Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-2)
I had the Ravens winning 11 games, the AFC North, and making the playoffs coming into the season, after finishing 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential in 2014. However, they have started the season 0-2. Losing in Denver was understandable, but their loss in Oakland was shocking. Their offense bounced back from an awful game against a tough Denver defense week 1, but the same defense that held the Broncos without a touchdown week 1 couldn’t stop the Raiders all game.
You can point to the loss of Terrell Suggs for the season late in the Denver game as a reason, but they still have a very talented defense around him. Losing Suggs (along with Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee this off-season) really hurts what was arguably the best front 7 in football last season, but they still have talented players like Elvis Dumervil, Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, CJ Mosley, and Daryl Smith and they have a remade, improved, and healthy secondary behind them. Their defense should be much better than they were against Oakland this season and I still like the Ravens’ chances of competing for a playoff spot. They might be 0-2, but they could just as easily be 2-0 with two road wins right now. Besides, 0-2 teams that made the playoffs the year before are 18-9 ATS against the spread week 3 since 2002.
It definitely helps the Ravens that they are back home now, after starting the season with two road games. They are 47-11 at home since the start of the Joe Flacco/John Harbaugh era, outscoring their opponents by an average of 10.33 points per game, as opposed to 35-36 on the road, outscoring their opponents by an average of just 0.97 points per game. They’re also 22-12 ATS at home as underdogs or favorites of a touchdown or less over that time period. However, they’re also in a bad spot, coming off of two road games to start their season. Teams that have their first home game week 3 tend to be less energized and it shows, as teams in that situation are 22-43 ATS since 1989.
That trend is one of many reasons why I’m actually going against the Ravens this week, despite the fact that they’re a much better team at home and despite the fact that I still think this is going to be a playoff team. The Ravens are in an awful spot this week, with a Thursday Night trip to Pittsburgh on deck. The Ravens will try to be 100% focused for this game, given that they’re 0-2 and playing a good divisional rival, but it might just not be possible. Teams are 21-56 ATS as divisional home favorites before being divisional road underdogs since 2002. It’s one of the most powerful trends out there that makes any sense.
Meanwhile, the Bengals host Kansas City next week in a game in which they will almost definitely be favored. Road underdogs are 104-61 ATS since 2008 before being home favorites when their opponent will next be a home favorite. Combining that trend and the aforementioned trend, teams are 5-26 ATS since 2002 as divisional home favorites before being divisional road underdogs when their opponent will next be home favorites. The fact that the Ravens play on Thursday Night next week makes things even tougher for them, as teams are 41-62 ATS as favorites before Thursday Night Football since 2008.
On top of all of that, it’s not like the Ravens are playing a bad team here. Even though this is a home game and the Ravens are a good team, they’re no guarantee to bounce back, even before you consider all of those trends I’ve mentioned. Even if Baltimore ends up making the playoffs, the Bengals are probably still a better team than them. The Bengals actually rank 2nd in rate of moving the chains differential through 2 games.
It’s only 2 games, but they finished the 2013 season 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential and now they’re finally fully healthy again, after struggling with injuries last season. AJ Green, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert are all healthy after missing significant time with injury last season and, defensively, Geno Atkins seems back to his old dominant self, now two years removed from the torn ACL. The Ravens are the banged up ones, missing not just Terrell Suggs, but also left tackle Eugene Monroe and wide receiver Breshad Perriman. Their depth is awful at both of those positions and their absences have been very noticeable thus far this season. I wish we were getting a field goal with the Bengals, but they’re the better team in the much better spot and that should be able to cancel out the fact that the Ravens are a strong home team.
Cincinnati Bengals 24 Baltimore Ravens 17 Upset Pick +115
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +2.5