Jason’s record on his final weekly NFL picks for the 2012 postseason:
0-4 ATS (–4.22 units)
3-1 Totals (+1.9 units)
Profit: –2.32 units
In the end, Ray Lewis was the one dancing. The inspirational leader of the Ravens (11-6 SU, 7-9-1 ATS) trumped the inspirational story of Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts last week, making 13 tackles in his return to action as Baltimore advanced to the Divisional round with a 24-9 victory. The Ravens were 7.5-point home faves.
Now the NFL odds are against them. Baltimore opened as a 9-point road dog for Saturday’s matchup with the Broncos (13-3 SU, 10-6 ATS), who beat the Ravens 34-17 on their own turf back in Week 15, cashing in as 3-point puppies. Tough gig.
First, Do No Harm
So I had the Colts last week, although with plenty of reservations after Lewis dramatically announced to his teammates that he would retire at the end of the season. True, it didn’t help Indy’s cause that offensive co-ordinator Bruce Arians was hospitalized the morning of the game. But Baltimore made fewer mistakes when all was said and done.
And those mistakes need to be recognized. Ray Rice committed his first two lost fumbles of the 2012 campaign. Poor clock management by head coach John Harbaugh allowed Adam Vinatieri to kick a 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half. Lewis even dropped a potential interception.
Still, the Ravens did far more good than bad last week. Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for 173 yards rushing on 28 carries (6.2 yards per carry). Anquan Boldin caught five passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. Joe Flacco was pick-free and only absorbed one sack. If we write off those Rice fumbles as anomalies, Baltimore’s offense seems suitably prepared for some smashmouth playoff football.
Let’s not overlook Lewis, either. I’ve already rambled on about how fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs is the true anchor of the Baltimore defense from a performance perspective; the Ravens are now 5-3-1 ATS with Suggs in the lineup this year, compared to 2-6 ATS without. But the Wild Card game was the first time Baltimore had both Suggs and Lewis on the field at the same time. Combined with LB Paul Kruger, this fearsome trio accounted for 19 tackles and seven of the 10 hits on Colts QB Andrew Luck.
That’s the good news for Baltimore supporters. Now the bad news: Suggs was active against the Broncos in Week 15. However, it was his first week back after missing a game with a torn biceps. It was also the first week for offensive co-ordinator Jim Caldwell, who replaced Cam Cameron in a surprise front-office shuffle. We could be charitable and say the Ravens have ironed out the wrinkles.
Second in Command
At the very least, we can say the Ravens are likely to perform better than they did in Week 15 now that Lewis is active and the offense has had a few weeks to adjust to Caldwell’s relatively minor tweaks. Otherwise, holy canoli, the Broncos are a damn fine football team. They finished the regular season second on the efficiency charts behind the Seattle Seahawks, with the No. 2 offense, the No. 5 defense and the No. 13 special teams. Baltimore was No. 8 overall (No. 13 offense, No. 19 defense, No. 1 special teams).
Denver has also covered each of its last four games, three of them as a double-digit fave. This after a midseason 0-3 ATS slide as a favorite of over a touchdown. As I begin to form my NFL picks for this weekend, I’m leaning toward Baltimore in this situation with all those points, but I wouldn’t put the farm on it.
NFL Picks: Take the Ravens +9 (–105) at SIA