With apologies to The Amazing Kreskin, I don't think anyone could have had the success I have had over the last several years with Futures predictions. So, let's go to work again, and pull out our crystal ball to select a team to win this year's Super Bowl. As I mentioned, my success the last several years with Futures wagers is likely unparalleled. Here's a quick review for newcomers. In Basketball this past season, we cashed both the Milwaukee Bucks (at 13-2 odds) and the Baylor Bears (at 12-1 odds). And that was the 2nd straight NCAA season we picked the winner in the preseason, as we cashed Virginia as our Futures wager (at 22-1 odds) to win the 2019 Title. Also in 2019, we cashed our Futures wager on the Washington Nationals in Baseball, at 18-1 odds, and followed up the Nationals with our Preseason Futures pick on the Dodgers in 2020, at 4-1 odds. And that made it three winning MLB Futures in four seasons, as we had Houston, at 10-1 odds, in 2017. In hockey, we delivered with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020, at 7-1 odds. And we cashed the Spurs (14-1, 2014), Warriors (5-1, 2016), and Warriors again (-160, 2018) in the NBA. Unfortunately, our current 2021 World Series pick on the Minnesota Twins (at 22-1 odds) never had a shot.
Let's move into our discussion of this season's football Futures wager. I generally don't release college football, and only release an NFL selection. This year, I will go out a little bit on a limb and select the Baltimore Ravens, who are currently listed at 16-1 odds at BetOnline. The reason I say "out on a limb" isn't a reflection of Baltimore's overall talent, which is great, but is more a nod to its backfield's current injury-riddled state. The Ravens have lost two of their top four running backs, as J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill have each been lost for the season. Thus, Gus Edwards and Ty'Son Williams are the only healthy running backs, which has necessitated a search for depth at the position. Currently, the Ravens are working out such fallen stars as Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman. But clearly, there's little room for error (i.e., further injury) at this position the rest of the season.
So, why Baltimore? Certainly, the Ravens have underachieved in the post-season. Last year, they carried a six-game win streak into Buffalo, but were held to just three points by the Bills, in a 17-3 defeat. The previous season, John Harbaugh's troops had won their final 12 regular season games (and were 14-2, overall) before being stunned by Tennessee, 28-12. The Ravens were a 10-point favorite in that game, and had the NFL's #1 record. And, then, in 2018, the Ravens won the AFC North, but were upset in their first playoff game by the Los Angeles Chargers, 23-17. But it is exactly because Baltimore has had this string of playoff disappointment that I like it this season. Indeed, the Ravens' situation is not unlike that of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, who I took (at 13-2 odds) this past NBA season. Milwaukee had owned the NBA's #1 record each of the previous two seasons, only to flame out badly in the post-season (including an ignominious bounce out of the second round of the Playoffs by the Miami Heat in 2020). Yet, Mike Budenholzer's men used that as fuel this past season, and wound up hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
The key in the post-season will be the play of the Ravens' defense. And of all the AFC contenders, none in my opinion has a better defense than does Baltimore. Last season, the Ravens ranked 9th in DVOA and 2nd in points allowed. They boast Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams up front, Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison up the middle, and have Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young in the secondary.
And, for all the negatives thrown the way of Lamar Jackson, let's not forget that just two seasons ago, in 2019, he passed for 3,127 yards, and ran for 1,206, and had 36 touchdown passes, and seven rushing TDs. Most incredibly, he threw for a touchdown on 9% of his pass attempts, the highest rate in the NFL that season, and 2nd only to Peyton Manning's 9.9% rate in 2004. It was to be expected that his numbers would decline somewhat last season, and they did. But that doesn't mean that Jackson -- at just age 24 -- won't continue to take major steps forward in his career, which is still in its very early stage.
Take the Ravens at 16-1 odds to win Super Bowl 56.
Good luck, as always...Al McMordie