Are the Ravens really just the third best team in the AFC North?
From a time-perspective, it wasn’t that long ago that the Baltimore Ravens were the best team in the NFL. Still, winning the Super Bowl in 2012 means little in 2019. Even if six seasons in the NFL might as well be a lifetime, fans can say that it has been too long since their team has been a legitimate contender. Will they be one this season?
To be considered a contender, a team does not need to win their division. However, the better teams, the true contenders, are going to be expected to do just that. So, what does it say about the perception some oddsmakers have of the Ravens when John Harbaugh & Co. have only the third best odds to win the AFC North?
The Cleveland Browns have been a popular choice among many sportsbooks given what they did last season and the roster moves they have made in 2019. Despite losing Antonio Brown, many still see the Steelers as being slightly better than the Ravens.
While it isn’t much of a consolation, at least the Ravens odds are not too different than the Steelers or Browns:
- Odds to win the AFC North
- Cleveland Browns +100
- Pittsburgh Steelers +200
- Baltimore Ravens +350
- Cincinnati Bengals +2000
That means the Browns have a 50 percent chance of winning the division, the Steelers have a 33.33 percent chance, and the Ravens just a 22.22 percent chance.
Why so much disrespect from the oddsmakers?
The defense will be without Terrell Suggs this season, but Suggs is not the only reason why the Baltimore defense was one of the stingiest in the NFL last season (No.1 in total yards allowed—292.9 yards/game; No. 2 in points allowed—17.9 per game). It hurts to lose someone that has been a key part of the defense for so long, but it will be much tougher to replace the younger C.J. Mosley.
So, maybe the Ravens defense slips a little. Instead of being the No. 1 unit, it is a top-5 or a top-10 one, at worst. That is still pretty impressive.
But the way the offense controlled the ball with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, it could/should be more than enough to make the Ravens a contender in their division. The Ravens offense finished the season No. 1 in the NFL in time of possession with 32:54 minutes a game. But in the seven games Jackson started, they held the ball for over 34 minutes in five of them.
An argument against the Ravens offense could be that they controlled the ball for so much time with Jackson at QB because they couldn’t move the ball in the passing game and had no choice but to run. In a way, that’s true. Jackson is not a great passer, but the Ravens also didn’t have many targets for him to throw to—at least, not too many good ones.
Still, maybe with the addition of two rookies, Marquise Brown (first round) and Miles Boykin (third), that changes this year. If it does and the Ravens develop a passing game that defenses must respect, the running lanes should become a little bit wider.
When it comes down to it, the defending division champion Ravens will likely have a 2019 defense that is comparable to last season’s. And there’s a good chance that offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s offense is at least as good if not better than Marty Mornhinweg’s 2018 unit.
So, do the Ravens have the third best odds to win the division a year after winning it?
The Browns are expected to continue to get better after going 7-8-1 last season. They have a solid defense, and if Baker Mayfield can continue where he left off in 2018, the Browns should have a great season. However, there is also a chance he regresses or their big trade acquisition, Odell Beckham Jr., ends up being too combustible.
As for the Steelers, they are getting more credit than they deserve. The running game was okay last year, but it did suffer without Le’Veon Bell. The passing game will likely suffer without Antonio Brown to take pressure off JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Pittsburgh’s odds are a little generous. If anything, this division should be considered a two-horse race between the Browns and Ravens—but with the Ravens as the slight favorite.