If the oddsmakers are correct about the Ravens' fortunes this year, Baltimore fans will be spending Christmas and New Year's Day sweating it out in front of their big screens with a playoff berth hanging in the balance.
That tense storyline seems inevitable when this season's schedule, the early point spreads and the projected win totals are examined closely.
For the last few years, CG Technology, which runs the sports book operations for several Las Vegas casinos, has taken the bold step of releasing a super early line for every NFL game from Week One through Week 16 (there's no point spread for Week 17 because of the possibility teams that have clinched playoff berths may rest their starters).
The 15 Ravens games assigned point spreads saw Baltimore as a favorite in seven games, as an underdog in seven, and one game, against Jacksonville, was a pick ‘em.
In the first five games of the 2016 season, the Ravens are listed as a favorite in four. The remaining game, in Week Three, is the pick ‘em.
So according to one set of oddsmakers, the Ravens should start the season at least 4-1 (which would be a nice reversal from last year's 1-6 start).
A totally different source, the 538 website, agrees in a slightly different way. Fivethirtyeight.com -- famous for its political forecasting and sports analysis -- weighed strength of schedules and concluded the Ravens' early-season schedule is among the easiest in the NFL. Baltimore's first six opponents represent the league's third-easiest schedule, according to 538.
However, 538 also warned how tough the schedule gets down the home stretch. (Just a reminder: 538 correctly forecasted 50 of 50 states and Washington D.C. in the 2012 presidential election and 31 of 33 U.S. Senate races).
Now, let's factor in the Vegas win total for the Ravens; it has bounced from a low of 7.5 wins to a high of 8.5. Perusing various odds websites recently, it seems 8.5 is a solid number for the Ravens at the moment.
Let's assume the Ravens play according to form against their first five opponents (Buffalo at home, Cleveland away, Jacksonville away, Oakland at home, Washington at home) and get at least four wins. And then figure Baltimore plays over or under .500 in its next seven (where the Ravens are favorites just three times). It's reasonable to estimate the Ravens should be sitting with seven or eight wins with four games to go and with history telling us nine, maybe 10 wins, will be needed to get into the playoffs.
This is where things get sticky.
The Ravens are underdogs in the three remaining games for which CG Technology has a line. Week 16 (Dec. 25) is in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are currently favored by more than a touchdown. And Week 17 (Jan. 1), with no point spread listed, is in Cincinnati. Right now, you'd have to say the Bengals will be the favorites in that one.
You can see where this is going. Granted, we are talking about a projection of games more than four months away, but it's possible -- actually it's likely -- the Ravens will be underdogs in their final four games.
As I mentioned, there could be some anxiety during the holidays.
However, for the moment, let's put the late-season drama aside and consider those seven games from Weeks 6-13. Again, assuming the Ravens take care of business in the first five weeks, oddsmakers and public bettors may be so impressed they over-value the Ravens.
If that happens, painful as it is to say, the calculated play may be to go against Baltimore.
Since that goes against the grain of most Ravens fans, let's put it another way.
If the Ravens do get out to a fast start and the point spreads seem to be making the Ravens too big a favorite, or don't give them enough points when they're underdogs in those mid-season contests, stay off the games entirely.
New England quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension has not deterred oddsmakers from continuing to make the Patriots the favorite to win this season's Super Bowl. The Patriots are 15-2 favorites to win their fifth NFL title.
The Green Bay Packers have the next shortest odds at 19-2, followed by Seattle at 10-1.
The Ravens are tied with Oakland at 30-1 to win the Super Bowl, placing them 12th among the NFL's 32 teams.
In the odds to win the AFC title, the Ravens are 18-1, with North division rivals Pittsburgh (6-1) and Cincinnati (8-1) having shorter odds. The Cleveland Browns have the gloomiest prospects at 100-1 to win the AFC and 200-1 to win the Super Bowl.
Issue 224: August 2016