Baltimore Ravens (12-6 SU, 8-9-1 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (13-4 SU, 10-7 ATS)
2013 AFC Championship Game
Date/Time: Sunday, January 20th, 2013, 6:30 p.m. EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Bal +9/NE -9
Over/Under Total: 51.5
After a long summer of OTA’s, 17 weeks of a regular season and two weeks of playoff football we’re right back to where we all started with the Baltimore Ravens playing the New England Patriots for the second consecutive season in the AFC Championship game this Sunday in Gillette Stadium.
Sunday’s game will be a rematch of last year’s AFC title game where the Ravens came a dropped touchdown pass, then a shanked field goal away from making it to last year’s Super Bowl. It will also be a rematch of a week three game this season that saw the Ravens get a crumb of redemption back from the Patriots with a slim victory at home in Baltimore, 31-30.
Baltimore is back in this year’s AFC Championship after pulling off the upset of the 2013 playoff season in last week’s double-overtime stunner in Denver, 38-35. The Ravens pulled off the upset (closed as 10-point underdogs at some sportsbooks) when Jacoby Jones inexplicably got behind the Broncos defense for a game-tying 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left in regulation, then nailed the Broncos coffin shut with an interception of Peyton Manning and a 47-yard field goal by rookie kicker Justin Tucker early in the second overtime period.
New England earned the right to defend their AFC title when they dispatched the Houston Texans in the Divisional round last Sunday, 41-28. The Patriots overcame a momentum-swinging opening kickoff return by the Texans to take back control of the game and never let go, as Tom Brady threw for 344 yards and three scores to give New England their second straight title game appearance and fifth overall since the 2001-02 season.
Oddsmakers originally set the opening point spread for Sunday’s AFC title rematch with New England as large 9.5-point favorites at home, but with the most of the early money raining down on the Ravens (up to 75-80 % at some online sportsbooks) the number has come down the hook to minus -9 at most sportsbooks on the Web and most of the properties out in Las Vegas.
The over/under total opened at 51.5 and has yet to move in either direction at most books, although if you look really hard you may find a token 51 or even a 52 at sportsbooks willing to put the push result back in play.
When breaking down this game offensively you really have one team’s approach that is well known, and one that is sort of a mystery.
You pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get with New England and Brady, even though the Patriots will be missing one of their biggest offensive weapons in tight end Rob Gronkowski (re-broke his forearm vs. Houston) throughout the rest of the playoffs. New England just plugs in players like backup running back Shane Vereen (three TDs vs. Texans) for Gronk, keeps defenses on the field with their “hurry-up” attack, and let’s Brady make the adjustments and calls at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of what the defense gives them in mismatches.
Baltimore’s defense has played well in the playoffs with their leader Ray Lewis back in the middle calling the plays, but with a limited pass rush due to nagging injuries to their best two rushers (Terrell Suggs on the edge, Haloti Ngata inside), and a secondary missing their best cover corner (Lardarius Webb) it could turn into a long day for the Ravens against the surgical-like Brady.
The Ravens best defense against Brady and New England might be their resurgent offense, which has come back to life in the postseason. Baltimore has averaged 459 yards and 31 points a game in their two playoff wins, with most of the credit due to a reworked offensive line that now features veteran Bryant McKinnie back at left tackle and Michael Oher flipped over to right tackle. Last week the Ravens ran the ball 39 times behind that “new” offensive line against a stiff Denver run defense, an approach they’ll likely try and repeat on Sunday to try and keep the chains moving and keep Brady standing on the sideline.
Baltimore will also take their shots down the field to receiver Torrey Smith, who had another breakout game against Champ Bailey and the Broncos last weekend. Smith will likely draw Patriots corner Aquib Talib on most plays, a matchup the Ravens have to like despite the fact Talib has played very well since joining the Pats at the trading deadline. Smith had 127 yards and two scores for the Ravens in their week three win this season, and Flacco threw for 382 yards and three scores in that game as well, so Baltimore can’t be afraid to stay aggressive in order to reverse the results of last year’s title-game loss.
In last year’s AFC Championship game the Ravens followed the script and held a six-minute advantage in time of possession, they just weren’t able to overcome the Patriots second-half adjustments. Baltimore also lost the battle of field position throughout most of the second half, giving up twice as many return yards as they had in the game. Considering the Ravens also gave up two returns for touchdowns last week against the Broncos, the handful of special teams plays in this game will be crucial for the Ravens to change their fate this season as well.
Last year’s gave closed with Baltimore as 7-point underdogs at home, so the big number shouldn’t automatically scare away bettors from a wager on the Ravens. Baltimore is also a perfect 2-0 ATS this year in the playoffs, 10-4 ATS in their last 14 road playoff games, and the underdog and road team is a solid 3-0-1 ATS the last four times these two teams have met on the gridiron. New England is only 2-7 ATS in their last nine home playoff games, so there’s plenty of betting trends and reasons why most of the early money has been siding with the visiting Ravens.
After the Wild Card round of the playoffs saw all four games stay under the total, the Divisional round went the other way with all four games flying over the total. As a whole the under is 5-2 in the last seven head-to-head meetings in Gillette Stadium. The under is also 5-2 in Baltimore’s last seven playoff games as well, but the over is 7-1 in New England’s last eight games played in January.
Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The return of Ray Lewis has been a great story and has surely inspired the Ravens. Winning at Denver was incredible as the Broncos were red hot. I’m still not sold on Joe Flacco on the road though. I also believe that New England is hitting their stride and peaking at the right time. The public is one siding the Ravens to the tune of 72% and the line has barely moved but a half point. When it comes to sports betting and lines, it could be said that if something looks too good to be true, it is! I’m laying the wood with the Patriots here in what I believe will be 14+ point margin.
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