Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 7:46 PM
Our key stats have proven very insightful through the NFC and AFC brackets. Now, it’s time to crunch the numbers for the biggest betting game of the year in Las Vegas. What’s going to happen when the AFC Champion Baltimore Ravens battle the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers? You can’t possibly know unless you’ve studied the true strengths and weaknesses of each team.
BALTIMORE vs. SAN FRANCISCO
Las Vegas Spread: San Francisco by 3.5, total of 47
There are some stores showing San Francisco -4. It’s very clear to this point that the public prefers San Francisco, particularly the locals in Las Vegas who always come out to bet the California teams when they play in big games. The sharps generally prefer the underdog…but square money dwarfs sharp money in the Super Bowl. If the public keeps pounding the Niners up until kickoff, it’s possible the line will solidify everywhere at -4, or possibly even move to -4.5. The total opened at 49, but has been bet down to either 47.5 or 47 depending on where you shop. Sharps liked the Under very much at 49 and 48.5, but some math guys did come in on the Over at 47. The public generally bets Overs, so this option could end up at either 47.5 or 48. This isn’t a game where weather is going to influence total betting since we’re in the SuperDome.
WON-LOST RECORDS (schedule strength according to USA Today)
Baltimore: 10-6 (18th ranked schedule)
San Francisco 11-4-1 (3rd ranked schedule)
Using the regular season numbers throughout the playoff handicapping process has worked well, so we’re going to keep doing that today…then we’ll make proper adjustments as needed. Baltimore’s obviously playing better now than they were back then. But, San Francisco is too in many areas. What we want to focus on here is the strength of schedule. EVERY YEAR we tell you how important that is as a postseason indicator. These are the two teams who played the toughest schedules in their respective brackets. What you see above justifies San Francisco’s position as a favorite of more than a field goal on a neutral field. This year, they were the better team while also playing a tougher schedule.
San Francisco: +9
It’s funny, these teams had the exact same numbers in giveaways and takeaways, therefore matching exactly in differential. Both defenses can force mistakes. Both offenses are prone to make them (Flacco because he’s so aggressive downfield, Kaepernick because inexperienced QB’s make bad choices sometimes). It’s probably best to call this category a wash. Though, we would be sympathetic to any assumptions that the less experienced QB would be more likely to have trouble. In the playoffs, San Francisco is +2, but one of their giveaways was a pick-six for Green Bay. Baltimore is +5 with an extra game, including two battles vs. Hall of Fame bound quarterbacks.
Baltimore: 352.5 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play
San Francisco: 361.8 yards-per-game on 6.0 yards-per-play
San Francisco grades out better just in those numbers. Then, they rise up even more when you make a strength of schedule adjustment. Note that the Niners have topped SEVEN yards-per-play in both of their playoff victories. Both teams are capable of making big plays. The math is smiling on favored San Francisco in this stat.
Baltimore: 350.9 yards-per-game on 5.2 yards-per-play
San Francisco: 294.4 yards-per-game on 4.7 yards-per-play
Goodness, huge edge here for the Niners after you account for strength of schedule. They held a very tough slate below 300 yards-per-game and 5.0 yards-per-carry. It should be noted that they were much less stingy in the playoffs. Atlanta gained 477 yards last week on 7.2 yards-per-play indoors. That gives Ravens fans some hope that the Niners stop unit isn’t as great vs. good QB’s in good scoring conditions. Edge to San Francisco…but with the understanding that the defense isn’t currently playing at that elite level.
REGULAR SEASON: BALTIMORE VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS (2-4 SU, 1-5 ATS)
Baltimore (-7) beat Cincinnati 44-13
Baltimore (-2.5) beat New England 31-30
Baltimore (+6) lost at Houston 43-13
Baltimore (+1) lost at Washington 31-28 in OT
Baltimore (+3) lost to Denver 34-17
Baltimore (+5) lost to Cincinnati 23-17
The Ravens were a disappointment down the stretch. That’s why they fired their offensive coordinator. Things obviously picked up since then!
BALTIMORE IN THE PLAYOFFS (3-0 SU and ATS)
Baltimore (-7) beat Indianapolis 24-9
Baltimore (+9) beat Denver 38-35 in overtime
Baltimore (+7.5) beat New England 28-13
The pieces came together at the right time, and the Ravens clearly earned their “best in the AFC” status by taking out both Denver and New England on the road. Yes…they were a bit lucky to pull the Denver game out of the fire. But, they owned the point of attack last week. We’ve seen several other teams peak late in recent years. Having the extra week to prepare should allay any concerns about having played an extra playoff game. Baltimore is ready.
REGULAR SEASON: SAN FRANCISCO VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS (3-2 SU, 2-3 ATS)
San Francisco (+6) won at Green Bay 30-22
San Francisco (-6) lost at Minnesota 24-13
San Francisco (-7.5) beat Seattle 13-6
San Francisco (+4) won at New England 41-34
San Francisco (+2.5) lost at Seattle 42-13
San Francisco’s loss at Seattle was in an obvious fatigue and letdown spot the week after stunning the Patriots on the road. You can choose to throw that out of the mix if you wish because the Niners aren’t playing a road game this week…and they’re sure not going to be jet lagged.
SAN FRANCISCO IN THE PLAYOFFS
San Francisco (-3) beat Green Bay 45-31
San Francisco (-4) beat Atlanta 28-24
The stats from the Green Bay game were more impressive than the final score made it sound, but the stats from the Atlanta game were worse. The Niners fell behind in the first half, then had to rally late to pull the game out of the fire. Baltimore doing that as an underdog at Denver, at altitude is more impressive than San Francisco doing that as a favorite in our view. Last week’s results certainly suggest Baltimore can hang with the Niners. The bigger your sample size, the more dynamic and dominant San Francisco starts to look.
There’s no way JIM HURLEY can tell you here in this article who the official NETWORK release is going to be. That information is for paying clients. But, we can tell you what these numbers are suggesting:
*San Francisco is a legitimate favorite based on their stat edges
*Baltimore has a few ways they can win anyway
*San Francisco needs a big game from Colin Kaepernick
*Baltimore needs Joe Flacco to stay in his current form
*Both the side and the total will strongly be influenced by quarterback play
Handicap the quarterbacks, handicap the game. Both defenses can force mistakes, thereby taking the opposing quarterback way out of his comfort zone. Both quarterbacks can pull big plays out of a hat when challenged. If you bet on San Francisco, you’re betting on Kaepernick’s ability to make plays with his arm or his legs…while crossing your fingers that his inexperience won’t blow the win/cover. If you bet on Baltimore, you’re betting on Flacco’s ability to find receivers midrange and deep in a way that will keep the chains moving while putting points on the board.
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