 16 or fewer points in seven of their final nine games following their acquisition of Roquan Smith from the Bears after giving up 17+ points in seven straight games in Weeks 2-8 without him in the lineup.

What to look for this off-season

Lamar’s contract situation is going to dominate Baltimore’s off-season once again like it has since he was first eligible for an extension two years ago. Deshaun Watson’s five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract really threw a wrench into Lamar and Baltimore’s contract talks last summer. The Ravens will again try to extend Jackson before he hits free agency or they’ll use their exclusive franchise tag to keep him around, which is expected to be in the $45 million range. They can then let him play out the tag and kick the can down the road another year or try to trade Jackson for a huge package. It seems highly unlikely that they’ll just let him walk in free agency, especially after they locked up Smith to a long-term contract to avoid using their franchise tag on him. The Ravens currently have a top-10 cap situation but they’ll have little wiggle room for top free agents like Marcus Peters and Justin Houston as they navigate the Jackson situation. Whatever the Ravens end up doing at quarterback, they can ill afford to neglect their wide receiving corps for the second straight off-season. Baltimore has just five picks after trading their second- and fifth-round selections for Smith, but they don’t have many pressing needs outside of WR with smaller needs at cornerback and along their defensive line.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Record (ATS): 9-8 (10-6-1)
  • Season Win Total: Over 7.5
  • One-possession Record: 7-5
  • Missed Playoff Odds: -400
  • Over/Under record: 7-10
  • PPG: 18.1 (26th)
  • PPG Allowed: 20.4 (10th)
  • Average Scoring Margin: -2.2 (24th)
  • Turnover Differential: +4 (t-9th)

Season Review

The Steelers traded in future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger and former GM Kevin Colbert for rookie Kenny Pickett and new GM Omar Khan, but the franchise continued to win with Mike Tomlin still in charge. The Steelers looked destined for their first losing campaign under Tomlin in his 16th season as head coach with a 2-6 start, but Pittsburgh closed out the season with a 7-2 stretch that included a four-game winning streak to squeeze out a winning record. The Steelers lost a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Dolphins for the final playoff spot (-400 odds), but they continued to close in on the Cowboys’ record of 21 straight seasons without a losing record from 1965-85 under Tom Landry.

Pickett, at times, showed why he was selected in the first round with consecutive game-winning drives in Weeks 16-17, but he also showed why he lasted until the 20th overall pick by averaging just 6.2 YPA with more INTs (9) than TDs (7). The Steelers finished with the fewest passing TDs (12) and Diontae Johnson set NFL records for the most targets (147) and receptions (86) without a single touchdown. The NFL’s sack leader in 2020 and 2021, T.J. Watt, once again showed why he’s one of the most valuable non-quarterbacks in the league with an 8-2 record with him in the lineup. Minkah Fitzpatrick benefitted from Watt’s pressure by finishing in a four-way tie for the most INTs (+4000). Pittsburgh also stole what is essentially a first-round pick from the Bears in exchange for Chase Claypool, who turned in 14/140 receiving in seven games with Chicago.

What to look for this off-season

Pittsburgh has something to work with in Pickett, who made incremental progress throughout his rookie campaign. The conservative Steelers made a questionable decision to retain Matt Canada as his coordinator, who held back Pittsburgh’s offense with his lack of creativity and simplistic pass-game designs. Canada needs to put much more on Pickett’s plate in his second season, and Khan needs to use their three top 50 picks to give Pickett additional help. Pittsburgh’s offensive line steadily improved and wasn’t a glaring weakness as in years past, but they could use an upgrade at offensive tackle early in the draft. They also need to replace Claypool with yet another Day Two gem at wide receiver to go along with Johnson and George Pickens. The Steelers need to upgrade their cornerback room while getting a little younger along their defensive line. Pittsburgh is middle of the pack in cap space and they could create more space by releasing William Jackson and Mitchell Trubisky to help them keep top defensive free agents like Cameron Sutton, Terrell Edmunds, and Larry Ogunjobi.

4. Cleveland Browns

  • Record (ATS): 7-10 (8-9)
  • Season Win Total: Under 8.5
  • One-possession Record: 2-6
  • Missed Playoff Odds: -225
  • Over/Under record: 8-8-1
  • PPG: 21.2 (18th)
  • PPG Allowed: 22.4 (20th)
  • Average Scoring Margin: -1.2 (t-18th)
  • Turnover Differential: -1 (t-16th)

Season Review

The first year of the Deshaun Watson era in Cleveland was a disaster after the franchise sent a package of picks that included first-round picks in 2022-24. The good news is that the first year of his ridiculous five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract was always going to be the most difficult because of his suspension, a two-year layoff, and the bad publicity surrounding Wason and the franchise. Watson managed a lighter-than-expected 11-game suspension from the NFL, and he played like someone who hadn’t seen game action for 23 months in his six games of action. The Browns finished with a losing record for the second consecutive season and missed the postseason (-225 odds) for the 19th time in the last 20 years.

Watson completed 58.7% of his passes for 6.5 YPA, seven TDs, and five INTs in his first action with the Browns. He previously completed 67.8% of his passes for 8.3 YPA, 104 TDs, and 36 INTs in his first 54 career games with the Texans. The Browns averaged just 16.3 PPG and 298.0 YPG with Watson at quarterback, which would’ve ranked 32nd and 29th, respectively, over the entire season. It also paled in comparison to the offense under Jacoby Brissett, which averaged 23.9 PPG and 376.9 YPG in 11 games, which would’ve ranked t-9th and fifth, respectively, over the entire season. The Browns actually finished with a 3-3 record with Watson compared to an unlucky 4-7 mark under Brissett who performed much better than Deshaun. Nick Chubb posted career-highs in carries (302), rushing yards (1525), and touchdowns (13), while Amari Cooper revitalized his career with his sixth 1000-yard campaign in eight years and a career-best nine TDs.

What to look for this off-season

The Browns were in a transition state with Watson joining the fold last season, but HC Kevin Stefanski and company won’t have any excuses for another down season in what’s shaping up to be a make-or-break campaign for the franchise. Watson got his feet wet again in 2022 but his performance will need to match his top-of-the-line compensation starting in 2023. Stefanski will need to build the offense around his franchise quarterback this off-season, and they could use a better #2 WR behind Cooper. The Browns also need to significantly beef up their run defense after ranking in the bottom 10 in every major category. Cleveland has a bottom-10 cap situation with Watson counting nearly $55 million against the cap for the next four years — he had just $9.4 million hit in 2002 — which is going to make it difficult to keep top free agents like Jadeveon Clowney, Ethan Pocic, Sione Takitaki, Anthony Walker, and Kareem Hunt. Cleveland is also without its next two first-round picks from the Watson trade, but they at least have eight picks in the final six rounds of this year’s draft to load up on some cheap assets.

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom's Best Bets against the spread won at 64.3% clip last season and he owned the last undefeated team out of 3000 entries in Scott Fish Bowl 12.