Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, October 24, 2011 at 9:39 AM
The Baltimore Ravens sure are getting a lot of popular press lately. Many pundits are picking them to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl because they seem to have the proper balance of offense and defense. Some respected "analytics" programs at major football websites had Baltimore ranked #1 in the whole NFL entering the weekend (ahead of defending champion Green Bay).
Are the Baltimore Ravens really the best team in pro football...or at least the team most likely to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
We may get a sense of that during Monday Night Football as the Ravens visit Jacksonville in prime time on ESPN. But...it...s JACKSONVILLE! That...s a poor team that Baltimore should dispense with rather easily. If they don...t, it could just as easily be the result of a flat spot emotionally rather than a true indictment of the franchise. Baltimore is coming off emotional wins over the NY Jets and Houston. Maybe they won...t be sky high for the lowly Jags.
We...re going to run our standard preview numbers for you tonight in our favorite indicator stats. But, to juice things up a bit...we...re ALSO going to run those same numbers for the Green Bay Packers as they headed into this weekend. There are no surprises in terms of Baltimore...s edges over Jacksonville. How do the Ravens stack up to Green Bay in stats that have a proven predictive history?
We start with Drive Points...which are points scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more per game. To best line up with pundit assessments and the stat profiles of the analytics...we...re using the stats for Green Bay heading into this weekend rather than including Sunday...s stuff from the Minnesota game.
Green Bay: 21.7 on offense, 14.6 on defense
Baltimore: 12.8 on offense, 8.2 on defense
Jacksonville: 7.5 on offense, 12.0 on defense
We...ve ordered the teams that way so you can block out the team you...re not interested in. If you...re only thinking about handicapping tonight...s game...hold your finger or a pen or something over Green Bay...s line and just study the bottom two. If you...re only interested in how Baltimore compares to Green Bay, scroll down on your computer to cover the Jacksonville line as you study the numbers.
Green Bay entered the week with a +7.1 point differential on long distance scoring...and that includes some relaxed defense because they...ve had some comfortable leads this year. They...re probably a bit better than what +7.1 would suggest in terms of true greatness. Baltimore has nothing to be ashamed about with +4.6. But, that...s not really championship caliber. The defense has been fantastic in a high scoring season. The offense has been average. It...s possible to win a Super Bowl that way. But, the best quarterbacks have been hoisting the trophy in recent seasons.
In terms of tonight...s game...Jacksonville...s basically the opposite of Baltimore. The numbers almost line up exactly. The Jacksonville offense is as bad as the Baltimore defense is good. The Jacksonville defense is average. Do those margins justify tonight...s Vegas spread? Depends on how much credit you give to home field advantage in a Monday Night game.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Green Bay: 51% on offense, 41% on defense
Baltimore: 36% on offense, 34% on defense
Jacksonville: 32% on offense, 40% on defense
Wow...huge edge for Green Bay in this stat. You can see why they...re champions. It took them awhile to get healthy last year...then they ran roughshod over the NFC in the playoffs (all road games) before beating Pittsburgh in the big one. They...ve stayed healthy this year...and are completely owning the point of attack.
Baltimore has the numbers of a good team (positive differential), but not a great team (that...s a poor offensive numbers). Once again, great defense for Baltimore, but issues on offense. Jacksonville grades out about as badly as you...d expect with a rookie quarterback. That...s one of the fundamental elements of rookie play at the position...struggling to move the chains vs. professional defenses.
Green Bay: +7 (14 takeaways, 7 giveaways)
Baltimore: +5 (14 takeaways, 9 giveaways)
Jacksonville: -3 (6 takeaways, 9 giveaways)
Baltimore...s best hope in catching Green Bay was in the takeaway department. Baltimore...s great defense is capable of setting up cheap points by swiping the ball. Well, Green Bay does the same thing even though they...re not getting much credit for it! Both of those teams are working the risk-reward challenge to their advantage. Jacksonville is a losing team that can...t afford to play risky defense. Note that they...ve been VERY conservative on offense, which has helped keep Blaine Gabbert from imploding.
If you...re handicapping tonight...s game...you can see why Baltimore is a big road favorite, and you can map out what it takes for the Jags to cover or pull an upset. They must avoid mistakes on offense. They must force punts from a Baltimore offense that...s struggled on third downs. And, their defense can...t allow the occasional bombs that have been connecting from Joe Flacco to his deep receivers.
Jacksonville hung with Pittsburgh on the road that way last week. Baltimore lost badly to Tennessee in a game where the big plays just weren...t happening.
Should Baltimore connect on a few bombs, forcing the Jags to open things up...it...s a probable disaster for the home team.
In terms of Baltimore vs. Green Bay. Well, sorry...we like our stats better that some of the crazy computer models that are getting inexplicable run from mainstream outlets. Baltimore was obviously NOT the best team in the NFL entering the week. Green Bay was better in Drive Point differential, third down conversions, and turnover differential. Baltimore is seen by some as having played a tough schedule...but the USA Today rankings have Baltimore at 23rd and Green Bay at 26th. That...s a virtual wash, meaning Green Bay...s numerical edges matter.
We...ll see if either team develops a habit of taking soft opponents too lightly. If the Super Bowl were held next week, we...d take Green Bay at pick-em over Baltimore. And, Vegas wouldn...t make Green Bay pick-em over Baltimore because the Packers have established superiority...regardless of what some non-betting statheads might think.
Who does JIM HURLEY like tonight in the ESPN game? You have to sign up for service to find out! You can purchase our Monday Night Moneymaker on either the side or total right here at the website with your credit card. Or, sign up for the rest of the season and let tonight...s winnings pay for your service. If you have any questions, call the NETWORK office at 1-800-323-4453.
This is a great week to sign up because we have wall-to-wall football!
TONIGHT: Baltimore at Jacksonville in the NFL
TUESDAY: Troy at Florida International in the Sun Belt
WEDNESDAY: Connecticut at Pittsburgh in the Big East
THURSDAY: Virginia at Miami of Florida in the ACC, and Rice at Houston in a city rivalry game in Conference USA.
FRIDAY: BYU at TCU as a former Mountain West team visits a future Big 12 team
Big, juicy winners every night will keep priming your profit pump! There will be some bonus baseball in the mix too depending on how long the World Series goes.
See you tomorrow for more coverage here in the NOTEBOOK. You can...t trust the networks because they spend too much time hyping their games. And, the advancing world of football analytics may still be at least TEN YEARS BEHIND what we...ve been doing under the guidance of JIM HURLEY. Be sure you...re with us every day on the website so you know what...s REALLY happening in the world of sports!