Football Picks: Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens
Denver Broncos (2-0 SU, 0-1-1 ATS) vs. Baltimore Ravens (1-1 SU, 1-1 ATS)
When: Sunday September 23, 1:00 PM EST
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore Md.
By: Keith Allen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Spread: Den +5 / Balt -5
The Broncos venture to the east coast for an AFC clash against the Ravens in Baltimore. The Ravens will be looking to rebound from a 34-23 Thursday night loss to the division rival Bengals. Cincinnati dominated Baltimore at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Broncos opened with 2 games at Mile High Stadium, and came away with 2 wins but haven’t covered a spread in the young season.
The narrative in the summer was that Joe Flacco was fully healthy for the first time in a long time and would look like super bowl Flacco rather than the rotten pumpkin Flacco we have seen in the past few years. He lived up to the hype in pre-season then lit up the Bills in week 1 completing 74% of his passes for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns. Last week the Bengals spent a lot of time in the Raven backfield and Joe responded by completing only 58% of his attempts, tossing 2 interceptions and losing a fumble. The offensive line was expected to be a strength for Baltimore but didn’t deliver against the Bengals as Flacco took 4 sacks. Baltimore’s receiving crew of John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead are proving to be a solid trio and have already accumulated 24 catches including 4 scores. Brown has been the most impressive averaging over 19 yards per catch.
The offensive hasn’t provided much running room for the backs either. Alex Collins and Buck Allen are sharing the load in the backfield and have been limited to less than 3 yards per carry on 26 attempts. The Ravens were expecting Collins to be a true work-horse back after a solid 2017 season but he has had trouble holding onto the ball and the coaches seem to have lost confidence in him. Baltimore will have to get their ground game going if they are going to make a playoff run as they cannot expect to win with Flacco throwing 55 times like he did in Cincinnati. I look for the Ravens to rededicate themselves to running the ball this week and get Collins going.
Denver’s defensive superstars have lived up to expectations in the early part of the season but the overall defense has been mediocre. They are allowing 5.9 yards per play and 43 combined points to Seattle and Oakland. All-World pass rusher Von Miller sacked Russell Wilson 3 times and got to Derek Carr once in week 2, and the balance of the defense had 3 sacks in week 1 but couldn’t get home in week 2. The Bronco front 7 are limiting their opponents to 3.6 yards per carry but this is against teams that have sub-par rushing attacks. The key to this game for the Ravens will be for the Ravens to establish a running game. Collins averaged 4.6 yards per rush last year and will have to get back over 4 ypc mark. If the Ravens can establish the run and the line can keep Miller out of the backfield, the Ravens should be able to put points on the board.
Case Keenum was a huge surprise last year leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship game, and now he has led 2 fourth quarter comebacks to get Denver to 2-0. Keenum has completed 59% of his passes for 551 yards, but has also thrown 4 interceptions. Keenum is getting wins, but they have been ugly wins. Emmanuel Sanders has become Keenum’s favorite target and has amassed 231 yards in the 2 contests on 14 receptions. Demaryius Thomas is no longer a top receiver in the league but can still move the chains for the Broncos. Tight end Jake Butt has been very effective operating in the middle of the field with 6 receptions averaging 13 yards per catch. Keenum is a huge step up from the last year’s Bronco signal callers, but we shouldn’t get carried away with the 2 come from behind wins. The Raiders were torched by the Rams and the Seahawks were playing with multiple back-ups. This will be the biggest challenge yet for the Bronco QB and offense.
Denver’s running game is being handled by the committee of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Lindsay is an undrafted rookie out of Colorado and is leading the charge. He has the stature of a 3rd down back, but he has been very capable of running on the early downs. He is averaging over 6 yards per carry on 29 attempts including a 53 yard touchdown run. Freeman is averaging 4.3 yards, giving the Broncos a very effective tandem to hand the ball off to. Denver will look to get their offense going early in this contest and keep a good run-pass balance. Keenum can make big plays, but he has shown in the first two contests that he will take chances and be careless with the ball. Denver knows they can’t average 2 interceptions per game and keep winning.
Baltimore’s defense will look to get back on track after the Bengals, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green made them look bad on national TV. The Ravens stats don’t paint a very good picture of their team, but it is a small sample size. They were great against the Bills and pretty bad against the Bengals. Baltimore did not get a sack or a turnover against the Bengals after getting 6 sacks and 2 turnovers against the Bills. Linebacker C.J. Mosley left the week 2 game with a knee injury and probably will not suit up against Denver. Baltimore’s defense should be able to get back on track against the Broncos. Keenum will face pressure from the Raven pass rush and the secondary will be the best he has faced as a Bronco.
This spot sets up great for the Ravens. They are at home, have 3 extra days to prepare and are coming off a bad loss on national TV. The Broncos on the other hand have won 2 games at home, and now go on the road for the first time this year. Denver’s altitude is a tough place to play for a road team early the season, and both of their opponents struggled in the fourth quarter. The Broncos are 2-7 as road underdogs over the last 2 years while the Ravens are 8-7 as home favorites. Both teams may be looking ahead to division rivalry games in week 4, but the Ravens are the better coached team and this is the kind of game Harbaugh will have his squad ready for. The fact that the Broncos are 2-0 (despite not covering a spread) and the Ravens week 2 bad loss will keep some money on Denver and keep the line reasonable. Play the Ravens -5. I also like first half under 21½ as the game should start out with both teams playing on the conservative side.