Editor's Note: Micah Roberts is locked and loaded with 10 expert selections tonight, including the side and total for the SNF matchup. Click to win!
If you were trying to adjust your odds screen or call the sports editor at your local newspaper Monday about the error that had the Ravens favored by three points over the Patriots, you weren't alone. It's hard to believe that a team like the New England Patriots could be underdogs, especially to the Ravens, a team they have beaten like a drum since 1996, going 7-1 in eight encounters.
But things are a little different this time around. The Ravens finally have a home game, they're favored and both teams are coming off a loss. Six of their last eight meetings have been in Foxboro and the last two have been about as close as possible, by identical 23-20 scores. The Patriots won both games, but the Ravens got the money.
The Patriots are coming off a 20-18 home loss to the Cardinals last Sunday, a game they were favored by 13 ½-points with the Cardinals money-line paying out at 7/1 odds (Bet $100 to win $700). Had the Patriots won the game, the spread for tonight's game would have been Pick 'em, but the shadow of doubt has been placed upon the Patriots because of the loss.
Even though we're talking about a Cardinals team that has now won nine of their past 11 games, a team that has been shutting down opposing offenses since the latter half of 2011, the public perception of 'Zona is that it's a bad loss -- almost to the same degree of a loss to Cleveland, Tennessee or Jacksonville.
It's not the same, but that's the perception!
The high point-spread from last week dictates the measure that we all place the severity of the loss. Sure, it was a bad loss, but the Cardinals did exactly what the Giants have done to Tom Brady in their last two Super Bowl meetings; they made him uncomfortable and beat him up.
That's been the secret to beating the Patriots over the years. It's just hard for teams to execute the game plan. The question in this game is whether the Ravens defense can put the pressure on Brady.
When we think about the Ravens defense, we have this image of Ray Lewis being MVP and carrying his team to a Super Bowl win, and the only reason we still think that way is because the freak of nature is still playing.
But that Super Bowl win was over a decade ago. While Lewis may be wiser and craftier at his old age, he is much slower, which is part of the reason the Eagles were able to put almost 500 yards up against the Ravens last week. The Eagles turned the ball over four times and still were able to pull out a 24-23 win.
Another reason the Ravens defense has been faltering lately is because the defense is on the field more now with their offense running more hurry-up plays. The thing that has hurt Baltimore over the years is not being able to keep up offensively late in big games because Joe Flacco isn't a money quarterback. It's not because he can't be, but more because he's never been given the chance to run an offense like the other top quarterbacks in the league, which in the process, has hurt his chances at being the most confident QB possible.
Everyone in the league is running schemes for the quarterback to maximize their talents, while Flacco has been playing the Bob Griese role from the 1970's Dolphins.
Now that Flacco throws more, less time is taken off the clock and the Ravens defense spends more time on the field. If this is the game plan for Sunday night, the Ravens will have a tough time beating the Patriots, especially without last year's Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs, out of the game, and not harassing Brady.
We seem to think Brady's excellence can last forever, but it's about time maybe we start speculating that his run might be close to being over, and through the first two games this year, you'd have some pretty good ammunition for the argument. Let's face it, he's 35 years-old, he's not in sync with Wes Welker yet, he's missing tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) to injury and newcomer Brandon Lloyd doesn't look to be the answer as expected on the outside.
Bettors took all that data in and jumped on the Patriots +3, eventually forcing every sports book in Las Vegas to drop them to +2 ½.
We all know about Pats coach Bill Belichick's 26-3 record after a loss since 2003, which applies here, but what you may not know is that the Ravens have won their past 13 games in a row coming off a loss. They also have a won a league high 11 games in a row at home.
So now the final decision comes down to you, the bettor. You now you have to take a side. It's a difficult one to make and there are several angles to look at here. We'll certainly know a lot more about each team and what they're made of after tonight. The loser goes to 1-2 and finds themselves in all kinds of bad tie-breaking scenarios in regards to home field when the playoffs start. That is, of course, assuming both teams make the playoffs.
Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m. ET, with NBC providing national coverage.