Monday, January 5, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015 Divisional Playoffs: Ravens Vs Patriots

Baltimore Ravens Vs. New England Patriots: BAL +7 (-120) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This line opened up Patriots -7.5, but early money scooped those up right away and the books quickly moved it to -7.  Now they've adjusted the juice as well. Is this going to come off 7 and move to -6.5?  It should based on how these teams matchup, but I don't know if it will. Either way, I'm not going to wait around to see, so I'll lock in at this number while I can. Bettors are pretty split overall with 51% of the bets on the Ravens so far.

Bottom Line

Despite a 2-6 record against winning teams this season, the Ravens came out in Wild Card weekend and looked fully prepared, and equally efficient, while taking out the Steelers. The two big keys for that game were the front seven on D, and Joe Flacco on O.

And I'll start with their defense, because that's what could give the Patriots the most trouble. It doesn't matter who you are, if the Ravens front plays like it did last Saturday, then they can disrupt any offense. Up front, they have the 5th best adjusted-sack rate in the league, and they've climbed to 3rd in the league against the run. They've been average on third down, but one of the best inside their red zone.

In contrast, the Patriots have been equally good at keeping Brady upright, and turned a 32nd ranked run offense to 2nd in the NFL at year's end. They've also been fantastic on third down from start to the finish.

So which side wins that battle? I think both will have some success, because we are talking about Belichick and Brady here, and the Ravens secondary is still held together by duct tape, but the Ravens should also be able to disrupt enough drives to keep this from being a double-digit loss.

On the flip side, the Ravens OL is top 5 in adjusted sack-rate, and they've been great at sustaining drives all year. Flacco can be hit-or-miss, especially this season, but he just proved once again that he can go into a hostile environment and get the job done.

The problem for Baltimore will be the fact that the Patriots defense is better than what the Steelers put out on the field.  They finished the year 2nd best against the run, and have one of the better red zone defenses in the league - an area where the Ravens have had problems.  It's not all good news for New England though, because they were only average on third down this year, average in adjusted-sack rate, and 20th in the league as an overall unit at home, compared to 4th best on the road.

Both of these teams also feature top 5 units on special teams.

When it's all said and done, the Ravens matchup pretty well against the Patriots - at least on paper. After factoring in the extra week of rest and home field advantage, this line should probably be around -4.5 to -5.5, but certainly not -7.  I've been burned by New England a lot over the years, but I have no choice but to take the points for what could turn out to be a really close, hard-fought game.

NFL pick: BAL +7.

Read more: Divisional picks.