Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023 | 2 a.m.
The most hyped divisional race going into each NFL season historically tends to disappoint and not live up to expectations.
That’s not happening this year. If anything, the crowded competition in the AFC North has been even better than advertised.
The rugged division’s four teams are a combined 16-9 straight-up, 14-10-1 against the spread through the first seven week of the season. All three AFC North sides in action last week — the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers — won and covered.
The Cincinnati Bengals were on a bye, but they’ve won and covered in two straight themselves to get back into a race where they were once considered the clear frontrunner.
Cincinnati opened as low as +130 (i.e. risking $100 to win $130) to win its third straight AFC North crown — something no team has ever done since the NFL’s last realignment in 2002 — in the offseason. Now it’s as high as +530 (at Circa Sports) sitting in last place 1.5 gamed behind the Ravens.
Baltimore is now the short shot at Even money at Circa with Cleveland offered at +230 and Pittsburgh at +550.
No division has ever produced all three conference wild-cards since the NFL went to its 14-team playoff format two years ago, but the AFC North has a chance. All but Cincinnati are currently favored to reach the playoffs at Circa with Baltimore at -600 (i.e. risking $600 to win $100), Cleveland at -185 and Pittsburgh at -115.
The AFC North came into the season as the most intriguing division, and nothing has changed through two months.
Read below to find handicaps of every Week 8 contest. Games are labeled in three separate confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses — with individual records attached. Lines are the best available in Las Vegas on the chosen side at publication time. The record for the year stands at 53-54.
Carolina Panthers +3 vs. Houston Texans The switch from coach Frank Reich to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown calling plays makes Carolina a big-time buy-on team coming out of its bye week. Brown’s more modern, motion-heavy approach should bring the best out of top overall pick Bryce Young. There’s a suspicion that Houston quarterback, and No. 2 overall pick, C.J. Stroud has already shown his rookie-season best so there’s conversely no reason to overpay to back him for the time being.
Green Bay Packers +1.5 vs. Minnesota Vikings This number was Packers -2.5 before the Vikings’ 22-17 upset victory over the 49ers on Monday Night Football. A three-plus point move — even a relatively insignificant one through the zero — is an overreaction with Green Bay’s underlying statistical profile stronger than its 2-4 straight-up record. Consider playing the -102 (i.e. risking $102 to win $100) moneyline on the Packers to win outright, which is a better bet than playing +1.5 at -115 mathematically.
Denver Broncos +7.5 vs. Kansas City Chiefs Bold prediction (or piping hot take): Patrick Mahomes loses his first AFC West road game this week. The Broncos’ defense was playing at a historically incompetent level over the first month of the season, but has rearranged and settled down over the last two weeks including in a somewhat-respectable 19-8 loss to the Chiefs. This should be another low-scoring game where either team has a chance to win at the end. Sprinkle the Broncos to win outright at around +300 (i.e. risking $100 to win $300).
New York Giants +3 vs. New York Jets It feels like it’s time to sell high on the Jets, which have benefitted from an unsustainable +6 turnover margin during their three-game resurgence/covering streak. The Giants meanwhile are finally getting marginally healthier with all-important left tackle Andrew Thomas among those expected to return to the field this week.
Washington Commanders +6.5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles At 5-1 against the spread (albeit only 1-5 straight-up) under the current coaching staffs, Washington has consistently given Philadelphia trouble. And it might not just be noise in a small sample considering the Commanders have regularly neutralized one of the Eagles’ biggest strengths, their offensive-line play, with a physical and disruptive defensive front.
Baltimore Ravens -8.5 at Arizona Cardinals The Ravens rate third in the league at 8 yards per passing attempt in offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s blooming new scheme. The Cardinals rate third-to-last in the league at 7.5 yards per pass attempt allowed in defensive coordinator’s Nick Rallis’ scuffling new scheme.
Tennessee Titans +3 vs. Atlanta Falcons Backing unimpressive rookie quarterback Will Levis in his first career start is uncomfortable, but it couldn’t come in a more ideal situation as the Titans are coming off a bye week for a home game. Atlanta has only won one game by more than three points all year — 24-10 over Carolina in Week 1 — and Tennessee should be sharp with extra time to prepare given coach Mike Vrabel’s track record.
San Francisco 49ers -3 vs. Cincinnati Bengals This spread would have been at least San Francisco -7.5 two weeks ago, and not even the absence of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (who’s in concussion protocol) should push it this far down. The 49ers’ back-to-back losses have also only come by a total of eight points whereas the Bengals were extremely fortunate to win in their last game, a misleading 17-13 victory over the Seattle Seahawks as 3-point favorites in which they were outgained by 1.5 yards per play.
Buffalo Bills -8.5 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Buffalo’s three losses have come by a total of 15 points; Tampa Bay’s three losses have come by more than double that amount — 31 points. Buy low on the Bills because concerns about them are overblown, especially on offense where they remain inside the top five by any all-encompassing measure.
Detroit Lions -8.5 vs. Las Vegas Raiders The Lions still stuck at No. 5 in Aaron Schatz’s DVOA ratings even after a 38-6 blowout loss to the Ravens as 3-point underdogs last week. The Raiders dropped to No. 30 coming off their arguably even worse 30-12 no-show against the Bears as 2.5-point favorites. That rankings divergence would indicate this number should be closer to 10.
New England Patriots +9.5 at Miami Dolphins Was the Patriots’ 29-25 victory at the Bills as 8.5-point underdogs really a sign that they can be competitive the rest of the year? It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for coach Bill Belichick, whose teams have historically not jelled until the midseason. This number is about right, however, and there’s no real betting interest unless the Patriots hit +10.
Los Angeles Rams +6.5 at Dallas Cowboys Even off a bye week, the Cowboys’ secondary is beaten-up and not in a good position to limit the Rams’ thriving receiving corps featuring Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell. The Cowboys are a buy-on team long-term with some untapped offensive potential, but this looks like a difficult matchup.
Pittsburgh Steelers +2.5 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars Pittsburgh’s offense seems to finally be coming along, which should be a scary thought to the rest of the league considering its defense has carried it to a 4-2 straight-up start so far. Don’t touch this spread until (or if) it hits +3, which seems likely based on early-week Jacksonville action.
Cleveland Browns +3.5 at Seattle Seahawks Full disclosure: I bet Seattle -2.5 at open and it would be the pick again in the off chance the spread drifts back that way. But this is all about the power of the 3, the most common NFL margin of victory and a number even more important this year in the league’s lower-scoring environment. Cleveland’s defense is too game-changing for this spread to jump to the other side of 3.
Chicago Bears +8.5 at Los Angeles Chargers It’s difficult to feel any confidence betting on Bears undrafted rookie free quarterback Tyson Bagent in his first career road start but it might be the better alternative to laying more than a touchdown with an atrocious Chargers’ defense. Los Angeles sits last in the league in giving up 8.1 yards per pass attempt.
New Orleans Saints +1.5 at Indianapolis Colts Might as well flip a coin because this number looks exactly right. It feels like the Saints have underachieved their talent level, however, and could potentially tap into it with extra time off a 31-24 Thursday Night Football loss to the Jaguars as 2.5-point favorites. If anything, the Colts are the opposite and have overachieved their talent level.