Cleveland Browns (0-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-0)
The Ravens finished last season as far and away the top team in the league in first down rate differential at +8.87%, a significant edge over the 2nd ranked 49ers at 5.29%. They were even better after making some defensive additions, including cornerback Marcus Peters, with a 13.32% first down rate differential from week 7 (their first week with Peters) to week 16 (their last meaningful regular season game).
That all fell apart in their first playoff game, when they lost 28-12 at home to the Titans, but that game was a lot closer than the final score suggested, with the game swinging on a -3 turnover margin and an 0 for 4 on 4th downs by the Ravens, two things that were both very uncharacteristic for the Ravens and that are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Ravens only lost the first down rate differential by 3.24% in that game and they were facing a Titans team that was playing at a high level at the time, so I don’t really hold that against them much.
The oddsmakers don’t seem to hold that against them much either, as the Ravens enter the season with the 2nd best odds to win the Super Bowl at +650 according to SBD, right behind the defending champion Chiefs who are at +600. I would like the Ravens’ chances better if they didn’t have to cut Earl Thomas for disciplinary reasons, but on paper the Ravens are clearly one of the top few teams in the league and I have them representing the AFC in the Super Bowl in my season preview.
That being said, I do think the Ravens are a little overvalued in this one as 7.5-point home favorites over the Browns, without any fans in the stadium. I have the Browns as a top-15 team going into the season and about 5 points behind the Ravens in my rankings, as they should benefit from improved offensive line play and coaching. I have this line calculated at around 6, so we’re getting some line value with the Browns, though I wouldn’t be eager to bet on them in this one because of how the Ravens ended last year’s regular season.
Baltimore Ravens 30 Cleveland Browns 24
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +7.5