Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, November 1, 2014 at 4:00 PM
The AFC North race is wide open again…thanks to some stumbles by Cincinnati and a huge win for Pittsburgh last week over Indianapolis…and the AFC Wildcard race is starting to crowd up with last year’s entries (San Diego and Kansas City) now battling resurgent recent Super Bowl champs (Baltimore and Pittsburgh). That makes Sunday Night’s Baltimore/Pittsburgh game HUGE in terms of defining two different races in the rest of the 2014 season.
Before crunching JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats for the head-to-head matchup…let’s take a closer look at those two races.
Would you have guessed that all four teams in this division would have been over the .500 mark halfway through the season?! There’s just no margin for error with any of the four teams. And, obviously, any divisional win is a loss you stick on somebody else. The bad news for Pittsburgh is that the Steelers are done with last place Cleveland, and still have two games left with first place Cincinnati. Falling to 5-4 Sunday Night would almost force them to sweep the Bengals later this season. Baltimore has already split with the Bengals, and only has one divisional game left with last place Cleveland after this. The Ravens would have to feel very comfortable if they could move to 6-3 with a win.
AFC WILDCARD RACE (best two records qualify)
San Diego 5-3
Kansas City 4-3
What a logjam! Most respected Power Ratings have teams like Buffalo, Miami, and Cleveland falling by the wayside over time. But, sometimes lesser teams get into the playoffs because they play softer schedules. We already know that two out of the Ravens-Steelers-Chargers-Chiefs quartet will miss the playoffs if they can’t win their divisions. If Buffalo or Miami catches some breaks, there could be even more hearts broken.
There you have it. A game that’s already a classic divisional rivalry will also have a playoff feel to it. It’s not an elimination game…but whoever loses will have to get one back somewhere down the road just to stay in the mix…and would have go to 5-2 over the last seven games to turn 5-4 into 10-6.
Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
Baltimore: 5-3 (#24 schedule in USA Today)
Pittsburgh: 5-3 (#31 schedule in USA Today)
Pittsburgh’s faced a gift schedule by league standards…and probably would have been seen as a non-contender if they hadn’t played so well vs. Indianapolis last week. Baltimore has started to look like a serious contender on both sides of the ball…but all of that has come against a softer than average slate.
Baltimore: 5.8 on offense, 5.4 on defense
Pittsburgh: 6.1 on offense, 6.0 on defense
Frankly, when you adjust for strength of schedule, neither of those differentials is particularly impressive. Pittsburgh would be negative against a league average slate. Baltimore would probably grade out as a borderline Wildcard team. As we’ve mentioned often in the past…we have more respect for defense than offense in YPP data. Baltimore does have a playoff caliber defense. And, the offense should continue to improve as it learns Gary Kubiak’s system. Pittsburgh’s defense has been a shocking disappointment considering how many sluggish offenses it’s faced.
Slight edge to Baltimore here. Both quarterbacks know the percentages but are prone to throw caution to the wind. Pittsburgh’s defense continues to be a disappointment at forcing turnovers, a trend that’s been going on for a couple of years now.
Baltimore: 4-3-1 ATS
Pittsburgh: 4-4 ATS
The market has mostly been in synch with these teams in terms of the big picture, though both teams have missed the mark by a good bit here and there. Last week’s results brought both toward the break even mark. Baltimore had been 4-2-1 ATS before the non-cover in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh had been 3-4 ATS before Big Ben chased history vs. the Colts.
Current Line: Baltimore by 1.5, total of 48
The stats just showed that Baltimore is the slightly superior team. But, are they so superior that they should be a road favorite? Remember that home field advantage is worth three points in the NFL. That line suggests that oddsmakers and respected bettors have the Ravens about 4-5 points better in their neutral field Power Ratings. The stats didn’t show that…just as they didn’t show Baltimore being a small favorite of this size last week in Cincinnati.
Will Baltimore live up to is market respect this time around? JIM HURLEY has some ideas about that. This one may or may not be part of NETWORK’S final package on Sunday. Though, he does try to find a way to get the Sunday Nighter in because he knows how much his clients love watching themselves win at the end of a big day!
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More NFL on tap tomorrow with the Monday Nighter. Here’s the upcoming NOTEBOOK schedule:
Monday: NFL Preview…Indianapolis at the NY Giants
Tuesday: NBA Preview…Cleveland at Portland
Wednesday: NBA Preview…LA Clippers at Golden State on ESPN
Thursday: NFL Preview…Cleveland at Cincinnati
Friday: College Football Preview…a few potential blockbusters to choose from
Saturday: College Football Preview…most likely Ohio State at Michigan State in the Big 10
Steelers/Ravens has been a great NFL rivalry over the past several years. But, the biggest rivalry in all of sports is JIM HURLEY vs. VEGAS ODDSMAKERS! It’s still one-sided because NETWORK CLIENTS ALWAYS GET THE MONEY!
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