Sep 192012

New England Patriots (1-1) at Baltimore Ravens (1-1)

Yes, the Patriots to the Cardinals lost last week. No, it’s not the end of the world. In 2010, they lost to the Browns. In 2011, they lost to the Bills. Neither of those games meant anything. They won 14 games in 2010 and 13 games in 2011. This is still the most consistent franchise over the past decade. This is football. Sometimes shit happens that doesn’t make any sense and is completely unpredictable that doesn’t mean anything.

But it is important to look at how the Patriots lost to the Cardinals. The Patriots outgained the Cardinals 387 to 245 and averaged 5.0 yards per play to the Cardinals’ 4.0 and they won the turnover battle 2-1. As a result, the Patriots led 6 drives into scoring range to Arizona’s 4. However, the difference was, on New England’s 6 trips into scoring range, they scored just 1 touchdown and settled for 5 field goals, one of which was the potential game winner, which missed. Arizona scored 2 touchdowns and 2 field goals on their 4 trips into scoring range. The Patriots also committed 8 penalties to Arizona’s 5. Historically though, whether or not you win the yardage battle the most accurate indicator of future performance. The Patriots actually rank 6th in the NFL in yards per play differential (I’ll get into this more later).

The other main reason the Patriots lost was the injury to Aaron Hernandez. If you lose one of the focal points of your offense that early like the Patriots did, you basically have to scrap your whole game plan and that puts you at a massive disadvantage. Hernandez is out for this one, which still hurts, but it won’t hurt as much as it did last week because the Patriots have gotten an entire week to adapt. They will be using more 3-wide receiver looks this week and Kellen Winslow, recently signed, will see some action as the move tight end in specialized situations.

Winslow is not Hernandez obviously, but he’s closer to him than anyone else on the team. Without Hernandez last week, they could run two-tight end sets because they didn’t have a move tight end on the roster, running their signature package on just 4 of 50 pass plays after the injury. The Patriots adapt better than probably any other team in the league. I expect them to do that this week and minimize the loss of Hernandez as much as they can. Julian Edelman will see more snaps in his absence and he looked good last week.

So basically the conclusion is that the Patriots’ loss last week, however surprising, was very explainable in hindsight and doesn’t matter that much going forward. However, this line suggests it does. The line has moved 3 points since last week, going from even to -3 in favor of Baltimore, who, by the way, also lost last week. There’s a lot of overreaction and because of that, there’s good line value here.

Besides, if history is any indication, the Patriots loss last week makes it MORE likely they’ll win this week. Tom Brady is amazing when people doubt him. Last week’s loss did just enough to get people to doubt him. In his career off a loss, he’s 28-8 SU, 24-12 ATS, off an upset loss he’s 17-4 SU, 15-6 ATS, as an underdog he’s 24-16 SU, 27-12 ATS (13-4 ATS since 2003), as an underdog off a loss he’s 11-1 SU, 11-1 ATS, and as an underdog off an upset loss 6-1 SU, 6-1 ATS.

This game reminds me of the Patriots’ games in Pittsburgh and New York (against the Jets) in each of the last 2 years respectively. All of those aforementioned situations were true in those 2 games as well and I made huge plays on the Patriots in each of those two games and won both times. Both of these games were on the road against similar caliber opponents. And the Patriots didn’t just win those games; they dominated them, beating Pittsburgh 39-26 and the Jets 37-16. In fact, historically in this situation, they dominate teams. In those 11 wins as an underdog off a loss, the Patriots have outscored opponents by a whopping 16.6 points per game.

Now let’s move onto the Ravens. The Ravens right now, I think, are a little bit overrated. They’re clearly missing Terrell Suggs and others they lost this offseason. Their defensive performance in their first 2 games has been very unravenlike. The 808 yards they’ve allowed in those 2 games ranks 27th in the NFL. They’ve won the turnover battle in each of those 2 games and have a +4 turnover differential overall, but as I’ve said so many times, turnover differentials can be very inconsistent on a week to week and year to year basis. The Ravens can’t keep relying on forcing turnovers to stop people, especially against an opponent in the Patriots who, in spite of what I just said about the inconsistency of turnovers, have managed to maintain any incredibly low turnover rate over the past decade. This is not the same defense that kept Tom Brady in check in the AFC Championship Game last year and arguably allowed Joe Flacco to outplay Brady statistically.

Speaking of Joe Flacco, he had a great opener against Cincinnati completing 21 of 29 for 299 yards and 2 touchdowns before falling flat against Philadelphia, completing 22 of 42 for 232 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Which one is the real Joe Flacco? Probably neither. The Bengals team he torched in the opener was missed two of their top cornerbacks and had the washed up Nate Clements and the also washed up Terence Newman seeing a bunch of snaps next to Leon Hall, who was 10 months removed from an Achilles tear and was uncharacteristically torched for over 100 yards by himself. They were also without top pass rusher Carlos Dunlap. Missing that same trio, the Bengals were torched by the Browns the following week as Brandon Weeden, whose QB rating the week before was 5.1, completed 26 of 37 for 322 yards and 2 touchdowns.

