Cleveland Browns (1-3) at Baltimore Ravens (1-3)
The Baltimore Ravens have had a tough start to their season. They played their first 2 games on the road, in Denver and Oakland, losing both. The Oakland game was one they should have won and needed to win, but there’s no shame in losing in Denver and both games were very close. Then they hosted the Bengals week 3, their only game at home thus far this season, a very tough game, not just because the Bengals are one of the best teams in the NFL, but because teams typically struggle in week 3 home openers (as a result of all the travelling they had to do to start the season) and because they had a divisional clash in Pittsburgh in 3 days on Thursday Night Football the following week.
The Ravens lost another excruciatingly close game against the Bengals week 3 and then won an excruciatingly close overtime game in Pittsburgh last week, against the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers. You can make the argument that the Ravens should be 0-4, but you can just as easily make the argument that the Ravens should be 4-0 with wins over Denver and Cincinnati, two currently undefeated teams.
In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, the Ravens rank 26th (actually worse than the Browns, who rank 25th). I don’t think that’s representative of how good the Ravens are though and it’s important to remember that it’s early and they’ve dealt with a lot of difficult situations. They aren’t the same team that finished 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential in 2014, but I think their actual talent level is much closer to that than to where they currently fall in those rankings. Meanwhile, the Browns are playing very similarly to last season (when they finished 26th), so I think their current ranking is much more representative of them than the Ravens’ is.
Part of the reason why the Ravens aren’t as good this season is injuries (in addition to off-season losses of Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, and Torrey Smith) and the Ravens are incredibly thin in the receiving corps for this one, missing expected starting tight end Crockett Gilmore and expected starting wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman with injury from a receiving corps that was thin to begin with. The Smith injury is new, but Gilmore’s and Perriman’s aren’t and this line did seem to move to compensate for the Smith injury. The Ravens were 8.5 point favorites in the early line last week, but are only 6.5 point favorites now.
Conversely, I don’t think the line appropriately compensated for Eugene Monroe’s expected return from a concussion that knocked him out week 1. James Hurst had been playing at left tackle in his absence and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked offensive tackle through 4 weeks. Monroe’s return could really help an offensive line that was really good last season, but hasn’t been thus far this season. Meanwhile, the Browns are expected to be without talented safety Tashaun Gipson in this one, after being relatively injury free thus far this season.
This is the easiest game of the Ravens’ season thus far and I think they have a good chance to beat the Browns by quite a bit and cover this 6.5 point line. Not only is this is easiest opponent of their season, but they have no upcoming distractions with a trip to San Francisco on deck, while the Browns have to host the Broncos next week in arguably the toughest game of their season, a game in which they are expected to be 5.5 point underdogs. Teams are 66-111 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ point home underdogs, 35-76 ATS before being 4+ point home underdogs, and 19-50 ATS before being 6+ point home underdogs. That’s because when you have a game coming up like that it generally means one of two things. One, you’re about to host a very tough opponent, serving as a distraction. Two, you really aren’t that good of a football team. With the Browns, I think it’s both. In addition, home favorites are 93-61 ATS since 2002 before being road favorites when their opponent will next be home underdogs.
On top of that, The Ravens are typically a much better team at home than on the road in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era and they’re in a much better spot against a much easier opponent than their first home game. They are 47-12 at home since 2008, outscoring their opponents by an average of 10.08 points per game, as opposed to 36-36 on the road, outscoring their opponents by an average of just 1.00 points per game. They’re also 22-13 ATS at home as underdogs or favorites of a touchdown or less over that time period, as they are here.
It does help the Browns that they are in their 2nd straight road game, after losing in San Diego last week. Teams are 118-84 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 96-58 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 199-206 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.40 points per game, as opposed to 291-401 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.93 points per game. That being said, as long as this line is less than a touchdown, I’m still confident enough to put money down on Baltimore.
Baltimore Ravens 23 Cleveland Browns 10
Pick against the spread: Baltimore -6.5