Fresh off a 2-0 weekend in the wild-card round, we’re back at it again focusing on the AFC divisional rounds games here for The Sports Geek. One of my biggest plays of the season came with the Ravens last week in Pittsburgh. After analysing the underlying numbers and the two teams thoroughly, it felt as if this Baltimore group was a lot more talented than their record has shown. They proved me right last week at Heinz Field, but it’s a whole different beast this time around with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
These teams have met before in big playoff games, with the Ravens often gaining the upper hand. Baltimore enters with Bill Belechick’s number, and it remains to be seen if the talented Patriots can rectify that. The Ravens enter as overwhelming underdogs in this contest, but are definitely a squad that is capable of surprises. In fact, visiting teams coming off road victories in Week 18, are 13-3 against the spread in the following week. It looks like history suggests that momentum carries over when the games matter most, but we’ll find out if that is the case come Saturday. Read on below for a full game breakdown and our official selection in this contest as I try to remain undefeated for this post-season.
Ravens vs. Patriots Betting Odds:
Baltimore Ravens +7 (-110)
@ New England Patriots -7 (-110)
Over 48 (-110)
Under 48 (-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
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Ravens vs. Patriots Pick:
Entering this match-up, there’s no real doubting the fact that the Patriots are a better football team than the Ravens. That said, stylistically the Ravens have long given New England trouble, and I predict they’ll storm into Foxboro and do the same thing once again. Baltimore is just a bad match-up for the Pats and should prove why on Saturday. One of the biggest reasons for the Ravens’ success vs. New England is they simply shut down opposing running games. They did it last week against Pittsburgh, and could completely focus on Roethlisberger and the passing game, and look for their defense to do it again this week. The Ravens haven’t allowed an 100-yard rusher in 27 games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. As we know, the Pats like utilizing the run to set up their prolific passing attack. But just like last week, look for the Ravens and Haloti Ngata to be able to shut that down.
Where Baltimore really needs to focus, is the passing game from Tom Brady and the Pats. Their secondary isn’t the strongest, but just like last week if they can stop the run, they should be able to focus enough at halting the aerial attack. However it remains to be seen if New ENgland can take full advantage of Baltimore’s secondary, again due to a big mismatch in terms of styles. The Pats O-Line is wildly mediocre, while Baltimore possesses a ferocious pass rush and one that will pressure and hurry Brady at every instance. Tom Brady is not a quarterback that deals all that well with constant pressure, only being able to net a 56.2 QB rating over the past three years in this situation. In Week 16 when the Pats took on the Jets, New York too had a weak secondary but their pass rush made it difficult for Brady to move the ball. Look for a similar situation to unfold in this game. I really have no clue how the Pats can handle the Ravens pass rush. Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Elvis Dumervil, and Pernell McPhee were all huge last week vs. the Steelers and will be unstoppable on Saturday. Suggs, Dumervil and McPhee combined for 36.5 sacks on the season, more than 12 entire teams in the league. Expect yet another special outing from a revved up Ravens squad against New England.
On the other side of the ball, look for the Ravens offense to be able to turn in yet another steady outing. Joe Flacco takes a ton of heat, but last week in Pittsburgh he reminded fans and pundits alike why he got that huge contract. He was at the top of his game against the Steelers, though the Pats present some new and unique challenges. New England’s defense is vastly improved compared to previous versions the Ravens beat up on. That said, it’s tough to bet against Joe Flacco in the post-season. The guy is a winner, and despite New England’s stellar pass and run defense, there will be opportunities for Flacco to move the chains. Many of those chances will open up by key offensive lineman Eugene Monroe returning to action. I’m not sure the Pats will be able to generate that much pressure on Flacco, and as a result he’ll be able to have a lot of time to find his receivers downfield. Darelle Revis and Devin McCourty are great at coverage, but Torrey and Steve Smith are elusive enough that if they get time to get open, they usually will. Flacco will give his team a chance today.
Overall this is just a bad match-up for the heavily favoured Patriots. Stylistically, Baltimore poses all kinds of matchup issues for them and look for Baltimore to carry the momentum from last week into Foxboro, and turn in yet another stellar effort. The 7-point spread is too high, and the Ravens should cover, and believe it or not, I can see them winning this football game. 11 of the past 14 wild-card round underdog winners have gone on to cover the spread in their next game, while #1 seeds are 1-7 ATS in the divisional round over the past four seasons. It’s a big opportunity for Baltimore and look for them to seize it today.
PICK = Ravens +7 (-110)