AFC North Odds: Are the Bengals Overlooked?

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Quarterback Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals reacts after the Bengals defeated the Kansas City Chiefs to win the AFC Championship Game. Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP.

Bookmakers have unanimously snubbed the reigning AFC Champion and Super Bowl LVI runner-up in their early NFL futures markets, installing the Cincinnati Bengals no better than a middleweight contender (at best) for the upcoming 2022 NFL season.

This is the case across the best sportsbooks and betting sites, whether it is the AFC North market or the AFC and Super Bowl LVII markets.

The Bengals are the second-best bet to win the AFC North, just outside the Top 5 to win the AFC and similarly outside of the Top 10 to win Super Bowl LVII. As a result, this rather conservative market outlook raises the question of whether the Bengals are being wrongly overlooked.

AFC North Favorites: Cleveland Browns

Many of the top sportsbooks such as BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review), Bovada (visit our Bovada Review), and Heritage Sports (visit our Heritage Sports Review) aren’t tipping the Bengals as the team to beat in the AFC North.

That domain belongs to the Browns, jumping to the forefront of this market after signing controversial quarterback Deshawn Watson from the Houston Texans this offseason.

Granted the market is pretty tight and the Browns don’t have it cornered. They are merely nudging ahead ever so slightly as the +190 favorites while Cincy is priced at +210 to win the AFC North. The Ravens are jointly priced as the second-best bet whereas the Steelers are the longshots in this section.

It’s an interesting marker to have the Cleveland Browns at the very top. Given the fact that we’ve yet to see this new-look Cleveland outfit with its whopping $230 million dollar quarterback take the field, does anyone really know if they’ll be any good?

What Are the AFC North Odds?

  • Cleveland Browns (+190)
  • Cincinnati Bengals (+210)
  • Baltimore Ravens (+210)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers (+750)

*Odds courtesy of BetOnline

Cleveland Browns Analysis

One argument that seems to be trotted out repeatedly in support of Cleveland’s status as the AFC North favorite is that Watson represents a massive improvement on Baker Mayfield. That, in turn, equates to a huge upside for the Browns that is being reflected in the odds.

In principle, this is a reasonable argument. When putting Watson and Mayfield side by side, the former has accomplished more in his first five years in the NFL than the latter. However, that alone doesn’t merit Cleveland leapfrogging Cincinnati on the NFL odds.

Put it another way, it’s not as if the Bengals have gotten worse while the Browns have improved in the offseason, is it? Quite the opposite, the Bengals have made some key improvements that set them up well for their title defense campaign.

Bengals’ Offseason Signings

The Bengals addressed one of their weaknesses in the offseason and bolstered the offensive line. In fact, according to multiple football experts, Cincinnati’s offensive line is one of the most improved units in the league.

They added three key free agents:

  • Alex Cappa (right guard)
  • Ted Karras (center)
  • La’El Collins (tackle)

They also re-signed Michael Thomas (safety) and Josh Tupou (tackle).

If this improved offensive line can keep Joe Burrow upright, which was a key area of concern in 2021, then the sky is the limit for the Bengals.

Bengals 2022 NFL Draft Picks

The Bengals set the prototype for how a few draft picks can turn around a roster. Case in point, in 2020, they picked Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins. In 2021, they picked Burrow’s former LSU teammate, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. These three players were instrumental in Cincy’s Super Bowl run last season.

This time around, the Bengals weren’t picking from the cream of the crop because they didn’t have one of the top coveted selections. Their first pick came late in the first round at No. 31. However, they still get passing grades with the following selections.

  • R1: No. 31 – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
  • R2: No. 60 (from BUF via TB) – Cam Taylor-Britt, S, Nebraska
  • R3: No. 95 – Zachary Carter, DT, Florida
  • R4: No. 136 – Cordell Volson, OL, North Dakota State
  • R5: No. 166 (from CHI via PHI via AZ via HOU) – Tycen Anderson, S, Toledo
  • R7: No. 252 – Jeffrey Gunter, DE, Coastal Carolina

The Joe Burrow Factor

If we’re comparing quarterbacks, then we should consider Joe Burrow and what he brings to the table as well. It might be worth reminding Burrow has accomplished more in his fledgling NFL career than most quarterbacks. He’s certainly outdone both Watson and Mayfield by reaching a Super Bowl in his sophomore year!

Moreover, he’s done something many others have tried but failed to do in the postseason; that is, beat Patrick Mahomes’s Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs.

The only other quarterback to do it was Tom Brady. Brady did it twice. Once with the New England Patriots (2018) and then with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2020).

Are the Bengals Contenders?

The Bengals may not be the top betting favorites right now, but they’re serious contenders nevertheless. This is mostly true of their bid to defend their AFC North crown.

Reaching the AFC Championship game and/or Super Bowl will be a more daunting prospect. Though historical trends stand against Cincinnati as only one team in the last 28 years has managed to return to Super Bowl the year after suffering a loss in the big game. That team was none other than the Tom Brady-inspired New England Patriots in 2018.