Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, January 8, 2015 at 2:00 PM
There are two teams that seem to “have the number” of the New England Patriots in January. The first, the New York Jets, came nowhere near the playoffs this season (yet still put up quite a battle with the AFC’s eventual #1 seed). The second, the Baltimore Ravens, are visiting Foxboro Saturday in hopes of being a thorn in New England’s side once again.
Baltimore already has two recent playoff wins on this field. And, they might have had a third if not for a blown field goal that would have forced overtime.
It has to be said though that the 2014 Ravens aren’t the same team as those earlier entries. The defense isn’t as scary as it used to be. The offense isn’t as great on the ground as it used to be. And, the new-look offense led by new coordinator Gary Kubiak has only been able to move the ball in fits and starts this season. The quarterback battle remains Joe Flacco vs. Tom Brady. But, this is still a #6 seed playing on the road against a #1 seed that’s well rested.
Will the Patriots get revenge for past losses? Or, do the statistical matchups still give the Ravens the nod as a likely spoiler in a game that will be played on a frigid afternoon with temperatures in the mid 20’s? A look through JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats will help shed light on the issue…
Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
Baltimore: 10-6 (#29 schedule in USA Today)
New England: 12-4 (#9 schedule in USA Today)
This is a big strike against the underdog here. Baltimore played the fourth easiest schedule in the NFL during the regular season. They caught a break last week because Pittsburgh had played the third easiest! The Patriots are much more battle tested. If you project records for “league average” schedules, the Patriots likely move to 13-3, while the Ravens fall to as low as 8-8. You may want to handicap with those new records in mind.
Baltimore: 5.7 on offense, 5.2 on defense
New England: 5.5 on offense, 5.3 on defense
On the other hand, the Patriots don’t exactly have the profile of a #1 seed in yard-per-play differential even after you adjust for the schedule. This wasn’t your classic Pats team that moved the ball up and down the field at will while humiliating opponents. They won with fundamentals and solid defense. Baltimore’s differential would probably drop back to break even against a league average schedule…with numbers that disappoint on offense and are just okay on defense.
New England: +12
As we’ve documented for years here in the NOTEBOOK, the Patriots are masters of the risk/reward ratio. They play very clean on offense…and their defense often takes advantage of opponents forced to play catch up. New England went 12-4 vs. a tough schedule this year largely because of turnover differential. Opponents who can take that away make New England beatable…a recurring theme in their postseason woes. If Baltimore can avoid mistakes and force some field goals when New England is moving, this could definitely be a cold-weather thriller.
Baltimore: 7-8-1 ATS (covered last week at Pittsburgh)
New England: 9-7 ATS
We’re using regular season stats in our comparisons this weekend to keep everyone at the same number of games played. That’s why we mentioned Baltimore’s cover in parenthesis above. That brought backers to 50/50, which still isn’t enough to earn money against the vigorish. New England was a moneymaker, which is tougher for them to do than other teams because they’re typically priced to play at a peak level every time out.
Current Line: New England by 7, total of 48
If you look at playoff history, then that line is too high. Baltimore’s coaching staff veterans and quarterback have established that they can win on this field. If you look at 2014 stats, the line makes more sense because Baltimore starts to look like a pretender. This isn’t “vintage” Baltimore in terms of their recent best. This is “transitional” Baltimore trying to deal with new people in new places. If you focus on the regular season numbers, you see that the Patriots are actually fairly well suited to play a winter game…though not really positioned to run away and hide in a blowout unless they’re getting cheap points off of turnovers.
JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his full team of experts to make sure you get the right side (or total) in this and every other playoff game this weekend. Maybe there will be an upset call here. Or, maybe a surprisingly easy blowout is at hand. You won’t know if you don’t sign up!
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Our NFL Playoff previews continue tomorrow. Here’s the rest of this week’s NOTEBOOK schedule…
Friday: Early Playoff Look…Carolina at Seattle Saturday on FOX
Saturday: Early Playoff Look…Dallas at Green Bay Sunday on FOX
Sunday: NFL Preview…Indianapolis at Denver on CBS
Monday: College Football Championship Preview…Oregon vs. Ohio State
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