New England Patriots (8-0) at Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
It goes without saying that the Patriots have gotten off to an incredible start. Their point differential of +189 not only leads the NFL by a wide margin, with the next closest team coming in at +133, but it also would have led the NFL last season, despite the fact that the Patriots have only played half of the season so far. They’ve benefitted from a +17 turnover margin, which is probably not sustainable, but Bill Belichick’s Patriots have proven to be the exception to the rule that turnover margins are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Since Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have a +204 turnover margin. No other franchise is higher than +90 over that time period.
The Patriots also rank first in first down rate differential at +11.61%, with the 49ers falling to second after an underwhelming Thursday Night Football performance. For comparison, no team has finished the season with a first down rate differential higher than +8.45% over the past 4 seasons. The one big knock on New England is that they’ve done this over an easy schedule, facing the league’s easiest schedule by DVOA, but they’ve clearly played much better than replacement level football across that schedule.
New England’s schedule gets tougher this week, with a trip to the 5-2 Ravens up next, but the Ravens haven’t been as good as their record, as they have also benefited from an easy schedule and have not looked nearly as dominant as New England. Four of their 5 wins came against teams that are currently a combined 6-27-1 (Dolphins, Cardinals, Steelers, and Bengals) and three of those four wins came by 6 points or fewer. Their signature win came 2 weeks ago before their bye in Seattle, but the Seahawks have not been as good as their 6-2 record either, ranking 14th in first down rate differential, and the Ravens actually lost the first down rate battle in that game by 4.10%, with the game swinging on a pair of Baltimore return touchdowns.
The Ravens traded for cornerback Marcus Peters and are getting healthier on defense as well, with Jimmy Smith returning from injury, but they’re still a far cry from last year’s defense. They’ve been better on offense to compensate, but Bill Belichick’s track record against young quarterbacks can’t be denied (21 consecutive wins against first and second year quarterbacks), so it’s likely that starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has been much improved in his second season in the league, will have his worst game of the season against this dominant New England defense. Despite that, this line only favors the Patriots by a field goal. We’re not getting a ton of line value with New England, but if right guard Shaq Mason can suit up, they should be worth a bet this week. I will likely have an update on this tomorrow morning.
Sunday Update: Similar to the Oakland/Detroit game, there has been no update on Mason this morning and I think all the -3s will disappear if he does play, so I’m leaving this as is.
New England Patriots 21 Baltimore Ravens 16
Pick against the spread: New England -3