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NFL Predictions 2023: AFC North Preview & Futures Picks

After a tumultuous contract dispute that saw Lamar Jackson nearly leave the division, the AFC North will return three of the NFL’s most exciting quarterbacks — and Kenny Pickett. Still, those eager to write off the Steelers can’t forget that head coach Mike Tomlin is yet to have a losing season. Let’s dive into the 2023 AFC North preview as we make our 2023 NFL predictions, including our AFC North winner prediction, and identify the top futures picks.

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NFL Predictions 2023: AFC North Preview & Futures Picks (July 13)

AFC North Winner Odds

AFC North Preview: The Favorite

Quarterback Joe Burrow has turned the Cincinnati Bengals from a laughingstock to a perennial title contender. Although he is yet to get a ring, he has carried the Bengals to a pair of AFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance. He'll get most of his supporting cast from last season back to help him out this year as well, including star wide receivers Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase. But with a new-look Baltimore Ravens offense and an unsuspended Deshaun Watson to contend with, winning the AFC North won't be easy.

Cincinnati's offense should remain one of the NFL's best. The team ranked fifth in offensive expected points added (EPA) per play last year, and Burrow ranked ninth in adjusted EPA per play. Protecting Burrow was a problem, as the offensive line ranked 30th in pass-block win rate for the second-straight year, leading Burrow to suffer 41 sacks. However, the Bengals added left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to supplement the unit, allowing them to move the struggling Jonah Williams to right tackle. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack remains at the helm for a third season.

The Bengals were solid on defense last year. The team ranked eighth in defensive EPA per play and seventh against dropbacks. However, the team lost starting safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, who tied for the team lead in interceptions (4) and ranked third and fourth in tackles, respectively. Replacing them are Nick Scott and 2022 first-round pick Dax Hill, both of whom recorded PFF grades below 60 last season. Cincinnati kept its front seven intact, but the secondary could become a major issue, especially early.

AFC North Preview: The Field

The AFC North is not an easy division to win. No team has won it in three straight years since realignment. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the last team to do, but their streak came before the Baltimore Ravens even existed. The Ravens last won the division title in 2019, the year Lamar Jackson won MVP, while the Steelers did so in 2020. The Cleveland Browns last won the AFC North in 1989. All of this is to say that you should expect the unexpected when it comes to this division.

Cincinnati's primary competition comes in the form of the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens ranked only 17th in offensive EPA per play last year but were ninth before Jackson went down in Week 9. That still wasn't good enough for the Ravens, who parted ways with longtime offensive coordinator Greg Roman, opting to bring in Todd Monken from the University of Georgia. Monken's offense ranked first and third in the Fremeau Efficiency Index over the last two seasons. Georgia's offenses have relied on committee backfields, tight ends and small-but-shifty wide receivers -- all of which the Ravens have in plenty of supply.

Baltimore's defense wasn't perfect last year. The Ravens ranked 14th in defensive EPA per play and 22nd against dropbacks. However, they ranked fifth and 13th, respectively, after acquiring linebacker Roquan Smith at the trade deadline. Baltimore returns safeties Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams along with cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the three of which should terrify opposing quarterbacks. All three recorded PFF grades north of 72.5. The Ravens have work to do in the pass rush, but a full offseason of preparation for 2022 second-round pick David Ojabo should help substantially. Ojabo was a projected top-15 selection at edge rusher before his Pro Day injury.

The Steelers and Browns could pull off an upset or two but are unlikely to win the division crown. Pittsburgh's offense ranked 14th in EPA per play last year but quarterback Kenny Pickett ranked only 23rd in adjusted EPA per play. The Steelers meaningfully improved their core by adding tackle Broderick Jones and cornerback Joey Porter Jr. but project as more of a threat next year than in 2023. The Browns continue to have one of the NFL's best offensive lines and upgraded their atrocious run defense by adding Dalvin Tomlinson and Siaki Ika, but the secondary that gave up late-game comebacks to Joe Flacco and Marcus Mariota will remain a problem.

NFL Predictions for the AFC North Winner

Trust Todd Monken & the Ravens This Year

The last time Lamar Jackson got a new offensive coordinator, he won the MVP in his first year with Greg Roman. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the league caught up to Roman's schemes, and his adjustments to their adjustments didn't work out. But with some fresh ideas in Owings Mills, Baltimore's offense should bounce back. Jackson remains one of the NFL's greatest athletes. Just last season, he tore off a 79-yard touchdown on what should've been a five-yard gain, per NFL Next Gen Stats, which helped him lead all quarterbacks in rushing value over average.

Unlike previous years, Jackson has an exceptional supporting cast this season. He'll get to work with tight ends Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely along with speedy wide receivers Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers. Although Baltimore lacks size on the boundary, Monken's offenses at Georgia overcame a similar deficit with speed over the middle. Star left tackle Ronnie Stanley will be healthy to start the season as well, and a full season with him should help the Ravens' offensive line improve on their already-impressive 2022 numbers -- Baltimore ranked sixth in pass-block win rate and first in run-block win rate.

Although the Ravens rank only 21st in strength of schedule, per the win-totals-based analysis done by Sharp Football Analysis, that's only one spot behind the 20th-ranked Bengals. Unlike Cincinnati, Baltimore won't have to visit Kansas City or host Buffalo; the Ravens will dodge matchups with both squads until the playoffs. I'll admit that I'm a Ravens fan, but I was on the Bengals at +200 (33.3%) last year, so give me the Ravens at +250 (28.6%) via FanDuel this year.

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AFC North Winner Prediction: Baltimore Ravens +250 for 0.5 Units at FanDuel

NFL Predictions 2023 Index

AFC East Preview & Futures Picks
AFC North Preview & Futures Picks
AFC South Preview & Futures Picks
AFC West Preview & Futures Picks

NFC East Preview & Futures Picks
NFC North Preview & Futures Picks
NFC South Preview & Futures Picks
NFC West Preview & Futures Picks

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