Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-7, 45.5 o/u)
The question of how the New England Patriots (10-2, 9-3 ATS) offense will fare without Rob Gronkowski doesn’t really have an answer yet, because they haven’t really been tested. In their last three games (during which Gronk has played less than two quarters), the Pats have beaten the four-win Rams, three-win Jets, and one-win 49ers. Not exactly murderer’s row.
But we’ll have a more definitive answer come Monday night, when the Baltimore Ravens (7-5, 6-6 ATS) bring the league’s stingiest defense to Foxborough for a primetime clash (8:30 PM Eastern).
Allowing the fewest yards in the NFL, and ranked second in DVOA, the Ravens have held four of their last five opponents to under 15 points. Elvis Dumervil’s return to the lineup has boosted a pass rush that has racked up 28 sacks on the year, and helped force opposing QBs into 14 interceptions. But stopping the run is where Baltimore really butters its bread, holding opponents to 73.8 yards per game on the ground.
Normally, playing a stifling run D wouldn’t bother the pass-heavy Patriots, but this season has been different. New England started the year with a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount because of Tom Brady’s suspension. They’ve kept his carries up even with no. 12 back under center. In fact, the Patriots rank fifth in the league, running the ball 44-percent of the time.
So their offensive mettle will be tested against Baltimore, especially if tight end Martellus Bennett isn’t at full strength. But a bad night for the Patriots offense doesn’t have the same meaning as it would for any other team. With Brady at QB, the Pats average nearly 30 points a game, and their lowest output this year is 22. Even if New England is at the low end of that spectrum, they could still get the cover.
That’s because, surprisingly, the Patriots have just as good a defense as Baltimore, at least when it comes to points allowed. Both teams are holding the opposition to 17.3 points per game, but it’s head-scratching as to how New England is accomplishing that feat. The Patriots only have 13 takeaways on the year and they aren’t particularly stout in the red-zone (allowing TDs 58-percent of the time).
The easiest explanation might just be that New England hasn’t played good offenses. Along with the Rams, Jets, and Niners, they’ve also played the Browns, Texans, and Steelers (with Landry Jones at QB). How much of a step up is Baltimore? We shall see.
The Ravens are having a bit of a crisis of identity on offense, throwing the ball on nearly 65-percent of their plays even though Joe Flacco is not having that great of a year. He did enjoy his best game since 2012 last week against Miami, but counting on Flacco to carry the offense every week is just asking for trouble. Baltimore has to get Terrance West and rookie Kenneth Dixon more involved.
Though there offense may not inspire the most confidence, their recent track record against New England does. The Ravens are 5-3-1 against the number in their last nine against the Patriots. The Pats feel like a team due for a let-down, and a Ravens team that has given them trouble could be the one to deliver it.
Pick: Ravens (+7).
Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].
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