NFL

Does Lamar Jackson Make the Baltimore Ravens the Team to Beat in 2019?

The Baltimore Ravens are on a roll. The Ravens have won each of their last five games, including impressive road wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks and a signature home win over the New England Patriots. Seattle is 6-1 over its last seven games and New England is 8-1 on the season, and it was the Ravens who handed these two Super Bowl contenders those single losses. And both of those Baltimore wins were by at least 14 points, too.

All told, the Ravens enter their Week 11 matchup with the Houston Texans with the second-best record in the AFC at 7-2. Have they emerged as the team to beat in the NFL this season?

Lamar Jackson leads one of the league’s most explosive offenses

In three seasons as the starting quarterback for the Louisville Cardinals in college, Lamar Jackson amassed some incredible numbers. He finished school with 9,043 passing yards, 69 passing touchdowns, 4,132 rushing yards, and 50 rushing touchdowns. The writing was on the wall that this player was something special, but we’ve also seen plenty of college stars fail to produce at the pro level.

What’s terrifying for opposing defenses is that Lamar Jackson has actually improved as a passer, all while still possessing game-breaking speed and play-making ability as a runner. Jackson has 2,036 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns, and only five interceptions through his first nine games of 2019 while also racking up 702 yards and six touchdowns on 106 rushing attempts.

The end result is a virtually unstoppable offense. The Ravens rank second in the NFL in yards per game with 421.7 and best in the NFL in scoring with 33.3 points per game.

The Ravens look extremely focused

There is a popular strategy among NFL bettors called the sandwich game theory. If a game is sandwiched between two bigger and more important games, teams often overlook the ‘sandwich game’ (the one in the middle) and don’t play their best.

Baltimore had a textbook sandwich game situation last Sunday. Fresh off of a prime-time win over the New England Patriots and looking ahead to a high-profile showdown of Lamar Jackson vs. Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans, the Ravens could have easily overlooked the lowly 0-8 Cincinnati Bengals.

Instead, the Ravens scored a touchdown on their first three drives of the game. They continued to roll to a 49-10 lead in the third quarter before bringing in their backups, leaving Cincinnati with a 49-13 win. Beating the Bengals in a vacuum isn’t that impressive, but coming out this focused and executing so well in a throw-away game is a testament to how focused and motivated this Baltimore team is.

They’ve proven they can beat the Patriots

Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens could be Super Bowl bound this season
Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens could be Super Bowl bound this season | Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Most importantly of all, the Ravens beat the New England Patriots. Before that loss, New England was 13-0 over its previous 13 games and had allowed only 7.1 points per game over its previous nine games. Baltimore’s 37-20 win finally made the Patriots look human.

If New England holds on to the No. 1 seed in the AFC, it’s worth noting that a trip to Foxborough in January to face the Patriots is a very different experience than beating them at home in early November is. But regardless of location, if these two teams meet in the postseason, Baltimore will do so knowing that it can, and has, defeated this team before.

Oddsmakers still have the Patriots as the team to beat, going off at 2.5 to 1 to win the Super Bowl this season. The New Orleans Saints are the second favorite at 6/1, the San Francisco 49ers are 3rd at 6.5/1, and Baltimore is the fourth favorite to win it all at 7/1. Wherever you personally rank them, they’re going to be an awfully tough out this January.