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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Friday, September 30, 2016 at 12:38 PM

The Baltimore Ravens are rolling along through three weeks, with a 3-0 record both straight-up and ATS. They’re alone atop the competitive AFC North, leading Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by a game in the loss column. The winning is being done with a formula familiar to Ravens fans—a defense that ranks fourth in the NFL in points allowed is getting it done. It may not be Ray Lewis or Ed Reed anymore, but C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle are playing some awfully good football.

From 2008-14, Baltimore was consistently one of the best teams in football using that formula. Consequently, it’s easy to respect this organization and head coach John Harbaugh and feel the 3-0 start means that the disaster of 2015 can be dismissed as an anomaly. But there are some stormclouds that shouldn’t be ignored.

The obvious starting point is the schedule. The Ravens have beaten the Bills, Browns and Jaguars, which doesn’t exactly qualify as Murderer’s Row. Baltimore isn’t doing it with ease either—the wins are by a combined 13 points (4.3 per game) and the ATS margin is even tighter. Baltimore has covered the number by a combined 4.5 points in those three games. That’s a point and a half per game. Not much room for error and the competition will take a modest upgrade when Oakland comes to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. The Ravens are a (-3.5) favorite. 

If Baltimore is going to build off this strong start, their 24th-ranked offense simply must get better. Joe Flacco’s production numbers are abysmal. While he’s a tolerable 14th in the league in completion percentage, he ranks in the lower third of starting quarterbacks in yards-per-attempt and interceptions as a percentage of passes thrown. Roughly translated that he means he’s pretty good at dink-and-dunk throws but otherwise still makes too many mistakes. That’s not a formula for beating anyone of note in the NFL.

In Flacco’s defense, the problem has less to do with him than an offensive line that is basically Marshall Yanda and a group of four mediocrities. Yanda is one of the best guards in the league, but he’s a lonely warrior up front. The result is a putrid running game that gets just 3.3 yards-per-attempt, well below the league average of 4.0.

That’s the reason the market hasn’t fallen in love with Baltimore in spite of the good start. They’re still available at decent 11-5 odds to win the AFC North, well behind Pittsburgh, who remains the 10-11 favorite in spite of a disastrous game at Philadelphia last week. The Ravens are only seen as modestly better than the Bengals ,who are priced at 6-2 to win the division in spite of a 2-2 start (including last night’s win over the Dolphins) that’s overwhelmed no one.

No serious NFL bettor would ever dismiss a John Harbaugh-coached team under any circumstances, much less one that’s 3-0 and playing some outstanding defense. That alone indicates that 2015 was an anomaly. But before the Ravens can be considered an honest-to-goodness Super Bowl contender, and priced like it, they have to pick it up on offense and separate themselves from some good teams.


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