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Late For Work 10/19: John Harbaugh-Led Ravens Sit Atop the AFC

Head Coach John Harbaugh

It's Week 7 of the NFL season and the Ravens (5-1) are in sole possession of first place in the AFC after the Buffalo Bills' loss to Derrick Henry and the Titans last night.

The Ravens' success has caught the eye of the media, especially because they've done so with an injured reserve list featuring multiple All-Pro players and key starters.

Of course, the play of Lamar Jackson has been a huge factor. But pundits have keyed in on the head coach that's made it all possible: John Harbaugh.

On Monday's "Good Morning Football," Kay Adams said Harbaugh should be appreciated more.

"We do not talk about him enough. We do not recognize him for what he does," Adams said. "He seized the opportunity to tell us, once again, that he is one of the best head coaches in this game."

"Nothing about the Ravens makes much sense right now," The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin wrote. "This is a team crushed by injuries, with an NFL-high 16 players on injured reserve. That doesn't include receiver Sammy Watkins and left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who were inactive with injuries Sunday. And the Ravens had every reason to sleepwalk through Sunday's game. … Yet the Ravens kept on rolling."

"All of which is to say that the Ravens have (A) a heck of a quarterback in Lamar Jackson and (B) a heck of a coach in Harbaugh. … Harbaugh was at his best, getting his shorthanded team ready to play on just six days of rest."

Fanduel’s Adam Taylor McKillop also backs Harbaugh for coach of the year.

"Aside from the phenomenal play of quarterback Lamar Jackson, a lot of the Ravens' success can be credited to head coach John Harbaugh," McKillop wrote. "He's an early Coach of the Year nominee according to betting odds on FanDuel Sportsbook and for good reason why. Baltimore has been particularly banged up, leading the league with 16 total players on the IR list. The team with the second most players on IR is the Detroit Lions, and they're winless."

The Ravens' blowout win of the Chargers was dubbed a 2019-like performance by Baltimore. Harbaugh was named the Coach of the Year after that season. Is this year's early-season Ravens performance even more impressive considering the circumstances?

"Undisputed's" Shannon Sharpe said if there was one coach in the NFL he could choose to play for, it would be Harbaugh. Skip Bayless said the Ravens have the best top-to-bottom coaching staff in the league.

Jackson's Contract Leverage Only Grows As 2021 Season Continues

Now, with just over a third of the regular season complete, no updates have been released, but Jackson's silenced just about every criticism pertaining to him entering the season. This has The Undefeated’s Jean-Jacques Taylor thinking Jackson's contract must be, at least, the second-largest deal in NFL history.

"Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, a member of Jackson's draft class, has already signed a long-term deal worth $258 million over the next six years and $150 million guaranteed," Taylor wrote. "Jackson's forthcoming deal should eclipse Allen's contract since he has an MVP trophy and he's the league's most talented dual-threat quarterback. Full stop."

With the victories piling up for the Ravens and Jackson, the "contractual leverage" has been tilted in Jackson's favor, according to The Athletic's Jeff Howe.

"Jackson is under the Ravens' control through 2022, and several executives around the league wonder where he'll fall on the salary scale — closer to $30 million or $40 million annually," Howe wrote. "As long as Jackson maintains his performance from this recent stretch, he has likely pushed his value to the top of that financial spectrum, possibly even eclipsing it…It's unclear what type of contract Jackson wants or how much the Ravens are willing to pay. But as these performances mount and this process draws out, Jackson's price appears to be on the way up."

It's not just Jackson and the Ravens' success, but his value for the team that may increase his paygrade. He's in the running for league MVP for a second time and, according to The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz, he's the single-most valuable player for their respective franchise.

"If it wasn't already clear before the 2021 season, it is now: Lamar Jackson makes the Ravens offense viable—not the other way around," Ruiz wrote. "When Jackson won the MVP award in 2019, there were still some naysayers who believed his success was the product of a stellar supporting cast and play-calling that was custom built for his strengths and weaknesses as a passer. Those arguments can no longer be made."

Are The Ravens 'Lucky?'

Just about every team in the NFL is a handful of plays from a significant change in their record. For the 2021 Ravens, their handful of plays include a 66-yard field goal from kicker Justin Tucker against the Lions and a pair of failed field goals from the Indianapolis Colts, be them blocked or missed.

These plays sparked talk of whether teams are "lucky" or not, and fivethirtyeight’s FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Payne, Michael Salfino and Joshua Hermsmeyer, along with their "NFL's 'luckiest' teams in close games" model offers an answer:

"[The Ravens] definitely have been among the best teams," Payne wrote. "They are top-11 on both sides of the ball by schedule-adjusted expected points added (EPA). Jackson has had some amazing games, but they've also gotten lucky with some of the close wins. According to the Pythagorean formula, they have the fourth-biggest gap between actual and expected winning percentage."

"I hear you, but dominating the Chargers, who I thought were a Super Bowl contender, sort of erases the lucky narrative, for me," Salfino wrote.

"There's a lot of weird stats for Baltimore," Hermsmeyer wrote. "Among the teams with at least five wins, they've notched the greatest number of plays of 20+ yards but are second to last in EPA per play. I think the Ravens will be a better team overall in the second half of the season, mainly due to getting healthy and the O-line gelling. So I think the best is to come."

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