Our NFL handicapper identifies a line trend that you need to jump on before it's too late. Read on as he analyzes the Ravens and Baltimore matchup in Week 1 and finds the best value for your NFL pick.
In a rematch of the opening game of the 2013 season, the Denver Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens in week one of 2015. That 2013 game ended up being a track meet as Peyton Manning threw for an NFL record seven touchdowns and Denver won the game 49-27. That season the Broncos went on to have a historic offensive output, just to find out that defense does win championships as they were stuffed by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. That offense is now gone, replaced by an approach heralded by new head coach, Gary Kubiak.
Kubiak’s offense is strongly based on the running game and will not require as much of Manning, which was the case in prior seasons with the Broncos. In a change for Manning, he also will not be encouraged to audible as much as he has in the past – lessening even more the responsibility he has to run the offense by himself. Conventional wisdom would say this is a good thing for an aging quarterback that doesn’t possess the skills that he once had, although Manning’s ability to audible and read defenses is legendary. With Denver’s strong offensive line unit running the ball probably shouldn’t be on the back burner either and I think we will see a more deliberate offensive game plan under Kubiak. Under Kubiak’s direction last year, the Houston offense averaged 23.3 points as compared to Denver’s 30.1. The ‘system’ could be worth about a touchdown less per game this year, but they’ll be running more clock to make it happen so the efficiency per play could end up being largely the same.
Allowing for a more deliberate game plan on offense for Denver is a top-notch defensive squad that has impressed throughout the preseason. Often, it’s role players that come out of nowhere that make the most difference on NFL squads as you only have so much big money to go around for the veterans. You see this often in perennial contenders such as New England and Seattle, who plug and play with who’ve they’ve got. So far for the Broncos this year that is 2nd year UDFA pass rusher, Shaquil Barrett, who absolutely lit up the stat sheet in preseason. You add a piece like that at essentially no cost, in addition to All-Pro’s Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, and you are in pretty good shape to cause an opposing QB some trouble.
What we learned in the preseason for Baltimore is that they really don’t have good options if Joe Flacco goes down. Their offense sputtered against some suspect defensive squads including Philadelphia and New Orleans. But on the other hand we hardly saw Flacco or the emergent Justin Forsett on the field. The offensive line is again solid this year and the starting five didn’t give up a sack. It’s the same starting five from last year, which rarely ever occurs. With Steve Smith taking his swan song and Flacco getting a lot of time don’t be surprised if the air attack of the Ravens is a little more potent than the roster indicates. Nobody can ride a bull for ten seconds, let alone eight. That said this matchup against the defensive rush specialists of Denver should be a true test for the offensive line of Baltimore.
The Baltimore defense is built big up the middle to stop the run, which is a nice counterpoint to the new Kubiak offense that will be headed their way in Denver. The secondary should see improved play as well this year with the additions of Lyle Arrington and Kendrick Lewis. But the fireworks of the Baltimore defense is definitely the outside edge, as Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs can terrorize QB’s with the best of them. The Ravens only gave up 18.9 PPG last year and I would expect that trend to continue and maybe even improve in 2015.
The line movement in this game has been early and sharp on the total, while the spread has consistently been posted at -4.5 NFL odds favoring the Broncos at multiple sportsbooks. The total opened at 52 and has since dropped to 49, which in my opinion, is still not low enough. This game will be won in the trenches, both defenses matchup well, and a system change in Denver has the total out of whack to the upside. Take the under early in this one before it drops even lower at 49 at Bovada as one of your Week 1 NFL picks.
NFL Pick: Under 49 (-110) at Bovada