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NFL MVP favorite Lamar Jackson has Ravens on the run

The Jackson 5, starring a young Michael Jackson, was one of the best-selling bands of all time. But have you heard of The Jackson 4?

Those are the four quarterbacks who were selected before Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen.

The Jackson 4 is a talented group, with three of them entrenched as starters. But they still might end up being best known as the answer to a trivia question about Lamar Jackson, whose otherworldly performance this season has made him the odds-on favorite to win the NFL MVP award.

Jackson, who has 25 touchdown passes and seven TD runs, is on pace to join Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks with at least 30 passing TDs and 10 rushing TDs in a season. Newton had 35 TD passes and 10 TD runs in his 2015 MVP season.

Jackson, who has 977 rushing yards, also is on track to break Michael Vick’s single-season quarterback rushing record of 1,039 yards set in 2006.

“Lamar’s running ability is a cross between Vick’s speed and Russell Wilson’s smarts,” said Ed Salmons, Westgate sportsbook vice president of risk. “Wilson is so little, but he never gets hit when he runs. Jackson also knows how to run smartly.”

Salmons traces Jackson’s MVP run to Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s decision to stick with his rookie quarterback despite his struggles last season in Baltimore’s 23-17 wild-card playoff loss to the Chargers.

“The announcers and everyone were screaming for Joe Flacco to come in,” Salmons said. “But Harbaugh saw the bigger picture and stuck with him — ‘He’s my guy, and I’m not going to break his confidence.’ He put his job on the line and adapted to Lamar Jackson.”

Jackson action

After his subpar postseason performance, Jackson was a 200-1 long shot to be named NFL MVP. One Westgate bettor placed a $55 wager to win $11,000 on the former Heisman Trophy winner, and two others made $50 bets to win $10,000 each.

William Hill took 16 MVP wagers on Jackson at 100-1, including a $200 bet to win $20,000 on Aug. 20 and a $300 bet to win $30,000 on Aug. 25.

Jackson’s odds dropped with each jaw-dropping performance, and in recent weeks he eclipsed Wilson as the MVP favorite.

Even at minus 400 odds, the action on Jackson continued this past week when a Westgate bettor wagered $20,000 to win $5,000 on him to win MVP. Afterward, the Westgate moved Jackson to a minus 1,000 favorite — meaning a bettor must wager $1,000 to win $100.

“We’re a big loser to Lamar Jackson right now,” Westgate sportsbook director John Murray said. “We decided basically that we don’t want to take any more bets to Jackson right now.

“He’s an amazing player. Russell Wilson’s the only other guy we think can realistically win.”

Wilson, the Seahawks’ quarterback, is the 4-1 second choice, and Texans QB Deshaun Watson is third at 30-1.

William Hill will be a small winner if Jackson wins MVP honors, as the book has almost twice as many tickets on Wilson.

“It’s not a foregone conclusion that Lamar Jackson wins this thing,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “People absolutely love Russell Wilson.”

PointsBet sportsbook in New Jersey, perhaps in a publicity stunt, announced Nov. 20 that it would immediately start paying out MVP tickets on Jackson. The online book added that it also would pay off bets if another player ended up winning the award.

“It’s pretty clear to us that Lamar is a freight train that won’t be stopped,” PointsBet CEO Johnny Aitken said in a statement. “He is steaming toward well-deserved NFL MVP honors as he racks up the yards, rewrites the record books and redefines the quarterback position.”

Historic run

With Jackson running the zone-read offense to near perfection, the Ravens (10-2) are on pace to break the NFL’s single-season team rushing record of 3,165 yards set by New England in 1978.

Jackson has led Baltimore to eight straight wins — beating the 49ers, Rams, Seahawks and Patriots along the way — and on Nov. 26 the Ravens surpassed New England as the 3-1 favorites to win Super Bowl LIV.

Las Vegas sportsbooks will be big winners if Baltimore — previously not a popular public team — wins the Super Bowl. That’s despite the fact that the Westgate took 162 wagers on the Ravens at 40-1, including a $1,000 bet to win $40,000 on Sept. 29, the date of their last loss.

“We’ve considered them the best team in the NFL basically since that (Nov. 3) win over the Patriots,” Murray said.

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Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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