Baltimore Ravens (6-2) at New England Patriots (3-5)
The Patriots have gone just 3-5 in their first season without Tom Brady, at one point losing four straight games for the first time since 2002 and only snapping that losing streak by squeaking out a field goal win over the Jets last week. Things haven’t been quite as bad as they sound though. The Patriots have lost a lot of close games, going 1-3 in games decided by one score or less and, if you exclude a game in which they were within a score of the Chiefs with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter despite starting a backup quarterback, the Patriots are 2-1 on the season in games decided by more than a touchdown. The Patriots have also faced an above average schedule and, when adjusted for schedule, have a -0.92% first down rate differential that is only slightly below average.
Even better, the Patriots’ issues have primarily been on the defensive side of the ball this season, as they rank 10th in first down rate over expected at +1.25%, but just 23rd in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.17%. The defensive side of the ball tends to be the much more inconsistent side of the ball and the Patriots’ offense, while not being the passing game we’re used to from them, is still pretty effective at moving the chains, especially on the ground, and has one of the best offensive lines in the league.
As bad as their near loss to the Jets was, the Patriots actually exceeded expectations on offense with a 39.47% first down rate against a Jets defense that isn’t hapless, ranking 20th in first down rate allowed over expected. The problem was their defense surrendered a 40.91% first down rate to an offense that had been anemic all season, but defensive issues are easier to fix week-to-week and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is one of the best of all-time at defensive adjustments. It’s also very possible the Patriots got caught looking forward, facing a last place Jets team before this Sunday Night Football game against Baltimore. I would expect a better effort this week.
The Patriots’ schedule gets harder this week as the Ravens are obviously a much tougher opponent than the Jets, but not as much as you might think. This once dominant Ravens offense ranks just 27th in first down rate over expected at -1.86% and, while they are better than that on paper, they are also missing their top-2 offensive linemen from last season in Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley and, with defenses catching on to how to defend this offense, it looks less and less likely that the Ravens will consistently find their 2019 form again this season.
The Ravens have still played well defensively this season, ranking 9th in first down rate allowed over expected at -1.94%, but defensive play is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive play and the Ravens are missing a pair of key players this week with defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback Jimmy Smith sidelined. Given all that the Ravens are missing, this line is too high at a touchdown.
I’m going to bet the Patriots at least a little bit at +7, but unfortunately the Patriots have listed 17 players questionable this week, including cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, who missed last week’s game against the Jets and may be needed if this defense is going to bounce back, so I’m leaving this as a small bet until we get more clarity before gametime. This could easily end up being a higher confidence pick though, depending on injuries.
Baltimore Ravens 27 New England Patriots 24
Pick against the spread: New England +7