Up until trouncing Denver last weekend, New England hadn’t won a playoff game since 2007. They haven’t won the Super Bowl since 2004. To say that those are eye opening factoids speaks volumes about the greatness of this franchise, but Sunday’s test against Baltimore will be one they have to pass before facing serious scrutiny. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” kind of league.
Ask the oddsmakers in Pro Football betting and they’ll have no problems backing the home team. The betting line on this game opened at -9.0 for New England, but quickly corrected down to a single touchdown with a bloated total that reflects both New England’s potent offense, and their spread legged defense. That number also factors in the fervent public backing a team like New England receives.
The Patriots are a team you know very well, because they get a lot of well deserved press. They’ve scored 37.3 points per game in a 9-0 SU and 6-3 ATS winning streak since Week 10. During that nine game run, they’ve allowed an average of 18.6 points against. That being said, they haven’t played great teams during that streak, unless you count the imploding Eagles in Week 12.
New England Patriots (13-4) vs. Baltimore Ravens (14-3)
Sunday, January 22nd ---- Gillette Stadium, Foxboro --- 3:00pm EST
NFL Payoff Betting Line: New England -7.0 (50.5)
I have had a lot of trouble toeing the line on Baltimore being a “great team” this season. Joe Flacco has been about as ordinary as you can be while leading his team to a division title (no offense to Alex Smith). He ranks well out of the top-10 in all the important statistical metrics for a quarterback. Despite playing with a “why doesn’t anyone think I’m good” chip on his shoulder, Flacco was bested by a Texans defense which limited him to just 176 passing yards last weekend.
Personally, Flacco is lumped in to a bevy of playoff tested quarterbacks that I doubt have “that switch” you need to go bananas in big moments. Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and Phillip Rivers are in that group. If he can pull the trigger against the Patriots, I’ll have a little more faith in him, but it should serve as a red flag that teammates like Ed Reed have also been critical of Flacco.
The betting trends don’t exactly favor the Ravens either, which might help explain the betting line. Baltimore is just 1-4 ATS in their last 5 game overall, and are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games against the AFC. They’re also 1-4-1 ATS in their last 6 visits to Foxboro and are just 1-3-2 ATS in their last 6 meetings with the Patriots overall.
New England doesn’t instill incredible confidence given their defensive shortcomings. It doesn’t help much that they’re also 1-5 ATS in their last 6 home playoff games. What should help is that they’re 5-2 ATS in their last 7 tilts against the AFC. Even more startling is that they’re 45-21-2 ATS in their last 68 games when they total 350 yards of offense in the previous game.
Admittedly, I had to reach deep in to the bag of tricks for that last betting trend which, more than anything, should tell you that the gambling analytics for this matchup are basically all over the place.
For my money, I love the Patriots. Ray Rice will cause some serious problems for Belichik, but I’m not convinced by Flacco. Even when it comes to Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, I think that Gronkowski has the youth and physical tools to beat both of them in coverage. Nobody’s been able to stop that guy.
The x-factor in this game is pressure. Tom Brady is used to this kind of spotlight. For the most part, he’s thrived beyond belief in this type of situation. Joe Flacco not only isn’t used to it, he’s unproven. If you think that the Ravens defense can carry them in this one, then keep in mind that they haven’t really played that many raging offenses all season (San Diego and Pittsburgh aside).
When you find yourself waffling on either side of the line, go with the known and trusted commodity. There are a lot of little things going against the Ravens like their 2-5-1 ATS record on turf, and I’m not completely sold on their intangibles.
If we know anything about the NFL it’s that this is a quarterback’s league. So take the quarterback you can trust. Take Tom Brady and watch him earn his fifth berth in a Super Bowl while he covers the spread. I can’t back Joe Flacco against a defense like New England when the Patriots are employing the best possible foil to a weak defense: an offense that scores without remorse.
NFL Playoff Betting Free Pick: New England -7.0 (UNDER)