New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

New York Jets (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (11-2)

The Ravens were 4-2 through the first 6 weeks of the season, but they had just one win by more than a touchdown, despite playing a trio of teams that currently have three wins or fewer (Miami, Arizona, Cincinnati). Since then, however, they have won all 7 games, despite only playing one losing team during that stretch, and 5 of those wins have come by more than a touchdown. They also have a first down rate of +11.79% over that stretch, easily the best in the NFL (2nd best over that stretch is +6.71%). 

Lamar Jackson and this offense get a lot of attention, but they ranked 5th in first down rate through those first 6 games at 40.68% and have actually only been marginally better in their past 7 games at 42.49%, 2nd in the NFL during that stretch. The big difference has been the defense, which went from 24th in the NFL through the first 6 games of the season at 37.95% to 3rd over the past 7 games at 30.70%. The addition of cornerback Marcus Peters, acquired between week 6 and week 7, is a big part of the reason why, but the Ravens have also gotten great play from mid-season signing Josh Bynes, they’ve gotten cornerback Jimmy Smith back from injury, and they’ve gotten breakout performances from safety Chuck Clark and edge defender Tyus Bowser. With strong play on both sides of the ball, this is arguably the most complete team in the NFL.

The Jets have also been better since week 7, ranking 13th in the NFL in first down rate differential over that stretch at +1.40%, but they remarkably haven’t faced a single team during that stretch that ranks better than 25th in first down rate differential on the season and they’re just 4-3 during that stretch, so they haven’t stood out as significantly better than the bottom of the league teams they’ve faced. Overall, the Jets have had the easiest schedule in the NFL this season at 38% (2nd easiest is 42%) and they still rank 24th in the NFL on the season in first down rate differential at -2.85%. Part of that is because quarterback Sam Darnold missed time early in the year, but even with him healthy this miserable offense ranks just 27th in first down rate since week 7, despite a pathetic schedule.

The Jets’ last game against a challenging opponent was their embarrassing week 6 home shutout loss to the Patriots. The Ravens, who handled the Patriots pretty easily, shouldn’t have much trouble with the Jets, especially at home on a short week. It’s very tough for an inferior team to travel on a short week and face a superior team, especially if it’s an unfamiliar non-divisional opponent. Over the past 30 years, when both teams are on short rest on a Thursday night, non-divisional home favorites are 36-18 ATS, including 10-2 ATS as double digit favorites.

I wish the Ravens were coming into this game healthier, with left tackle Ronnie Stanley out and quarterback Lamar Jackson and his #1 receiving option Mark Andrews both dealing with injuries that could limit them or knock them out of the game on a short week, but the Jets aren’t in a good injury situation either, with talented rookie defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, starting wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, starting tight end Ryan Griffin, talented cornerback Brian Poole, and Pro-Bowl safety Jamal Adams all expected out for this one and we’re still getting line value with the Ravens (my calculated line is -17.5) in a good spot. This is just a small bet, but barring Jackson being knocked out of the game early, I can’t imagine this game being close.

Baltimore Ravens 31 New York Jets 10

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -15.5

Confidence: Medium

Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (10-2) at Buffalo Bills (9-3)

The Bills got a statement win on Thanksgiving in Dallas, but that wasn’t as impressive as it seemed, so the Bills are a little overrated right now. Not only have the Cowboys since been beaten rather easily by the Bears, but, while the Bills won that game by 11, they lost the first down rate battle by 7.54%. The Cowboys picked up 32 first downs in the game and got into Buffalo territory on 8 of 10 drives, but managed just 15 points because they missed a pair of field goals, turned it over twice, and got stopped on 4th down twice late in the game when they were forced to go for it. 

The Bills have a first down rate differential of +3.44% on the season, 6th in the NFL, but they’ve faced the easiest schedule in the NFL by far, with their opponents having a combined winning percentage of 38%. No one else has faced a schedule easier than 42%. Aside from last week, their only win over a team with more than 4 wins came against the Titans by 7 in a game in which the Titans missed 4 field goals. Excluding the Cowboys and Titans, the Bills have 7 wins against teams that are a combined 20-64.