However, he’s not as bad as he looked against Philadelphia. Philadelphia is one of the best defenses in the league (they’re a big part of the reason why Weeden’s QB rating was 5.1 in the opener). Most likely, he’s still the same quarterback he’s always been. Any talk of a breakout year from him is premature, but any talk of a down year for him is equally short sighted. This year, he’s completed 60.6% of his passes for an average of 7.5 YPA, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Those numbers are eerily similar to his career numbers, 60.8% completion 7.1 YPA, and 83 touchdowns to 47 interceptions. He’s still the same quarterback he’s always been.

So what’s the difference? The difference is schematically. The Ravens have gone to more of a no huddle, pass first offense this year. They’ve had a designed run on just 35.2% of their offensive snaps this year. For reference, last year, they ran on 40.5% of their offensive snaps. Joe Flacco is still the same quarterback he’s always been, but the coaching staff seems to think otherwise as they’ve upped his responsibility enormously and I don’t think he’s ready for that.

Meanwhile, while this is not the same Ravens defense that held Tom Brady in check last year, allowing Joe Flacco to arguably outplay him statistically, this is not the same Patriots defense that allowed Joe Flacco to arguably outplay Tom Brady statistically. Last year, like the Ravens are now, the Patriots were very reliant on turnovers for stops, ranking 29th in yards per play allowed, 6.0 (for reference, Baltimore is 20th at 5.6 this year as opposed to 1st at 4.6 last year), but forced 34 turnovers, most in the AFC (for reference, Baltimore was right in the middle at 26).

This year, the Patriots rank 5th in yards per play allowed (part of how they rank 6th in yards per play differential), allowing 4.3, but they’ve forced a much more middle of the pack 4 turnovers in 2 games. Part of this low yards per play allowed average is the competition (Tennessee and Arizona), but also part of it is an actual improvement in play. They’ve gotten several guys back from injury and several newcomers are playing very well. They’re no longer as reliant on turnovers to stop people; the Ravens are the ones who actually fit that description better now.

Flacco and the Ravens won’t find it as easy to move the ball as they did last year, especially if they continue to be as pass heavy as they have been, which isn’t really the most efficient game plan for this offense and this group of offensive personnel. Brady, meanwhile, should be able to move the ball easier than he did last year against a Baltimore defense that has been uncharacteristically bad through 2 games.

Baltimore’s uncharacteristically bad defensive play has not been the result of level of competition. Allowing 486 points to the Eagles is somewhat understandable, but allowing 322 to the Bengals is much more head scratching. Andy Dalton and the Bengals are an overrated team, specifically on offense. I mentioned how bad their defense has been, especially with all of those injuries, but their offense really struggles too, especially against tougher competition. Andy Dalton was 0-8 against playoff teams last year and completed 55.6% of his passes for an average of 6.5 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in those 8 games. In those 8 games, they only exceeded the 322 yards they had against Baltimore week 1 three times. In the opener, Joe Flacco had a good game against a terrible defense and a mediocre offense moved the ball better than it should have. Week 2, Joe Flacco did not have a good game and the defense was pretty atrocious. That’s why I say the Ravens are overrated. In terms of yards per play differential, they rank 12th.

This line, -3 in favor of the Ravens, is not only an overreaction to a fluky Patriots’ loss to the Cardinals, but it overrates the Ravens. I don’t think these two teams are equal, which is what the line suggests (3 points for home field advantage). On top of that, this is the exact situation that Tom Brady and the Patriots thrive in, people are doubting them, they’re coming off a loss, they’re underdogs against a tough opponents on the road, they’ll have a bounce back game. Like the Patriots/Jets game last year and the Patriots/Steelers game in 2010, the Patriots are going to be a huge bet here.

Two things that worry me here: the Ravens have won 12 straight at home and this is a huge revenge game for the Ravens. However, in those 12 games, the Ravens are just 6-5-1 ATS. Meanwhile, while this will be a huge game for the Ravens, who feel they deserved to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl last year, this is also a huge game for the Patriots, who are playing for respect coming off an embarrassing loss and playing a huge game on Sunday Night Football. It’s a statement game for both teams. Both teams are going to put everything they have into this week. It’s just a matter of which quarterback do you trust in a statement game more, Joe Flacco or Tom Brady. I don’t know about you, but I’m going with Brady.

Plus, teams seeking to get revenge for a playoff loss are just 18-24 ATS since 2008, so there’s no real trend that says teams play better and are more likely to cover when they’re trying to avenge a playoff loss. That makes sense as those types of games are normally between two good teams and are huge statement games for both sides. I’m making a huge play on the Patriots this week in this statement game. This is my pick of the month. Bet the farm on this one and if you don’t have a farm, buy one and I promise you that you’ll have two in a week. For the record, this is only the 8th time in 2 plus years of doing this that I’ve made a 6 unit bet. I’m 5-2 (Pats over Jets last year was one).

Update: I’m not putting any more units on this one, but I forgot to mention that the Patriots are in one of my favorite situations, dogs after a loss as a favorite before being favorites. The Patriots go to Buffalo next week. Teams are 44-21 ATS since 2008 in this situation (24-8 ATS since 2010). Also, teams coming off a loss as 13+ point favorites are 26-18 ATS since 1989. This is one of my favorite plays ever.

Public lean: Baltimore (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if New England covers)

New England Patriots 31 Baltimore Ravens 20 Upset Pick +125

Pick against spread: New England+3 (-120) 6 units

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