Rewind to the summer, when quarterback Lamar Jackson was overlooked and the Baltimore Ravens were underrated. In NFL betting markets, winning the popularity contest with the public is seldom a positive sign.
Futures wagering in the AFC North was mostly about the Browns and Steelers. Cleveland was the trendy public pick to win the division, while a majority of sharps sided with Pittsburgh. Baltimore’s season win total of 8½ ranked third in the division.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was a hot ticket to win the MVP award, but Jackson got little action as a forgotten long shot.
“It’s a good story,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “I would like to have 100/1 on Jackson. It’s the right system for him — run first, throw second. I’m not shocked.”
William Hill books wrote 16 tickets at 100/1 odds on Jackson, who’s now the second choice (+220) to win. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is the +180 favorite.
The Ravens are 8-2 fter wrecking the Texans 41-7 on Sunday, when Jackson passed for 222 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown. Baltimore has a three-game lead on Pittsburgh and a four-game lead on Cleveland, with the Steelers and Browns fighting for second place in the division.
Bogdanovich said William Hill would be a small winner if Jackson was the MVP, but some other books are in a losing position on him.
Matt Chaprales of PointsBet, an online book in New Jersey, said Jackson was accounting for 13% of MVP futures tickets and represented the second-biggest liability behind Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey. Jackson’s odds peaked at 75/1 over the summer but dropped to a current price of +130.
“We are going to take a pretty big hit on Jackson if he does win MVP,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said.
The Westgate wrote 23 tickets on Jackson at 50/1 and one $55 bet at 200/1, Murray said, putting liability on Jackson in the $50,000 range in the MVP futures pool.
It was difficult to predict Jackson’s emergence after he struggled to move the offense for three quarters in a wild-card playoff loss to the Chargers in January. Ravens coach John Harbaugh saw something most others did not, and Jackson spent the offseason working on his passing mechanics. Harbaugh’s gamble to switch from veteran Joe Flacco to Jackson is paying off.
Jackson has accounted for 25 touchdowns (19 passing, six rushing) and is the Ravens’ leading rusher with 788 yards. He has completed 66.3% of his passes for 2,258 yards with five interceptions. He’s no longer perceived as a one-trick pony who’s only a runner.
It seems to be a two-horse race for MVP, with Wilson (23 touchdown passes, two interceptions) leading Jackson by a nose.
Jackson just dominated a head-to-head duel with another contender, Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, the preseason favorite, suffered an injury setback. McCaffrey is posting outstanding numbers for the Panthers, who are unlikely to make the playoffs.
Jackson’s performance in a 37-20 victory over the Patriots on Nov. 3 propelled the Ravens into realistic title contenders. William Hill still lists New England as the Super Bowl favorite at 5/2, followed by New Orleans (9/2) and Baltimore (5/1).
“Nobody was really talking about the Ravens in the summer,” Murray said. “I don’t know how you can say Baltimore is not the best team in the AFC now. Jackson has been sensational.”
Kenny White, a veteran Las Vegas oddsmaker and handicapper, rates Wilson as the top quarterback in the NFL at 7.5 points above average and half a point higher than Mahomes. White ranks Jackson, Tom Brady and Dallas’ Dak Prescott in a tie for sixth in the league at 4.5 points above average.
After a seven-week winning streak, the sportsbooks took a beating in Week 11 as favorites went 10-2 straight up and 7-4-1 against the spread on Sunday. Wins and covers by the Cowboys, Patriots and Ravens propped up the public and did the most damage to bookmakers.
The Patriots opened as 6½-point home favorites over the Cowboys in the marquee matchup of Week 12.
“It will be a monster betting game,” Bogdanovich said. “Dallas is still a public team, and Dak is playing great. I think the straight bets will be about even, but all of the parlays, teasers and moneyline parlays will be to New England. We get obliterated every week with the Patriots.”
The Ravens opened as 3½-point favorites over the Rams on Monday night in Los Angeles. So last season’s Super Bowl losers are home underdogs to Lamar Jackson, something that seemed unimaginable a few months ago.