The Bills’ schedule gets much tougher this week, as they host the Baltimore Ravens, arguably the top team in the league right now. The Ravens beat another top team candidate last week, the San Francisco 49ers, but this line still shifted from Baltimore -7 on the early line last week to Baltimore -6 this week, as a result of Buffalo’s win over Dallas. About 10% of games are decided by exactly a field goal, so that’s a significant one-point shift. 

I was hoping for an even better line with Baltimore, but I like the Ravens a good amount this week. They’ve blown their competition out of the water for about two months, ranking 1st in first down rate differential since week 7 at +11.83% (no one else is higher than +5.65%), despite facing teams that are 7-5 or better in 5 of 6 games. The Ravens got off to a relatively slow start, but still rank 2nd in first down rate differential on the season at +7.28%. The Bills, meanwhile, are going in the opposite direction, with just a +0.02% first down rate since week 7, 18th in the NFL over that time period, despite facing opponents with a combined 29-56 record. Everyone knows the Ravens are good so it’s hard to get value with them, but we’re getting some this week (Baltimore -8.5 is my calculated line) because the Bills are overrated, so the Ravens are worth betting this week. 

Baltimore Ravens 27 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -6

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (10-1) at Baltimore Ravens (9-2)

The Ravens are on some kind of a run right now, winning 5 straight games by at least 14 points or more, becoming just the 6th team to do so in the past 30 years (1993 49ers, 1999 Rams, 2005 Colts, 2007 Patriots, 2009 Saints). Over that stretch, they lead the NFL in first down rate differential by a mile, with a +13.31% rate that dwarfs the second ranked 49ers +7.22% rate. The Ravens aren’t doing this against a cupcake schedule either, with 4 of their last 5 opponents currently having winning records.

What makes evaluating the Ravens tough is how deciding how much value should be put into some of their underwhelming early season performances. Prior to their current stretch, the Ravens lost games against the Browns and Chiefs that they never had a real chance to win and they won by less than a touchdown against a pair of last place teams in the Cardinals and Bengals. They had just a +2.73% first down rate differential through week 6, despite a relatively easy schedule. Their only win by more than 6 points during that stretch came week 1 against a hapless Dolphins team. 

If we include their earlier season performance into the equation, it’s hard to argue that the Ravens should be favored by 6 points over a 49ers team that would be undefeated right now if they hadn’t missed a makeable field goal in overtime against the Seahawks, but it’s very possible a switch flipped for this team after week 6 with Lamar Jackson growing more comfortable in this offense every week. If we more or less ignore how the Ravens played prior to their current 5-game run, then this line is certainly understandable, even with the 49ers leading the NFL with a +9.02% first down rate on the season. I typically don’t like to throw out early season results and only focus on a shorter stretch, especially since doing so in this case would mean throwing out 6 games to focus on 5, so I’m taking the 49ers for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no intention of betting on this.

Baltimore Ravens 24 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +6

Confidence: None

Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-2) at Los Angeles Rams (6-4)

The Ravens are the hottest team in the NFL right now, having won four straight games by 14+ points, making them the 24th team to do so in the past 30 years. The common thinking is that makes them a great bet, but in reality it’s much more likely to be the opposite. Of the previous 23 teams to do so, just 7 of them covered in their next game and 11 of them lost straight up, including 8 upset losses. Favorites are just 3-14 ATS in this spot in the past 30 years. Ironically, the last team to win four straight games by 14+ were the Patriots, who lost in this spot to the Ravens a few weeks ago. 

The problem is when a team is as hot as the Ravens are right now, oddsmakers know they can boost their spread significantly and casual bettors will still want to bet on them.That’s definitely the case here, as the Ravens are 3.5 point favorites on the road against the Rams. A week ago on the early line, this line was even, a drastic shift considering about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, and 2-3 weeks ago the Rams likely would have been favored by a field goal here at home. 

With the Rams, a lot of attention has been given to their underwhelming offense, which has fallen from 3rd in first down rate at 43.02% in 2018 to 18th in 2019 at 35.09%, due primarily to major issues on the offensive line, but their defense has quietly been one of the better stop units in the league this season, allowing a first down rate of 32.34% that is 4th best in the NFL. They’re not as good overall as last season, but they still rank 7th in first down rate differential at +2.75%, just a few spots behind the Ravens, who rank 3rd at +6.23%. I have this line calculated at Baltimore -1.5 and, while two points of line value might not seem like much, about 20% of games are decided by 2 or 3 points, so that’s a pretty significant two points. 

