Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 AFC Wild Card Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

The Ravens beat the Chargers in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, but I’d be wary of extrapolating that result to this game, as that was just one game in a 16-game season. Just because a team wins a matchup in the regular season doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily win again in the post-season. Teams are 55-38 in the post-season over the past 30 seasons against non-divisional opponents who they previously beat in the regular season, but they are just 39-54 ATS. I know that Ravens/Chargers game was just a few weeks ago, but when you cut the sample size down to teams that previously won in a game week 12 or later, the numbers are even less in the Ravens’ favor, as those teams actually have a losing record at 16-18 in the playoff rematch and are just 12-22 ATS.

That isn’t evidence enough that the Chargers will win this rematch, but they were the significantly better team this season, ranking 2nd in first down rate differential at +5.86%, while the Ravens ranked 10th at +2.95%, so I like the Chargers’ chances of prevailing here. The Ravens have notably been 6-1 since making the swap from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson under center during their week 10 bye, but they actually rank just 14th in first down rate differential since week 10 at 1.31%.

The Ravens’ defense remained dominant, but their offense has actually dropped from a 36.46% first down rate with Joe Flacco to 34.48% with Jackson. Their record is impressive, but they played a relatively easy schedule (5 of 7 games against teams with a losing record), won several games by a touchdown or less, and needed return touchdowns to push the margin of victory higher in the few games that did not have a close final score. For comparison, the Chargers rank 2nd in first down rate differential since week 10, at +6.87%.

This game is in Baltimore, while the first matchup was in Los Angeles, but that barely matters to the Chargers, who have remarkably gone 12-4 despite not having any homefield advantage in Los Angeles. They’ve been a dominant team outside of LA, going 8-0 (7-1 ATS) with an average margin of victory of 9.50 points per game. That is a trend that dates back to their final few years in San Diego, when they frequently had large visiting crowds, as they are 36-19-3 ATS away from home since 2012.

The Ravens are also at a disadvantage with a first time starting quarterback. Quarterbacks tend not to cover in their first career post-season start, especially at home, where they are 6-18 ATS since 2002 unless they’re playing another first time starter, which is not the case this week with the veteran Philip Rivers going into his 10th career playoff start. I’d bet on the Chargers this week at +2.5, but +3 is available is some places and I’d much prefer to have protection against a Baltimore win by a field goal, even if I have to pay higher juice. Either way, I like the Chargers to win this game straight up.

Los Angeles Chargers 20 Baltimore Ravens 16 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3

Confidence: High

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)

The Ravens have gone 5-1 since turning to Lamar Jackson at quarterback, but they’ve actually moved the ball at a slightly worse rate, picking up first downs at a 34.28% rate in Jackson’s 6 starts, as opposed to 36.46% in Joe Flacco’s 9 starts. That’s despite the fact that 4 of the 6 teams they’ve faced over that stretch rank 29th or worst in first down rate allowed. They’ve been able to win because their defense has played at a high level, with their best defensive performance coming last week when it was needed most. They held the Chargers to a 26.32% first down rate in a game in which the Ravens’ offense moved the ball at a mere 26.67% rate against the best defense Lamar Jackson has seen so far.

The Ravens have another tough game this week though and their defense might not be able to match what was arguably their best defensive performance of the season last week. The Browns are not typically a tough opponent, but they beat the Ravens earlier this season and have gotten significantly better in recent weeks. Since week 9, the Browns rank 8th in first down rate differential at +2.50%, above the Ravens, who rank 18th at +0.51%. I also have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so we’re getting significant value with the Browns as 6-point underdogs. In a week with only a few good, bettable games, this is my Pick of the Week.

Baltimore Ravens 19 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

Rookie starting quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his 6th career start this week, even with Joe Flacco back healthy. Jackson is 4-1, with his only loss coming in overtime in Kansas City, but he’s faced a ridiculous easy schedule of defenses so far, with the Raiders, Bengals, Falcons, Chiefs, and Buccaneers all ranking 24th or worse in first down rate allowed and the Bengals, Falcons, Chiefs, and Buccaneers all ranking in the bottom-4 in first down rate allowed. Despite that, the Ravens have actually moved the ball worse in Jackson’s 5 starts, picking up first downs at a 35.54% rate, as opposed to 36.46% in Flacco’s 9 starts. That’s not a significant difference, but it’s fair to say that the Ravens offense probably would have had more success in recent weeks with Flacco under center, even as good as the Ravens’ record has been.

Jackson’s schedule gets a lot tougher this week in Los Angeles, as the Chargers rank 15th in first down rate allowed at 36.48%. The Chargers are weak against the run and strong against the pass, so this could be a good matchup for Jackson, but the Chargers also have a strong offense that likely will force the Ravens to throw the ball more than they’d like in order to keep up. Considering Jackson has completed just 58.9% of his passes against an easy slate of defenses, that doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. The Chargers are by far the most well-rounded team the Ravens have faced since Jackson became the starter and I have them about 4-4.5 point better in my roster rankings right now.

The Ravens are also in a tough spot playing a night game against a west coast team, a situation east coast teams have historically struggled in, due to differing internal time cycles. In fact, in games between west coast and east coast teams at night, the west coast team covers about 65% of the time. That should be partially offset by the Chargers’ lack of homefield advantage in Los Angeles. Much like the Eagles/Rams game last week, the crowd should be full of visiting fans, as both Los Angeles teams have had trouble drawing home fans, even as well as both teams are playing. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Ravens are going to pull the upset like the Eagles did, but it’s enough to scare me off of betting the Chargers as 4.5-point favorites, even though we’re getting line value with the team that’s in the better spot.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Baltimore Ravens 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -4.5

Confidence: Low

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