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Ravens look for revenge

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AFC Championship: Why the Baltimore Ravens Will Cover (+9) This Weekend

The final four in the NFL are set and in the AFC we have a rematch of last year's Championship game with Baltimore heading up to Foxboro once again to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots. Last year the line was set at New England (-7) and the Pats escaped with a three-point win thanks to a Baltimore dropped TD pass and missed FG in the waning minutes. This year the underdog Ravens are getting two more points to play with, and they should bring home the cash for all those willing to back them. Here's why:

Reason #1: Since 2007 Baltimore has played New England six times and never lost by more than six points

The Ravens are 2-4 SU in those six contests and have lost by 3 points on three separate occasions and by 6 in the other loss. That six-point loss came in Joe Flacco's first game against New England and Belichick's record with New England against QB's his first time is astonishing (19-7). Obviously Flacco has seen what the Patriots have to offer numerous times since then and knows what to expect. He's been on this big stage (AFC title) twice before and won't be fazed by the moment. Neither will the rest of his teammates who are beaming with confidence each week as they take this final "ride" with their leader Ray Lewis.

This defense has been through wars against Brady and New England's offense and will be ready for everything the Pats throw at them; including that quick-snap, no huddle offense. Ray Lewis and that defense won't let his last game be one where they get blown out. It just won't happen.

Reason #2: Baltimore already beat New England this year

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Yes, this game was in Baltimore and a Week 3 game has nowhere near the intensity of an AFC Title game, but the Ravens were geared up for that rematch with New England since training camp and it showed. Sure, they hit a controversial FG on the final play to win it, but other than a dismal 1st quarter (trailed 13-0) they were never down by more 9 points after that. And they didn't have Terrell Suggs available for that game either. Suggs showed vs. Denver he isn't a liability in pass coverage anymore and Brady won't be able to target him with RB's in the flat as he has done before.

Reason #3: Since 1998, underdogs of 7 or more are 8-3 ATS (72%) in Conference Title games.

That number alone shows that with so much on the line these big dogs tend to leave it all on the line and come to play. A trip to the Super Bowl is usually motivation enough for these underdogs, but when you have a chance to get there by upsetting one of your most hated rivals as Baltimore does, you better come to play.

New England has been involved in three of those games too. I've already touched on last year's 23-20 win as 7-point favorites, but they were also -14 back in January 2008 vs. a banged up Chargers team that managed to hang around in a 21-12 Pats win. The third game was during New England's first Super Bowl season (2001) when they went on the road to Pittsburgh as 10-point underdogs and won 24-17. That SU win was one of the four times these big underdogs have won SU in that span, so don't think the Ravens can't win this outright either.

Reason #4: Since 1998, road teams are 18-10 ATS (64%) in Conference Title games

That is quite the run road teams are on, and when you think about it, it's not all that surprising. Home teams feel more pressure given that they are likely favored to win and should move on to the Super Bowl. Of those 18 ATS winners, only three of them were listed as road favorites, so underdogs come to play on the road. They have less pressure, and are more willing to take risks since no one has given them a chance. That is exactly the strategy Baltimore used in Denver last week, airing out deep passes quite often and connecting on many of them; including TD passes of 70, 59 and 32 yards. New England's pass defense was 29th this year and with the world counting them out again, Flacco and company won't have any problem taking their deep shots. That 18-10 ATS number doesn't reflect the fact that road teams are 13-15 (46%) SU in those games too, meaning 10 underdogs won outright. We already know that four of those were underdogs of 7 or more (see Reason #3), and all four of them were on the road.

Reason #5: The emotion of Ray Lewis retiring

It's a tired story at this point but when you have a player of Lewis' stature coming out before the playoffs and telling everyone this will be it for him, it's hard for his teammates not to leave everything out on the field for him. Lewis is loved by every single person in that Ravens locker room and the last thing they would want to happen is Lewis leaving the field in a blowout loss. The players, coaches and staff will do everything they can in this game to ensure that doesn't happen and if that means calling trick plays, going for it on 4th downs, etc. the Ravens will do it. The core of this team has been together for quite a few years now and they have to be sick and tired of getting so close to the Promised Land and coming up short. It's not like Lewis isn't productive out there either as he has led the Ravens in tackles in their two playoff games so far. This is Baltimore's last chance with their unquestioned leader going to war with them and they won't let him down.

  
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