The Rams are also in a couple good betting spots this week. For one, they’re a west coast team in a night game against an east coast team, a spot that covers about 66% of the time due to differences in internal clocks. On top of that, the Rams only have a trip to Arizona on deck, while the Ravens have another tough game on deck against the 49ers. The Ravens are expected to be favored in that game, but there could still be a little bit of split focus for them this week with the league’s best team by record on deck next week. Meanwhile, home underdogs like the Rams are 25-53 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites, which they almost definitely will be in Arizona. I like the Rams’ chances of not just covering this spread, but winning this game straight up, so they’re one of my top picks of the week at +3.5 (and still betable at +3).

Los Angeles Rams 26 Baltimore Ravens 24 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +3.5

Confidence: High

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (6-3) at Baltimore Ravens (7-2)

In a key matchup in the AFC, the Ravens enter one game better in the standings than the Texans, but the Texans have arguably the more impressive resume. These two teams are about even in first down rate differential, with the Ravens ranking 4th at +5.08% and the Texans ranking 5th at +4.67%, but the Texans have faced the 8th toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of opponents DVOA, while the Ravens have faced the 5th easiest. 

Unfortunately for the Texans, these two teams are trending in opposite directions. While the Ravens are improved on defense due to mid-season additions of Marcus Peters and Josh Bynes, the Texans lost their top defensive player JJ Watt for the season. The Ravens hold the slight edge in my roster rankings, suggesting this line favoring the Ravens by 4.5 points at home is about right. I have the Ravens calculated as 3.5 point favorites, but that’s insignificant line value with the Texans, who aren’t in a good spot with another key game on deck against the Colts on Thursday Night Football. The Texans are still my pick, but for no confidence.

Baltimore Ravens 31 Houston Texans 27

Pick against the spread: Houston +4.5

Confidence: None

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-8)

If the Bengals hadn’t benched Andy Dalton, I would have been excited about betting them this week as double digit home underdogs against the Ravens. The Ravens got a huge win at home over the Patriots last week, but that actually works against their chances of covering this week, as teams are just 27-52 ATS since 2002 after 17+ point win as home underdogs. The last instance was the Titans falling flat 38-10 in Indianapolis a week after pulling a huge home upset over the Patriots. The Ravens played last week like it was their Super Bowl and will likely have a tough time getting up for a winless Bengals team, especially with another big game on deck against the Texans. Winless teams tend to be good bets this late in the season anyway, going 55-31 ATS in week 9 or later over the past 30 seasons, as winless teams tend to be undervalued and highly motivated to get their first win.

On top of that, as impressive as their win last week was, the Ravens have also won 3 games by a combined 15 points against 3 teams who are now a combined 7-17 (including a mere 6-point home victory over these Bengals) and they lost at home by 15 to a now 2-6 Browns team. If the Ravens don’t bring their a-game, this could easily be a close matchup. The Bengals are still missing AJ Green, but are healthier coming out of their bye than they’ve been for most of the season, with players like left tackle Cordy Glenn, defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson, and cornerbacks William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard all expected to play after missing varying amounts of time in the first half of the season.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend a bet now that Dalton has been benched. Dalton’s statistical production has been arguably the worst of his career this season, but he’s also had the worst supporting cast he’s ever had around him. He was far from the problem for this winless team and benching him for 4th round rookie Ryan Finley is not a move the Bengals made to give themselves a better chance to win games this season. In a lost season, this is all about evaluating for the future, with the chance at drafting a franchise quarterback atop the draft very much in reach. The Bengals are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I have this line calculated at Baltimore -10 with Finley under center, so we’re not getting enough points to bet the Bengals confidently.

Update: Glenn is still out for the Bengals despite practicing in full all week. That doesn’t change my pick, however, as I still like the Bengals chances of keeping this relatively close with the Ravens in a bad spot, but not enough to bet on it.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +10.5

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Low