Dec 092012
 

Baltimore Ravens (9-3) at Washington Redskins (6-6)

Every once in a while, I like to look ahead and see which games I think I’ll take for big plays and upset picks. Last week, I looked at this one and I really expected to take the Redskins for a big play. The Ravens struggle as non-divisional road favorites and would have been looking forward to a much bigger game against Denver the following week. Teams generally struggle off a win against the Steelers as well. The Redskins would have been totally focused as dogs before being favorites and I felt the Ravens were generally overrated.

Well, a lot has changed in the last week. The Redskins pulled off the home upset against the Giants, which isn’t particularly shocking. After all, I predicted as much last week. However, what was shocking was the Ravens losing at home to the Steelers. I picked the Steelers +8.5 for a pick of the week because those two teams always play close and Charlie Batch wasn’t nearly as bad as people thought he was, but I never gave the Charlie Batch led Steelers a chance to win in Baltimore, where the Ravens had ripped off 16 straight wins.

That Baltimore loss changed things. The first thing it changed was the line. The Ravens are actually now dogs here, rather than favorites. Not only is that a huge line movement (which I generally like to fade because I hate putting too much stock into one week), but it changes up the dynamic of the game and the associated trends, which is the second thing it really changed. The Ravens aren’t coming off a win against the Steelers like I thought they would be. They aren’t non-divisional road favorites. And now that the Redskins look like a scary team, I don’t know if they’ll look past this game, even with a huge conference matchup up next against Denver.

First, about the line movement: I’ve called the Ravens overrated all season, but they might actually be underrated right now. I’m actually kind of shocked that they are 2.5 point dogs here. The Ravens rank 9th in net points per drive at 0.35, which is worse than their 9-3 record would suggest, as a result of their lack of blowout wins (a ridiculous 5 of their 9 wins have come by 3 points or fewer), but better than the Redskins, who rank 16th at -0.04.

If we take the difference and multiply by 11 and push the line 3 points in Washington’s direction for home field, we get that the Ravens should still be road favorites here of about 1.5 points. Of course, DVOA does point a slightly different picture. Baltimore ranks 9th in DVOA and Washington ranks 11th, but Baltimore does rank 10th in weighted DVOA and Washington remains at 11th. Given that, this line does make some more sense. That’s basically a theme of this game: a cloudy picture.

Injuries will play a factor. Washington is playing better lately thanks to the return of Pierre Garcon at wide receiver, which has actually given Robert Griffin a proven downfield receiver, something he lacked for most of the season (which makes what he’s doing this year even more impressive). On Baltimore’s side, Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb obviously remain out, but Terrell Suggs, who returned right when they left to help make up for their absence somewhat, is questionable with a torn biceps.

It’s not often that someone is questionable after tearing their biceps, something that would have ended most players’ seasons, but this is the same guy who returned from a torn Achilles in 5 months and played at a high level. He and Adrian Peterson are freaks of nature that injuries just don’t affect same way as most players. Suggs expects to play, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be limited. If he is, it could really hurt Baltimore’s overrated defense, which was already going to have issues stopping Robert Griffin and this pistol offense.

The trends seem to paint a cloudy picture as well. John Harbaugh is 5-3 ATS off a loss as favorites, including 2-0 ATS as dogs off a loss as favorites. That is a very limited sample size, but I generally like to take elite Head Coaches as dogs off a loss as favorites and I feel Harbaugh is one. This team will have a chip on their shoulder. Besides, teams are 16-8 ATS as dogs off a close divisional loss as touchdown favorites since 1989, including 11-3 ATS in a non-divisional contest. Meanwhile, teams are 3-13 ATS as home favorites after a win as home dogs since 2008 and teams are 7-22 ATS as favorites off a close home win as divisional dogs since 1989. That all makes sense. The Redskins might be overconfident off a huge home upset win and the Ravens are the ones with the chip on their shoulder now.

However, some trends contradict that. Road dogs are 23-42 ATS off a loss as favorites before being home dogs. The Ravens are expected to be home dogs against Denver next week. In a way, the Ravens’ loss last week actually made next week’s game against the Broncos even bigger for them so they might look past the Redskins a little bit because that game next week will matter more playoff seeding wise because it’s a potential tiebreaker. Meanwhile, on the Washington side, home favorites are 68-35 ATS before being road favorites in two straight. The Redskins have the Browns and Eagles in their next 2 weeks. This is their only hard game for a while and probably their toughest remaining opponent. That could help make sure they’re focused.

I’m taking the Redskins for a very small play for two reasons. The first is that history suggests they’ll make the playoffs. There have been 5 new playoff teams in each of the last 17 seasons. Right now, 7 incumbent playoff teams are locked into the 12 playoff spots. The Redskins need to win the NFC East and knock the Giants out and someone needs to knock the Packers out (admittedly the former is much more likely).

The Redskins could definitely win the NFC East though. They are 6-6 and will be favored in their next 4 games. If they win out, the only way the Giants can win the division is if they too win out and their schedule is much tougher as they will be dogs in 2 of 4 games. Even if the Redskins go 3-1 in their final 4, the Giants will need to also do that, which would mean beating two of the Saints, Ravens (in Baltimore, where the Ravens are much tougher, more on that later), and the Falcons (in Atlanta). The Redskins should actually be the favorites in the NFC East right now (which they aren’t) and a win here would go a long way towards helping that happen.

The 2nd reason is what I just mentioned: The Ravens home/road disparity. It doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal when they are road dogs, but that’s a much smaller sample size. Over the past 3 seasons, they’ve ripped off a 16 game home winning streak, going 21-2 at home overall, but they are just 14-11 on the road. Their average home game is a 27-17 win and on the road their average game is a 20-18 loss.

Joe Flacco seems to be a completely different quarterback on the road as well. You can see that above as the defense seems to be consistent home and away, but it’s the offense that struggles. At home, Flacco completes 60.7% of his passes for an average of 8.0 YPA, 36 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. On the road, he completes 59.1% of his passes for an average of 6.3 YPA, 31 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions. I think Griffin is going to get his and it’ll be up to Flacco to keep up and I don’t know if he quite can, even though Washington’s defense has plenty of holes. I don’t have a great feel for this one though.

Public lean: Washington (50% range)

Sharps lean: BAL 17 WAS 11

Final thoughts: Terrell Suggs is out for the Ravens, which is a big deal, but I don’t have a good enough feel for this game to trust this pick.

Washington Redskins 27 Baltimore Ravens 24

Pick against spread: Washington -2.5 (-110) 1 unit

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