2021 AFC North: Can Ravens Win The Division?

Justin Tucker #9 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after making a field goal.  Andy Lyons/Getty Images/AFP

Justin Tucker #9 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after making a field goal. Andy Lyons/Getty Images/AFP

 

Lamar Jackson took the league by storm in 2019 and led the Ravens to a stellar 14-2-0 SU mark that raised expectations for the quarterback individually and the team collectively. Two years on, has the shine come off of Jackson and the Ravens?

AFC North Is Wide Open

It’s a two-horse race in the AFC North based on projections outlined in early NFL markets. Across sports betting sites, the coveted division title is expected to come down to a race between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns – priced as the top bet and second-best bet, respectively. In the meantime, defending AFC North champions, Pittsburgh Steelers, have been snubbed pretty badly, despite having clinched the division last season – their third divisional crown in the last five years. And the Cincinnati Bengals prop up the field as the longshots of the AFC North.

That’s the AFC North landscape right now across multiple top sportsbooks. On the heels of the 2021 NFL schedule release and the start of rookie camps. Whether the bookies have it right or if these odds will stand the test of time until the season kicks off is debatable. Giving an unequivocal answer when the season is still a long way off is literally impossible.

2021 NFL Division Futures at BetOnline Sportsbook

AFC NORTH

  • Baltimore Ravens +135
  • Cleveland Browns +145
  • Pittsburgh Steelers +380
  • Cincinnati Bengals +1400

Having said that, what is certain is that the AFC North market – as it’s being cast at the moment – offers bettors with value NFL picks at every turn really. All four teams are in plus money to begin, thereby promising decent return on investment although some do more so than others, of course. And there’s no clear-cut short odds-on favourites in this division, which means the probability of winning is open to interpretation as well as being levelled at the top of the table especially, more so than it might be in other divisions where there may be an obviously dominant franchise that is perennially favoured.

As per BetOnline Sportsbook, it’s a coin-toss between the Ravens and Browns in the betting. Bookies see some parity between these two teams as they are set in plus money and merely a fraction apart in the odds at the same time. These two aspects make any distinction between the pair in the betting negligible.

Whereas the odds have more than doubled up on the Steelers who are priced at +380, suggesting the current titleholders are the pretenders in the race. Followed by the Bengals who are the indisputable outsiders in the race priced in four-digit obscurity.

In laymen terms, the absence of a powerhouse in the field, the so-called consensus “team to beat” is an advantage for bettors. The field can be deemed wide open and even a team like the Cincinnati Bengals can’t be dismissed out of hand.

Why Bettors Should Fade Baltimore Ravens at +135

High expectations precede the Baltimore Ravens for a second-straight season, ever since Lamar Jackson’s breakout 2019-20 campaign that lifted the Ravens to a stellar 14-2-0 SU finish raised the bar in NFL betting markets. The fact that the Ravens failed to come through on many of their lofty projections in 2020 – such as defending their AFC North crown, winning the AFC or winning Super Bowl LV (they were the short-odds on faves along with the Chiefs at the start of the 2020 season) – doesn’t seem to have cost them at all. At least, not in the evaluation for 2021 NFL futures. That’s interesting, to say the least.

The concerning hiccups early in the 2020 regular season, when the Ravens were struggling to win games and looked unlikely to make the playoffs, appear to have been overlooked. So too have Lamar Jackson’s shortcomings been ignored, which reveal a lack of noteworthy wins against legitimate contenders during the last two seasons. For instance, he’s yet to get the better of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs and until he does or he at least matches his Chiefs counterpart with a Super Bowl triumph, he won’t be considered in the same class.

The Ravens did salvage their 2020 campaign to make the playoffs in the end, but their critics will point to the fact that the Ravens had one of the easiest schedules down the stretch as the main reason why they were able to accomplish the feat. Separately, the Ravens did win a game in the playoffs to reach the divisional round before bowing out of the postseason, but the unimpressive 17-3 loss left a lasting impression that overshadowed their wildcard triumph against the Titans.

Granted Jackson did suffer a concussion and that ultimately eliminated him from the game, so there’s that “what if” argument that opens the imagination to all kinds of possible comeback scenarios that aren’t unusual in the NFL However, he did play through the better part of three quarters before the was ruled out and based on those the prognosis was dire at the time. He’d failed to strike an audible chord as he was 14-for-24 for 162 yards and added nine carries for 34 yards. Tale told, he was outplayed by Bills quarterback Josh Allen, a fellow 2018 first-round pick and All-Pro selection, who finished 23-for-37 for 206 yards and a touchdown.

The Ravens have the second toughest schedule in 2021 based on opponents’ final win-loss records last year. Talk about the bar being set high in the scheduling too. Consider the Ravens struggled in 2020, which unlike this year’s daunting schedule was THE easiest last term (ranked 32nd in strength of schedule standings). That really doesn’t bode well – at least not on paper it doesn’t. Consider as well that the Ravens’ 2019-20 schedule was similarly light on opponent quality and ranked amongst the top eight easiest in the league. The picture that emerges is of a team that may not have been fully challenged as yet.

Thus, it’s fair to say that Lamar Jackson and the Ravens face their biggest test yet together, the toughest schedule by far in Jackson’s short career. Whether he rises to the occasion is debatable but it’s these kinds of challenges that are the making of a quarterback and team. Until Jackson does prove he’s ready to take on the game’s best and win, it’s likely better to fade the Ravens in early NFL picks.

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