Baltimore Ravens (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (10-2 SU, 9-3 ATS)
NFL Week 14
Date/Time: Monday December 12th 8:30 PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium
By Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: BAL +7 / NE -7
The Baltimore Ravens travel to Foxboro to battle the Patriots in a matchup of AFC division leaders that if the playoffs started today would be lined up to play in round two. New England holds a decided 9-3 advantage in the twelve games the teams have played against each other, including a 7-1 record in the regular season and 6-2 mark at home.
The Patriots are coming off of a 26-10 cakewalk win against the Browns last week that saw quarterback Tom Brady set the NFL record for wins by a quarterback with the 201st of his career. Brady continues to lead the league in passer rating while completing just under 70% of his passes for 2,470 yards and an astounding 19/1 TD-INT ratio. With Rob Gronkowski now officially out for the rest of the season and playoffs, the talent of Brady will be even more integral to the teamís success with no other passing option clearly ahead of anyone else on the team. No one player on the team has over four receiving touchdowns on the year, with six having either 3 or 4 scores and Edelman having scored just twice, this despite being 7th in the league in receptions (72) and 12th in targets (110). While many players have scored through the air only one Patriot running back leads the touchdown charge on the ground, and that is LeGarrette Blount, who is well on his toward the most successful season of his seven-year NFL career.
Blount has now rushed for 957 yards and scored 13 touchdowns through thirteen games, the most rushing TDís of any player in the NFL and is also the only Patriots player other than third string quarterback Jacoby Brissett to score on the ground this season. Blount has only rushed for over 1,000 yards once in his career, and that was back during his rookie year in 2010 when he played for Tampa Bay and ran for 1,007 yards after going undrafted thanks to a suspension that cost him most of his senior season after punching a Boise State player after Blountís Ducks lost to the Broncos to open the 2009 college football season. Though Blount is a non-factor as a receiving threat out of the backfield (he hasnít caught a pass since October and has only six catches on the season), the duo of James White and recently returned from injury Dion Lewis are two of the best at their position as a passing option and provide even more offensive flexibility that should help the Patriots maintain their multi-dimensional attack that ranks 6th in the NFL in scoring, 5th in passing and 6th in rushing.
Due to a tiebreaker of record against a common opponents, the Patriots currently stand as the second seed in the AFC behind Oakland and can clinch the East division with a win on Sunday and a loss by Miami while also being able to clinch a first round bye with a win against Baltimore with losses by Miami and Pittsburgh. A win this weekend against Baltimore is key for the Patriots as of the three other remaining teams they have left to play (at Denver, New York, at Miami), only the Jets have a losing record. New England will be looking to start off strong against Baltimore on Sunday as they have done all season, having outscored their opponents in the first quarter in ten of their twelve games this year, especially considering that the Ravens offense was able to snap out of a season long funk last week against Miami and will now be looking to carry that momentum forward for the rest of the 2016 season and into the playoffs.
Baltimore entered last week against the Dolphins having been outgained in six of their last seven games, with the only contest they werenít out-yarded coming against the lowly Cleveland Browns. They ended up trouncing Miami 38-6 as Joe Flacco had his highest quarterback rating in a game in over two seasons and was able to spread the ball around efficiently, even getting tight end Dennis Pitta into the endzone for the first time since the 2013 season. The running game behind Terrance West had one of its most productive games of the season, which still doesnít say much as the Ravens are currently 28th in the league in rushing offense and 24th in touchdowns, having scored on the ground only seven times all season. Their receivers are led by the immortal Steve Smith and Mike Wallace, who started his first year in Baltimore strong with touchdowns in the weeks one and two, but has since struggled to get into the endzone and has scored just once in the last ten games. The true star of the offense, which going a long way in explaining why the team ranks in the bottom half of the NFL in total offense, is kicker Justin Tucker. He is a perfect 28 of 28 in field goals this season, and going back to last season has now gone 35 straight attempts without a miss, which is nine away from tying the record of 44 in a row that Adam Vinatieri set this season. Tucker has also made eight field goals from 50 yards or more, which ties him with Morten Anderson for the most kicks made from 50+ in a season in league history.
While Tucker and Flacco lead a less than intimidating offense, the Baltimore defense has continued to be amongst the NFLís best, ranking 1st in yards allowed and 2nd in scoring. The heart of the defense is linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has eight sacks on the year but really did his best work back in March, when he was arrested for leaving the scene of an accident and driving under a suspended license, becoming the 10th player arrest the Ravens have had in just over 24 months. This in turn took the pressure of the rest of his teammates since he stepped up to continue their trouble with the law tradition, as 2011 is the only year since 2003 that the team has gone through an entire calendar year without a player getting arrested. Unfortunately the records available only went back to 2000, when Ray Lewis started the streak off strong by the whole murder stabbing of two people on the night of the Super Bowl. The one positive about Suggs arrest is that it wasnít a horrifying story of abuse like his previous two police encounters, the first being when he poured bleach on his girlfriend and their one year old baby and the second a couple of years later when he punched her in the neck and than dragged her by the hair while driving in the car with their two kids. Unfortunately Suggs is the perfect example of the NFL hypocrisy of not only attempting to cover up crimes by players, but also continuously promoting those who have committed horrific acts and then taking a stand against the true injustices of the world like fining players who wear cleats that are promoting charity awareness.
The biggest side story to the game is that this will be the first time the two teams have played since their infamous playoff game back in 2014 that the Patriots won 35-31. The Ravens became the first team in NFL history to blow two 14-point leads in a single playoff game, and much was made about the Patriots play calling in which they used perfectly legal but rarely scene offensive formations to success that in turn befuddled Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh and sent him into a sideline tantrum that continued on into the post game press conference (and yes, this is a near exact replica of what happened two weeks ago with his brother Jim after his Michigan team lost to Ohio State). New England may stack up well statistically and on paper look to be the better team, but emotion can carry a team a long way and this is a Ravens team that from front office to coaches to players truly hates the Patriots, and that motivation could go a long way in shaping Sundayís matchup.
The point spread for the game opened at 8 but dropped to 7 soon after and that is where it currently sits. If it stayed at 8 or went higher you might find value with Baltimore, but giving 7 or less at home with New England against a team that has struggled to find success on the road is the route I would take. Against the spread trends like the road team going 6-0-1 in the last seven games between the teams and the underdog going 5-1-1 in the last seven may look good, but the true record that matters is that the Ravens have gone just 10-21 in their last 31 road games stretching across the past 3+ seasons, and of their previous four road wins going back to last season, two are against Cleveland and another is against almost as terrible Jacksonville. Emotions will be high throughout the game, but in the end the Patriots will get the win and cover at home in the friendly confines of frigid Foxboro.
Mike Mís Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -7
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