I’m proud to say I was 3-1 last week and other than the Steelers game, I did a decent job predicting how the teams would approach their Wild Card playoff matchups. Soemthing I was reminded last weekend was that a bettor should look at the games and approach them as they would if they were a coach of each team. What would you try to do if you were the coach of say the Ravens against the Patriots this week? So I’ll try to do that again this week.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-7); (o/u47.5)
An interesting stat from ESPN, the Partiots and Ravens have enjoyed more playoff success than all other teams over the last 15 years, the Patriots have been 18-8 in the playoffs since 2000, while the Ravens are at second at 15-7. New England has been the league’s most dominant home team in the same span with 14 more home wins than the second-most successful team. The Ravens have been good in Foxboro in January with two wins in three trips, which account for two of the three losses the Patriots have at home in the playoffs since 2000. The Patriots are 12-3 at home in the postseason since 2000.
Like I said about Bruce Arians last week, John Harbaugh did an incredible coaching job this year. Arians dealt with a lot of obstacles on the field with injuries and such, while Harbaugh had to hold his team together through the Ray Rice saga. Tbey came out of it with Justin Forsett leading the way in the backfield as one of the NFL’s surprises at 29 years old.
Rob Gronkowski’s availability has proven that he’s one of the most valuable players in the NFL as the Patriots averaged only 17.8 points per game when he was out or limited, while they averaged 34.5 points per game when he was playing (this excludes Week 17, when he rested. He’s also one of the players who creates the most confusion for a defense as he can play anywhere on the field. When that 6’6”, 265 pounds monster splits out wide, his blend of size and speed makes whoever’s covering him look almost comical. It looks like NJ legend Will Hill will cover him and he has been taking on the Ed Reed role in this Ravens defense over the last half of the season and has seemed to grow into it.
Hill was the #1 high school recruit in the country our senior season and I always remember marveling at his athletic ability, but he seemed to have squandered it at Florida and in the NFL with a couple slip-ups. Thankfully, Will Hill looks like he’s really matured over the past few years, which is always a nice thing to see. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse in life than wasted talent and believe this, Will Hill has all the talent in the world, so hopefully for Ravens fans, he shows up and slows Gronk a little bit. That Will Hill vs. Rob Gronkowski match-up is going to be one of the keys to the game.
In games where Gronk was full strength, the Patriots lost only one game and that was a very even match-up against a Packers team that Gronk had 12 catches for 98 yards against. Will Hill and whoever else helps cover Gronk don’t need to shut him out, they just need to contain him and force the Patriots to beat them with their other weapons.
One thing I really like about this Ravens team is how much they remind me of their Super Bowl Championship team in 2012. They’ve got an older, more experienced, playoff-tested Joe Flacco at the helm with Forsett in the backfield, who runs very similarly to Ray Rice’s style. They’ve got Torrey Smith with more experience under his belt as well, with the closest comparison to Anquan Boldin in Steve Smith in the way they play the game, both are such incredible competitors above all else that, I think, elevate the people around them.
Smith’s 5 catch 101 yard performance against the Steelers last week got me thinking about Boldin’s great playoff run to help the Ravens win in the playoffs of January 2013. In those four games, Boldin had 22 catches, 380 yards and four touchdowns including two against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. I see the Ravens attempting to use Smith like they used Boldin against New England in that game. One new factor that wasn’t there in 2012 is Darrelle Revis, who could shut down either one of the Smiths.
Like I alluded to in that article titled the Patriots Way, great teams figure out what works and go do that. After a lackluster 2013 campaign, the Ravens went out and got some attitude at the wide receiver position.
On the defensive side, they still have Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs leading the way and I think they’ve done a great job finding a player like CJ Mosley to replace Ray Lewis and Will Hill to slot into Ed Reed’s role.
It really is a beautiful thing to see from an organizational and management standpoint to see two franchises that simple “get it.” They understand who they are and it works to their advantage big time.
And, in honor of my riding the Ravens to their Super Bowl in February of 2013, I’m going to bet on them to cover against the Patriots. What I forgot when I picked against them last week was that they’re just a team that’s built for the playoffs and, while I don’t know who will win in what I think will be a close match-up, I think the Ravens at +7 in January is very valuable and I’ll take it.
An interesting fact from the Linemakers at Sporting News is that the Patriots are 3-10 against the spread in their last 13 playoff games while the Ravens are 6-0 ATS in their last 6 including three covers over the Patriots.
PICK: Ravens +7
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (-10.5); (o/u 39.5)
This is a great match-up between two teams that have been winning the old fashioned way the last month of the season with the their running game and their defense.
In December, the Seahawks were the best scoring defense in the NFL giving up only 33 points, while the Panthers were second best with only 43 points and gave up 16 more to the Cardinals, but mostly due to short fields because of the dumbest play in punt return history by Brenton Bersin and a completely asinine play by Jerricho Cotchery where he stopped running his underneath route as Cam Newton threw it, which gave Antonio Cromartie and easy interception.
The Cardinals two scoring drives were a total of 47 yards long and the Panthers gave up an NFL playoff record 78 total yards, so they’re on a roll that makes it hard for me to take the Seahawks at such a high number, even against the team with the worst record in NFL playoff history.
During the Panthers December winning streak, they averaged 188 rushing yards per game, while they only averaged 107 in the first 12 games. Jonathan Stewart has had 524 rushing yards over the last five games at 5.09 per carry, but they’ll be going up against the number one defense in the NFL that’s giving up only 267 yards per game and a mere 81 rushing yards per game, which is unlike the team’s they’ve been beating up on the last month of the season.
The Falcons, Browns, Bucs, and Saints are the 21st, 19th, 32nd and 29th ranked teams against the rush, while all but the Browns are ranked in the twenties against the pass as well. These four teams averaged giving up 126.6 yards per game this season, which would place them at 26th in the NFL. The Panthers playoff match-up against the Cardinals was even more favorable as they had given up the most yards per carry in the NFL from week 14 to 17 with 6.4 per.
In their match-up in October, the Seahawks won 13-9 in a hard-fought match-up in Carolina the week after the Seahawks got rid of Percy Harvin. But right now, the only team hotter than the Panthers in the last month of the season, was the Seahawks. In Weeks 12 through 17, the Seahawks were in Super Bowl winning form, winning by an average of 22.3-6.5 during a six game winning streak.
Due to how hot the Seahawks are and their being at home, I still feel like going with them at -11. As uncomfortable as I am laying 11 points in a playoff game and the fact that they only beat the Panthers by 4 in October, I just think the Panthers aren’t as good as the Seahawks in Seattle. I would consider a teaser to get the Seahawks to -5 and the over at 33.5 or the under at 45.5, I haven’t decided what yet. I could see this game being a 24-6 game or something along those lines, which is what makes me tentative to hit the over, even though it’s that low.
PICK: Seahawks -11
Best of luck this weekend and YOU have an excellent on this GLORIOUS football weekend! The greatest football weekend of the year!