After being the only AFC North team to make the playoffs in 2019, Baltimore was flanked by both Cleveland and Pittsburgh in the 2020 playoffs. The Steelers, who ended the Ravens' two-year reign atop the division, started 11-0 before their season was unceremoniously ended by the Browns. Cleveland followed-up its playoff win in Pittsburgh by nearly defeating the Chiefs in the divisional round. And while the Ravens also fell in the divisional round, they did manage to win their first playoff game during the Lamar Jackson era.
All three teams are again expected to vie to the division title in 2021. They will also have to take on a Bengals team that will feature Joe Burrow and his talented trio of receivers. Will the Bengals emerge from the cellar? Will the Browns will their first division title since the Reagan administration? Will the division once again come down to perennial powers Baltimore and Pittsburgh? These questions will ultimately be answered during the NFL's first 17-game regular season. One thing we do know is that the North will once again be one of the most competitive, compelling and entertaining division races in the NFL.
Pick Six Newsletter
Crafted By The Best NFL Experts
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
With the NFL Draft now complete, let's take a look at how the draft impacted each AFC North team. We'll also take a look at each team's current 2021 current odds while also taking a peak at who they might select in the the first of the 2021 draft.
Biggest fantasy question: How will Baltimore's new receivers impact Lamar Jackson's fantasy output?
William Hill season win total: 11 (Under -115)
William Hill odds to win division: +115
William Hill odds to win Super Bowl: +1400
In need of receivers, the Ravens signed Sammy Watkins, then used a first-round pick to select Rashod Bateman. Throw in Marquise Brown, tight end Mark Andrews, and receivers Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II, Jackson is now armed with the deepest receiving corps he's had in Baltimore. While this will undoubtedly lead to a more balanced attack, the Ravens' offense will still be predicated on the running game. Yes, this will likely mean less designed runs from Jackson, but that should also lead to more passing yards and touchdown passes from the former league MVP. This also means less wear and tear on Jackson.
Baltimore lost several key pieces on defense, but they still have some studs in Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell, Patrick Queen, Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. In the draft, Baltimore added some needed defensive depth that includes linebacker Jayson Oweh and defensive backs Brandon Stephens and Shaun Wade. Safety is the Ravens' most concerning position at the moment; look for Baltimore to possibly re-visit the free agent market to add more depth at this position.
Biggest fantasy question: How productive will Najee Harris be during his rookie season?
William Hill season win total: 9 (Over +120)
William Hill odds to win division: +400
William Hill odds to win Super Bowl: +4000
Like the Ravens, the Steelers have attacked their biggest need during the offseason. Along with re-signing veteran linemen Zach Banner and B.J. Finney, Pittsburgh drafted center Kendrick Green and tackle Dan Moore. Each lineman is tasked with making running lanes for Najee Harris, the Steelers' first-round pick. Pittsburgh's first running back selected in the first round since 2008, Harris will look to buck recent trend of Steelers' rookie backs who failed to make a major impact as a rookie. Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland will likely get their share of touches, but Harris is the clear front-runner to receive the lion's share of carries.
The Steelers didn't draft any defensive players who are expected to be Week 1 starters. They did, however, acquire some nice depth that includes linebacker Buddy Johnson and pass rusher Quincy Roche. Cornerback is still a concern for the Steelers, but Pittsburgh made some headlines after snagging former Michigan State cornerback Shakur Brown shortly after the draft concluded. Brown received a third-round grade from CBS Sports NFL draft analyst Ryan Wilson during his pre-draft evaluations.
Biggest fantasy question: Will Odell Beckham's return significantly impact Nick Chubb/Kareem Hunt's workload?
William Hill season win total: 10 (Under +125)
William Hill odds to win division: +150
William Hill odds to win Super Bowl: +1600
The Browns have had themselves an impressive offseason. In free agency, they signed safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill, two players who helped the Rams boast the league's top-ranked pass defense last season. The Browns further strengthened their defense with the signings of veterans Jadeveon Clowney, Takk McKinley and Malik Jackson. Cleveland's defense got even better after selecting cornerback Greg Newsome II in the first round and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round. While it's premature to crown this unit the best in the North, it's safe to say that the Browns' defense will be vastly improved from the unit that finished 21st in the league in scoring in 2020.
Lost in the shuffle of defensive draft picks was former Auburn receiver Anthony Schwartz and former Cincinnati offensive tackle James Hudson. Both players will look to serve as valuable depth for a Browns offense that is filled with top-end talent. Cleveland's offense, spearheaded last year by the two-headed backfield of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, will welcome back Odell Beckham Jr. after Beckham missed most of the 2020 season with an injury.
Biggest fantasy question: Can Joe Burrow get through his sophomore season healthy?
William Hill season win total: 6.5 (Over -155)
William Hill odds to win division: +2400
William Hill odds to win Super Bowl: +10000
The Bengals' 2021 draft may come down to the success of three players: Penei Sewell, Ja'Marr Chase and Jackson Carman. The Bengals passed on acquiring the top-ranked offensive lineman in the draft to select Chase, who caught 20 touchdown passes from Burrow during their final season at LSU. If Chase and Carman end up being good pros, the Bengals' gamble would have paid off. But if Sewell realizes his potential, and Chase and/or Carman end up being busts, this decision will haunt Cincinnati for years to come.
One thing is certain: the Bengals have a formidable receiving corps and a quarterback who -- if he can stay healthy -- looks like a bonafide star. Cincinnati's defense should in the least be slightly better this season after the selections of defensive ends Joseph Ossai and Cameron Sample and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin.