Baltimore Ravens (11-6 SU, 8-8-1 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS)
AFC Divisional Playoffs
Date and Time: Saturday, January 10, 2015, 4:35 pm EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: BAL. +7/NE -7
Over/Under Total: 48
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The Baltimore Ravens will venture into familiar territory for their AFC Divisional Playoff game on Saturday, returning to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough for a second round NFL playoff game against the New England Patriots.
The last time the Ravens played at Gillette Stadium they won the 2012-13 AFC Championship game, 28-13, rallying for 21 second-half points to pull away for the AFC title. But while the Ravens will be busy remembering the good times, Tom Brady and the Patriots will be rested and ready for the chance at redemption and a second chance at beating the Ravens in their home stadium in an AFC playoff game.
Baltimore set up the date with New England in the second round by beating the familiar rival Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend in the wild card round, 30-17. The Ravens scored 10 points in each of the last three quarters of their Wild Card win, including a 21-yard nail in the coffin touchdown score from Joe Flacco to Crockett Gillmore midway through the fourth quarter to cue the fat lady to sing. Now Flacco and the Ravens will have a short week to prep for the Pats, who certainly spent the bye week anticipating a possible date with the Ravens and a chance at another go around at home against the team that knocked them out at Gillette the last time they had home field advantage in the AFC.
The oddsmakers set the opening point spread for the game with New England as full touchdown 7-point favorites at home, and after the first 24 hours of the number going up on the board it has yet to move in either direction. The over/under total opened at 49 and has dropped to 48 at most sportsbooks, and as low as 47.5 at a few of the more popular sportsbooks on the Web.
When handicapping these two teams in regards to offense-vs.-defense, its kind of hard to find an area where the Patriots dont have a sizable advantage. That explains the full touchdown for a point spread.
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On offense, the Ravens are going to have to use steady doses of Justin Forsett to try and opening up the passing game, however it could be tough to do considering the fact that New England finished the season as the 9th-ranked unit defending the run (104 ypg). The week off should have helped Brandon Browner rest and get his groin back to as close to 100 percent as possible, so it may be hard for Steve Smith and Torrey Smith to get opportunities outside versus Browner, Logan Ryan and Darrelle Revis. The best opportunity for the Ravens could be TE Owen Daniels down the middle against safety Patrick Chung. Chung struggles in coverage from time to time and finding opportunities to get him in one-on-one sets against Daniels or 3rd-WR Marlon Brown could turn into their best chance at putting points on the board.
The key to stopping Brady and the Pats has always been getting pressure up the middle against them, so the return of Haloti Ngata will be huge. Ngata and Brandon Williams will not only need to get pressure in Bradys face, but they will also be called upon to stop the Patriots running game. New England will use a combo of LaGerrette Blount, Shane Vereen and Jonas Gray to keep the Ravens pass rush (Elvis Dumervil and his 17 sacks) honest, and if they dont stop the run its going to mean a tough day. Baltimore is fully capable of stopping the run (88 ypg allowed 4th in NFL), but facing the Pats trio at running back is certainly more of a challenge then they faced against the LeVeon Bell-less Steelers this past weekend.
Not only did the Ravens beat the Patriots in the AFC playoffs the last time they visited Gillette Stadium in 2013, but they also beat them in the playoffs back in 2010, 33-14. In the 2013 game the Ravens were similar 8-point underdogs, and 3.5-point dogs in 2010, so needless to say the Ravens have not only covered in the playoffs (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS), but they also covered in their three of their last four visits to Gillette overall (3-0-1 ATS in games at NE). Baltimore is also 5-0 ATS in their last five January games (i.e. playoff games).
The road team is 5-0-1 ATS in their last six head-to-head meetings between these two teams. The underdog is also a rock solid 4-1-1 ATS in the last six overall, so the betting trend pick is clearly the Ravens if youre into those kind of wagers.
The over is 4-0-1 in the last five New England divisional playoff games, but the Ravens usually play under the total, with the under going 4-0-1 in Baltimores last five games overall.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread:I know the Ravens are a covering machine in the playoffs, and a 7-point spread in the NFL playoffs is a big number. But Im drinking the Patriots kool aid this year. The Pats are a solid wager when they play inside Gillette Stadium, and I honestly think the Ravens’ offense is going to have problems with their dinged-up offensive line moving the chains consistently. Ill take New England minus the points.