Indianapolis Colts (11-5 SU, 11-5 ATS) vs. Baltimore Ravens (10-6 SU, 6-9-1 ATS)
AFC Wild Card Playoffs
Date/Time: Sunday, January 6th, 2013, 1:00 p.m. EST
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md.
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Ind + 6.5/Bal -6.5
Over/Under Total: 46
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The Indianapolis Colts and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck will get their feet wet in the National Football League playoffs against a veteran, playoff-seasoned Baltimore Ravens when the wildcard Colts travel to their old city of Baltimore for an AFC Wild Card playoff clash with the AFC North Champion Ravens this Sunday in M&T Bank Stadium on CBS.
Nobody expected Luck and the Colts to get back into the AFC playoffs this quick, making a 10-game improvement from last year’s 1-15 season with a 11-5 season in 2012, but the Colts have endured more than a year’s worth of adversity to earn a wild card bid this season.
Indy was 1-2 and coming off of their bye week when they found out their head coach Chuck Pagano was going to miss most of the season to battle cancer, and the Colts have responded ever since with a 10-3 finish since the news broke including winning five of their last six games down the stretch. The Colts sealed the season with a, 28-16, victory over their AFC South nemesis Houston Texans in the finale last Sunday to keep momentum all on their side going into the playoff opener on the road, in what is sure to be a hostile M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore hoping to smash the Cinderella-Colts slipper and send former defensive coordinator Pagano home right away in the opening round.
But Baltimore doesn’t exactly enter the playoffs this season on a roll, and their normal Super Bowl or Bust expectations are long gone as everyone in Ravens camp are reduced to crossing their fingers and hoping that veteran leadership and playoff experience still means something this Sunday.
The Ravens won only one game down the stretch, the, 33-14, victory over the defending champion New York Giants in week 16 that clinched the right to host the Colts at M&T instead of going on the road in the opening round. The Ravens also fired their offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, but the way Baltimore limped into the second season as losers of four of their last five, the coaching move has become a mere side note in this first round AFC matchup.
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Oddsmakers set the opening point spread for Sunday’s early game with the Ravens as 6.5-point favorites at home. There’s been a little line movement in both directions, as some offshore sportsbooks are down to minus -6, while a few properties in Las Vegas are up to -7, but for the most part the opening number has been spot on as most sportsbooks are still sitting right at -6.5.
The over/under total opened at 46.5 and has had the same line movement results as the point spread. There’s been very little movement, but it’s been in both directions too, since the total is up to 47 or down to 46 at a few books, but a large majority of sportsbooks are still sitting right at the opening number of 46.5.
The one thing that almost jumps off the page at you when you start handicapping this game as far as offenses go is the Ravens running game. Many have speculated that Cameron was fired because he didn’t use running back Ray Rice (1,143 yds., 10 TD) often enough (Balt. 119 ypg rush - 11th), and considering the Ravens need to establish the pace in Sunday’s game and that the Colts defense has had their struggles to stop the run (allow 138 ypg - 29th), you have to figure that Rice and backup Bernard Pierce should get plenty of touches on Sunday.
Quarterback Joe Flacco is so much better at home, and he’s also much better when throwing out of play-action, so keeping ahead of the chains will be crucial to the Ravens success come Sunday. Indy has one of the league’s better pass rush units (41 sacks - 9th), and they are very opportunistic in forcing turnovers too (18 INT (6th), 20 forced fumbles (3rd)), so staying out of third-and-long and predictable situations will help the Ravens solve their problems with their struggling offense.
It’s kind of hard to handicap the Colts offense, partly because we’re dealing with a rookie QB in Luck who has had flashes of brilliance closing out games (4,374 yds., 23 TD), but one who has also shown he’s a rookie with bad decisions (18 INT) and an over-reliance on one receiver (Reggie Wayne) which has led to a league-low 54.1 completion percentage (even Mark Sanchez had a higher percentage than Luck).
Another factor complicating things on offense for the Colts is the injury situation across the ball with the Ravens defense. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis may return to inspire the troops, but they’ve been playing with DT Haloti Ngata (knee - questionable), S Bernard Pollard (chest - questionable) and LB Terrell Suggs (bicep - probable) all at less than full strength for weeks. Baltimore’s defense has played better down the stretch, but overall they don’t force turnovers (9 forced fumbles - 29th, 11 INT - 26th) or put the fear into offenses with a great pass rush (38 sacks - 13th) like they used to in the old days.
Baltimore beat the Colts at home in late December last season, 24-10, in the most recent clash between these two AFC squads. Prior to then the Colts had won eight straight and twice in the playoffs ( 20-3 in 2009, 15-6 in 2007), but that was back when Peyton Manning was in a Colts uniform, so historical analysis can turn to paralysis quickly.
Indy has absolutely owned the Ravens at the betting window, going 8-0 ATS in their last eight (since 2004), 2-0 ATS in the playoffs and 5-0 ATS in their last five visits to M&T Bank Stadium. The only betting trend going in Baltimore’s favor is the fact that the Ravens are 5-1 ATS in their last six AFC Wild Card games.
The under may prove to be the safest wager, since it’s gone 4-0 in these two team’s last meetings, twice in previous playoff meetings, and 4-1 in the last five played in Baltimore. The under is also 5-0 in the Colt’s last five playoff road games, and 4-0 in the Ravens last four home playoff games.
Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: It’s rare that I agree with the public, because that is a sure fire way to lose your bankroll to the cadillac driving bookies, HOWEVER, in this case I believe that Indy has a shot to win this game straight up so I’m betting them and taking the points. I will admit though, this is not a super strong play and I’m absolutely spooked by the fact that 67% are on the Colts and the line went from -6.5 to -7. My bet will be lunch money at best.
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