Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (7-6)

Rookie Lamar Jackson will make his 5th start this week and his first start with Joe Flacco healthy, as Flacco is expected to be active as the backup after missing 4 games with a hip injury. Jackson is 3-1 in his 4 starts, with one loss coming in overtime in Kansas City last week, but the offense has statistically been slightly worse with him under center, moving the chains at a 35.64% rate in 4 games started by Jackson, as opposed to 36.46% in 9 games started by Flacco. That’s not a big difference obviously, but Jackson has had a much easier schedule, as the Chiefs, Bengals, Raiders, and Falcons all rank 27th or worst in first down rate allowed.

The schedule doesn’t get any harder for Jackson this week, facing a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 30th in first down rate allowed at 41.85%, so Jackson should be able to keep Flacco on the sidelines at least another week. The Buccaneers’ offense has been explosive this season, but they also start a turnover prone quarterback and are without two key weapons in DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard. That being said, with the line at Baltimore -7.5, I’d rather take the Buccaneers, who play a lot of close games (11 of 19 losses decided by 6 points or fewer over the past 2 seasons), than the Ravens, who are starting a limited quarterback, as big favorites.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +7.5

Confidence: None

Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-2)

The Chiefs are in a very tough spot this week, as they have to turn around and play their biggest remaining regular season game next week against the Chargers on Thursday Night Football. Favorites typically struggle before a short week anyway, going 55-73 ATS since 2012, but that should especially be the case in this one, as I can’t imagine the Chiefs aren’t spending some time on the Chargers this week. On the other side, the Ravens are distraction free, with only a home game against the Buccaneers on deck.

I wish I trusted Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson more in this kind of game though. If the Ravens were starting a healthy Joe Flacco, I’d bet them just because I know what to expect from him, but Jackson’s 3-0 record has come against a pretty easy schedule and I just don’t know what to expect from him in a game where he’ll have to be more aggressive as a passer to keep pace with an explosive Kansas City offense.

Kansas City’s defense has not been very good this year, but they could get Eric Berry back this week finally and even against an underwhelming defense it’s easy for young quarterbacks to make mistakes if they feel like they need to keep up with an offensive juggernaut. I’m taking Baltimore and hoping their defense can keep it close against a Kansas City team that probably won’t bring their best effort this week, but I wouldn’t recommend betting on this with the line under a touchdown.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Baltimore Ravens 23

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +6.5

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-7)

The Falcons have been horrendous on defense this season, allowing opponents to pick up a first down or touchdown on 43.02% of their offensive plays, worst in the NFL, but they get a big boost this week with linebacker Deion Jones returning for the first time since week 1. They’re still missing safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal, but fill-in safety Damontae Kazee has actually been one of the few bright spots on this defense, so they aren’t missed nearly as much as Jones, who is arguably the best player on this defense when healthy. The Falcons have other defensive issues and were an underwhelming unit even with Jones healthy last season (8th in points per game allowed, but 18th points per drive allowed, 22nd in defensive DVOA, and 25th in first down rate allowed), but the Falcons should still be noticeably better with Jones back out there.

The Ravens, on the other hand, are missing talented safety Tony Jefferson with injury, along with quarterback Joe Flacco, who I think they’ll miss this week. Lamar Jackson is 2-0 in 2 starts, but he was heavily favored at home in both games and has been shaky as a passer. I think he’ll have a tougher time on the road against a Falcons team that should be solid going forward if they can play even passable defense. Their offense is better than it was last season, even with an inconsistent running game, as Matt Ryan is back to playing at an MVP level. In a game they just have to win to cover, I like the Falcons at home a good amount because I think they’re the slightly better of these two teams right now.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Baltimore Ravens 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -1.5

Confidence: Medium

Oakland Raiders at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (2-8) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5)

First round rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his second straight start for the Ravens in this one, with Joe Flacco still sidelined with a hip injury. Jackson won his debut, but the jury is still very much out on him as a passer. He barely beat a Cincinnati team that has not played well lately due to injuries and he carried the ball a ridiculous 26 times (most in NFL history by a quarterback), as opposed to just 19 pass attempts, which isn’t something he’s going to be able to do every week.

Fortunately, Jackson gets another easy game this week with the Raiders coming to town. The Raiders pulled off the upset in Arizona last week, but they’ve had a miserable season at 2-8. They rank just 27th in first down rate differential at -5.08% and are arguably even worse than that due to all of their personnel losses since the start of the season. The Ravens should be able to execute a conservative, run heavy offense again this week, knowing that the Raiders’ offense has little chance of consistently putting together drives against Baltimore’s talented stop unit.

I think this line is about right at Baltimore -10.5, but I’m giving the Ravens the edge in this one because the Raiders might not bring their best effort. In a lost season, they could easily be looking forward to next week’s home clash with the Chiefs, a game in which they are a ridiculous 14-point home underdogs. Teams are just 39-85 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs of 7.5 points or more, as upcoming big home games tend to be a distraction to teams. On top of that, double digit underdogs are just 26-51 ATS since 2002 before being double digit underdogs again. We’re not getting enough line value with the Ravens to bet on them, but they should be the right side this week.

