The Patriots have played by far the easiest schedule in the NFL this year, and it’s not close. The number two easiest schedule has been played by the Buffalo Bills, but the #3 team may surprise you. While many bemoan the fact that the Patriots haven’t faced a particularly strong opponent yet, not many people say the same about the Baltimore Ravens, who have played the 3rd easiest schedule to date.
In the biggest game of the year so far, we will finally get to see what both these teams are made of. The Ravens were overrated from a point spread perspective early on, partially due to them beating up on weak opponents. Overall, the Ravens are just 2-5 ATS on the season, second-worst to just the 2-6 Atlanta Falcons. New England, meanwhile, is tied for first at 6-2 ATS.
Ravens Offense vs. Patriots Defense
How well the Patriots can control the Ravens offense is the matchup that should ultimately determine this game. The Patriots look to take away what a team does best on offense, with a defense that can force a team to go to its second-best option. For the Ravens, running the ball, but particularly running the ball with Lamar Jackson is what they do best. For Baltimore to win or cover this game, Lamar is going to need to make some throws, and he’s proven more than capable of doing that in 2019.
To Baltimore’s benefit, they should be getting Marquise Brown back to full health this week. This is exactly the type of weapon Lamar will need to utilize and hit for multiple big plays down the field. In the intermediate routes, Jackson will need to lean on his favorite target Mark Andrews at tight end. However, look for the Patriots to put extra attention on Andrews with their strong secondary.
New England is #2 in defensive pass efficiency, so this game could get out of hand if New England is about to control the ground game of Baltimore. The Patriots are top ten defending the run at #8 in the NFL, while Baltimore is #1 in the league in running the football, so this should be a fascinating chess match between Harbaugh and Belichick.
If Baltimore can establish and maintain a balanced attack, they may bring an aspect to the field that the Patriots haven’t seen yet, and use it to their advantage. It would be hard to see this Patriots defense staying this perfect all year, so a letdown is inevitable. If the Pats pass this test, then we may as well hand them the Lombardi trophy right now.
Patriots Offense vs. Ravens Defense
While Lamar Jackson vs. Bill Belichick is the headlining act, the Patriots offense against the Ravens defense will be just as interesting to watch.
The Pats have not been all that great on offense. They struggle to run the ball and Tom Brady is either showing signs of age or showing signs of a depleted receiving core. New England ranks 20th in rush efficiency and 12th in pass efficiency. Not bad, but not what we’re used to.
Meanwhile, the Ravens rank 21st against the run and 13th against the pass. Again, not what we’re used to seeing. But the one area the Ravens excel at is getting after the quarterback. By adjusted sack rate, their defensive line ranks 4th in the NFL, while the Patriots offensive line ranks 18th. The way to beat the Patriots is to get Brady feeling uncomfortable in the pocket, so this is another area where Baltimore may gain an edge.
Now for the fun part, the spread and line movement. The game opened at Patriots -4, a pretty huge number on the road against a quality opponent. The number was bought down to 3.5 early in the week and has been further bought down to Patriots -3 heading into the weekend. This is still a hefty amount of points to be giving up on the road, but most of the value is gone after losing the +4 and +3.5. Getting three points with the Ravens still seems tempting, but betting against Bill Belichick has been a losing proposition for the last 20 years.
The majority of bettors know this, and that’s why 71% of the bets are currently clicking Patriots. However, the large majority of bets only accounts for 54% of the total money.
The total on the game opened at 44 points and is now split between 44.5 and 45 points. I don't see any edge on a totals play in this one, but I would lean towards the under.
If you’re inclined to take the Ravens, I’d wait to see if a 3.5 pops up before game time with late New England money. It’s possible though, that this drops down below 3, which would really eliminate any value on the Ravens.