Are The Baltimore Ravens' Injuries Too Much To Overcome In The AFC?
The most devastating end to any contender's season is a lengthy injured reserve list and a team with half their starters unidentifiable to the fan base.
Injuries are unavoidable to a certain degree, but some years are especially brutal for star-laden rosters. We have all seen teams that were destined for greatness, but then the injury bug hits the team, and the season goes sideways.
This season's notable suffering powerhouse is the Baltimore Ravens.
Bad Luck From The Start
The injuries started to pile up early for John Harbaugh's Ravens. Star cornerback Marcus Peters joined running backs Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins as members of the Ravens to tear their ACL's prior to the season.
The depth has also taken a major hit and caused continuity issues. Quarterback Lamar Jackson missed one game due to having Covid, then suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss 2.5 quarters of action against the Browns last week. The fact that Baltimore is currently 8-5 and sitting first in the deep AFC North is impressive.
Too Much Respect?
Few would have said Baltimore would still be the betting favorite to win the division considering the missed time of their stars. They rank just 16th in scoring offense and 10th in scoring defense. While solid, it's far from the standard this group has established since drafting Jackson.
Only four regular-season games remain in 2021, and the Ravens own a one-game lead over the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. Before their two-game losing streak, freshly off an ugly but important win over Cleveland at home in Week 12, the Ravens were in a potentially commanding position. Beating Pittsburgh and Cleveland again would've buried their divisional foes, and all but lock-up the division.
Alas, the Ravens combined to lose by three points to the Steelers and Browns. With remaining games against Green Bay, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and against the Rams, the Ravens could finish the season with a losing record if they can't turn around their offensive troubles. Jackson hasn't led the Ravens to more than 326 yards since their Week 7 loss to Cincinnati.
Is It Time To Fade The Ravens?
There's not much Baltimore can do with their current personnel. The running game remains solely reliant on Jackson, and the passing game hasn't brought the consistency hoped as the team added several receivers. Injuries, a malfunctioning scheme, and Jackson's pressing within the offense have caused inconsistency.
Some division winners benefit from the lack of real competition. The Ravens will not, though, and it's time to bet against them figuring this out. A team with the 31st-ranked passing defense and an ice-cold offense is not worth buying into.
The Browns are +175, the Bengals are +275, and the Steelers are +1200 to win the divisional crown on DraftKings. According to Tankathon, the Steelers have the second-hardest remaining schedule, the Ravens are third, the Bengals are fifth, and the Browns are seventh. Every team has a relatively similar schedule, but the best combination of resume and favorable schedule goes to the Browns.
Of Cleveland's remaining games, they should be favorites against the Raiders, Steelers, and Bengals. Their road trip to Green Bay will be difficult. Getting to 10 wins is paramount, though.
Cincinnati is the most inconsistent of the bunch, and games against Baltimore, Kansas City, and Cleveland will certainly test them. We cannot even pencil their Week 15 battle against Denver as a win. The Bengals are a year, and maybe a coaching change away from really competing on a bigger stage.
Finally, Pittsburgh's path is a mountain trail. The Titans, Chiefs, Browns, and Ravens simply must combine for two wins against the Steelers to knock the 6-6-1 franchise out of the race. Betting on them would rely on catastrophic failures from three teams simply better than the Steelers.
Baltimore would have challenged the Chiefs to make the Super Bowl had they been healthy. But losing Humphrey for the remainder of the season was the final nail in their championship aspirations. We must pivot away from Jackson's heroism and take the smarter bet with the bigger return.
And that team is the Browns, not the Ravens.
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