Baltimore Ravens 23 Oakland Raiders 10

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -10.5

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) at Baltimore Ravens (4-5)

I had the Ravens on my underrated list during their bye last week and was expecting to bet them in the second half of the season. They lost three in a row going into their bye, but they looked like one of the better teams in the league to start the season and those three losses were against the Saints, Panthers, and Steelers, so it was a tough stretch of games. They were also without top cornerback Marlon Humphrey for the first two and then left tackle Ronnie Stanley for the final game, both of whom are healthy and in the lineup this week.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of quarterback Joe Flacco, who did not practice all week with a hip injury and is listed as doubtful on the injury report. That creates a lot of uncertainty. Head coach John Harbaugh said he could play without practicing, so we can’t even be 100% sure he’ll miss this game and we don’t know what kind of shape he’d be in if he played. There’s also some dispute about who would play in his absence, as multiple reports have suggested we could see both RG3 and Lamar Jackson at quarterback in this one. Jackson and Griffin both have upside under center, but Griffin hasn’t started since 2016 and Jackson has never made a start, so both players have pretty low floors as well. All that uncertainty under center makes it hard to be confident with them.

We’re also not getting a good line with the Ravens because the Bengals were blown out at home last week by the Saints. This line was Baltimore -5.5 on the early line last week with Flacco expected to play, but it’s only moved down to -4 for the Flacco injury because of how bad the Bengals looked last week. That’s a pretty insignificant line movement, as it doesn’t cross any key numbers.

Teams tend to bounce back from being blown out, going 56-35 ATS since 2002 after a loss by 35 points or more. The Bengals will also be a little healthier on defense this week with linebacker Vontaze Burfict and slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard expected to return. With that in mind, I’m actually going to take the Bengals in this one, but it’s hard to be confident in either side given Baltimore’s quarterback situation. I will have an update on this tomorrow morning if the line changes or the quarterback situation changes.

Sunday update: Joe Flacco is officially expected to not play in this one and, while RG3 may see a few snaps in the 2-quarterback sets they like running, Lamar Jackson is expected to start and play the whole game. The line has shifted to 5.5 after opening at 4, so we’re getting a little more line value with the Bengals now, but the Ravens still have too high variance of a quarterback situation for me to bet either side in this one. This is probably too many points for Jackson to be favored by in his debut against a defense that should be healthier than last week, but Jackson could definitely exceed expectations. It’s tough to know what to expect from him. He’s got a ton of talent, but did not look good in limited action in the pre-season and was very much considered a work in progress as a passer coming out of college.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +5.5

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 9 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1) at Baltimore Ravens (4-4)

When I saw the Ravens open as mere 2.5-point home favorites against the Steelers, I expected to bet them this week. They were 3-point home favorites on the early line last week, but their blowout loss in Carolina shifted this line off the key number of 3 down to 2.5, a significant line movement when you consider about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal. The Ravens didn’t look good in Carolina last week, but they could have easily been caught looking forward to this game. The previous week they were 3-point home favorites a strong New Orleans team and were competitive in that game, coming within a missed extra point of sending it to overtime.

That Saints team is better than this Steelers team, so it’s a bit of an overreaction for this line to be lower. As favorites of less than 3, the Ravens basically just need to win to cover. The Steelers got off to a slow start, but are now an overrated team again after ripping off three straight wins against a banged up Falcons team, a banged up Bengals team, and a struggling Browns team. They’re considered top level contenders because of their history, but their defense is still not the same as when they had a healthy Ryan Shazier. They have just 3 wins by more than a touchdown since he went down, a span of 13 games in which they’ve allowed 24.8 points per game.

We should be getting significant line value with the Ravens, but the problem is left tackle Ronnie Stanley, arguably the Ravens most important offensive player other than the quarterback, will be out with an ankle injury and this line did not move to compensate. The Ravens could be getting left guard Alex Lewis and cornerback Marlon Humphrey back from two game absences after they made their returns to practice this week, but they’ll still be without right tackle James Hurst for the 3rd straight game and his bookend Stanley will join him on the sidelines this week, creating a tough situation for the Ravens upfront even if Lewis can play.

The Steelers have a key injury with right tackle Marcus Gilbert out for the second straight week, but they’re overall in a much better injury situation and could easily take advantage of that like they did against the Falcons and Bengals. I’m still taking the Ravens because I think even without Stanley these two teams are about even, meaning this line should still be at 3, but without Stanley I can’t be confident betting on them.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -2.5

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Carolina Panthers: 2018 Week 8 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Carolina Panthers (4-2)

The Ravens are a solid team and could easily win the AFC North, but they’re a little bit overrated. Last week, they were 3-point home favorites against the Saints, suggesting they were equal to a New Orleans team that is one of the best in the league, in a game the Ravens ultimately ended up losing. This week, they are 2.5-point road favorites in Carolina. That’s not that many points, but I have these two teams about even, so the Panthers should be favored by at least a field goal. That’s a good amount of line value.

If the Ravens were at full strength, I might give them a point or two over the Panthers, but they are missing top cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and a pair of starting offensive linemen, Alex Lewis and James Hurst. All three of those players were missed against the Saints and will be missed again this week. The Panthers, meanwhile, are at close to full strength and should be able to win this game outright. I’d need a full field goal to bet the spread in this one, but the money line at +130 is a great play.

Carolina Panthers 23 Baltimore Ravens 20 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Carolina +2.5

Confidence: Low