Oddsmakers Believe Ravens Win Total Will Fall to Third in AFC North
Based on how the Baltimore Ravens have been trending over the last several seasons, plus the fact that they are working in a dynamic, young quarterback who should only get better with more experience under center, there is a strong argument to be made that this is a team poised to contend for a Super Bowl in 2019.
But that’s not how sportsbooks and oddsmakers see it. The reports on online sports gambling markets have the 2019 Ravens win total at just eight wins. Some have 8.5, but with the under heavily favored.
No matter which sportsbook you are looking at, their over/under win total is just the third-highest in the AFC North. The Steelers and the hyper-trendy Browns are both at 9.0.
Is that a fair assessment? At the risk of homerism, I can see a multitude of reasons why the current win totals hierarchy in the North is underestimating John Harbaugh & Co.
The Ravens Were the Kings of the North Last Year
The 2018 Ravens were a playoff team, winning the AFC North at 10-6, half a game better than Pittsburgh. They also recorded the best point differential in the division at +102, which was 34 points better than the Steelers, and well over 100 better than the Browns and Bengals.
That was the fourth straight season in which the Ravens improved their record after going 5-11 in 2015, 8-8 in 2016, and 9-7 in 2017.
Lamar Jackson Showed Promise as a Rookie
There’s a saying in college that goes, “The best thing about freshmen is that they turn into sophomores.” Lamar Jackson had a solid season as a rookie, but the offense was relatively one-dimensional, limited to the ground for the majority of his seven starts.
Jackson was by no means a run-only pivot in college, though. His passing stats were as gaudy as his rushing numbers, and he has the arm talent to be a passing threat in the pros.
In 2019, Jackson will have a great chance to improve on his 58.2 completion percentage and 7.1 yards per attempt. Management made a concerted effort to surround him with better weapons, drafting Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin, plus signing running back Mark Ingram to share the load with Gus Edwards in the backfield.
Jackson will also be working behind a top-ten offensive line both in terms of run blocking and pass blocking, per FootballOutsiders.
The Defense Will Be Fine Despite Pass-Rush Concerns
The narrative around the defense is that the losses of CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs, and Za’Darius Smith could decimate this once vaunted unit, in particular the pass rush. Smith (8.5) and Suggs (7) were 1st and T-2nd on the team last year in sacks.
But there’s still pass-rush talent on this roster. Matt Judon had 7 of his own last year, and 2017 third-rounder Tim Williams had a pair in just seven games during another injury-shortened year. If Williams can stay on the field, he should increase his production.
And then there’s rookie third-rounder Jaylon Ferguson, who holds the official NCAA record for sacks at 45 (a record which, coincidentally, used to belong to Suggs). Playing at La. Tech, he wasn’t feasting on the stiffest competition, but it’s clear where his skillset lies.
When you factor in the addition of Earl Thomas, who’s a better coverage safety than outgoing Eric Weddle, there isn’t actually much reason to expect significant regression from this unit. Given that they finished third in defensive efficiency last season, it’s highly likely that the 2019 Ravens still feature a defense that is well above-average.
Perhaps subconscious bias is playing into this assessment, but based on a big-picture look at the Ravens – an improving team with a solid coach, promising young QB, and plenty of talent on both sides of the ball – it’s awfully hard to justify their win total being third in a division they outclassed last season.