NFL Odds & Picks For Bills vs. Ravens: Bet Baltimore To Cover As Playoff Underdog Saturday Night
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images. Pictured: Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson
Bills vs. Ravens Odds
You’ve heard the critiques: Lamar Jackson and the Ravens can’t win a playoff game — they’re frontrunners who can’t play from behind. But they debunked both of those narratives last week, coming back from a 10-0 first-half deficit to defeat the Titans and avenge last year’s playoff loss.
The Ravens’ path to the Super Bowl doesn’t get any easier from here, though — they now take on the Bills, who are coming off a 27-24 win over the Colts. Unlike previous seasons, the No. 2 seed doesn’t get a first-round bye and thus needs to win three games in order to reach Super Bowl. Nevertheless, the Bills don’t have the advantage of a bye week coming into this game.
We’ve seen back and forth movement on this spread — the Ravens were bet down to +1 before they were bet back to +2.5, closer to the +3 opener. It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing the market jump around considering these are two of the NFL’s hottest teams. The Bills have won 10 of their last 11, including seven straight since their loss over the Cardinals on Kyler Murray’s Hail Mary pass to DeAndre Hopkins. And the Ravens hand have won six straight, including five just to get into the playoffs.
But one of these teams us going home while the other will move onto the AFC Championship Game. Which one will it be? Let’s find out!
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) January 12, 2021
Thanks to the Browns’ shocking upset of the Steelers in the Wild Card Round, not only do the Ravens move to the opposite side of the bracket to avoid the Chiefs in the Divisional Round, but they do so to face an overvalued Bills team that just gave up 472 total yards on 6.2 yards per play to the Colts.
Buffalo struggles to stop the run, ranking 17th in defensive rushing efficiency. And what is the strength of this Baltimore offense?
Running the ball.
While the Colts couldn’t get a push up front to run the ball until the late-season emergence of rookie Jonathan Taylor, the Bills still gave up 163 yards on 5.4 yards per carry. The Ravens should be able to further take advantage of this weakness — Jackson, J.K Dobbins and Gus Edwards lead a rushing attack that averages a league-leading 191.9 rushing yards per game with a 43.7% rushing success rate (seventh in the NFL). The Ravens also just ran for 236 yards on 6.7 yards per rush against the Titans, including Jackson’s 48-yard scamper for the game-tying touchdown and his 33-yard run to ice the game.
Much has been made about Jackson’s ability (or lack thereof) to beat teams with his arm, but he did complete a key third-down pass to Mark Andrews on third-and-7 from their own 28-yard line to pick up the first down that led to a field goal when they were trailing the Titans 10-0.
The Ravens had a positive expected points added (EPA) per play when throwing the ball last week along with a 45% success rate (per Sharp Football Stats), both of which were higher than their EPA/play and success rate when running the ball, so we can’t just chalk up last Sunday’s performance to Jackson’s ability to run.
Over the final five weeks of the regular season — when the Ravens were fighting for their playoff lives — Jackson completed 67% of his passes for 809 yards with 11 touchdowns to just three interceptions. It may not look like Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, but Jackson has proven he can make enough throws when necessary.
As well as Jackson played last week, the Ravens defense was the most impressive unit on the field. They held a Titans defense that was averaging 30.8 points per game to only 13 points, 209 total yards, 12 first downs and 4.3 yards per play. Derrick Henry, who became the eighth running back to rush for 2,000 yards in NFL history, had just 18 carries for 40 yards.
In some ways, that performance was encouraging considering the Ravens will have to deal with the dual-threat of Josh Allen’s arm and legs this week. Unlike against the Titans, however, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll won’t fall into the trap of early and predictable run plays like Arthur Smith did. We can expect the Bills to pass early and often, an area in which the Titans found plenty of success with a 47% success rate when passing on early downs.
Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphries and Jimmy Smith slowing down Stefon Diggs will be key. According to the NFL’s NextGenStats, when Peters was the nearest defender, he allowed just three catches for 29 yards on six targets. Jimmy Smith also didn’t allow a target in 16 coverage snaps.
We’ve seen Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale cause problems for Allen in the past. In their regular-season win over the Bills in 2019, they held Allen to just 17-of-39 completions for 146 yards on 3.7 yards per pass with one touchdown and a 16.7 mark in ESPN’s Total QBR. They sacked Allen six times in total, causing him to fumble twice while losing one.
Allen was blitzed relentlessly in that matchup, including on 11 of his first 12 dropbacks and his first nine overall. In turn, he just completed one of his first eight passes. While he’s certainly a different quarterback than he was then, this defensive unit and coaching staff have had his number before.
Outside of Murray’s Hail Mary and the two-week stretch over which they had a game delayed due to the Titans’ COVID-19 breakout, knocking the Bills off their rhythm before playing the Chiefs on a short week in game that was impacted by wind, rain and hail, Allen and the Bills have been unstoppable.
You simply can’t ask for a better season from a team that finished 13-3 and had their best regular season in nearly 30 years, when Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas led them to a 13-3 record and second consecutive Super Bowl in 1991.
As I noted last week, the Bills rank in the top five of nearly every offensive metric, including second in points per game (31.3), fifth in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA, third in offensive success rate (50.9%) and fourth in expected points added per play. And as Warren Sharp detailed on the Bills Simmons Podcast, the Bills are just the second team in NFL history to record at least 20 first downs every single game of the season — the 2012 Patriots were the only other team to achieve this feat. The Bills have also punted the second-fewest times in a 16-game season in league history
Allen has been a completely different quarterback this season. Although the Ravens were able to throw Allen off his game by blitzing him last season, he’s been elite when defenses have blitzed this season with a passer rating of 111.6, throwing a touchdown every 13.2 attempts, so that strategy may not work this Saturday.
Nonetheless, Allen has continued his stellar play in the playoffs, completing 26-of-35 yards for 324 yards and two touchdowns last week. Despite Diggs coming into the game questionable with an oblique injury, he caught six receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown while Cole Beasley also returned from a knee injury to catch seven passes for 57 yards. It’s clear that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has this unit humming and they should have their opportunities in this matchup as well.
Unfortunately for the Bills, we’re starting to see some cracks in their armor.
They nearly blew a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead as the defense provided very little resistance last Saturday, allowing the Colts to do whatever they wanted, including crossing the 50-yard line on nine of their 10 drives. In many ways, the Colts did everything possible to lose that game given their failed fourth-down decision toward the end of the second quarter, the missed field goal, the failed 2-point conversion and the general lack of urgency to move the ball on the last possession of the game.
The Colts out-gained the Bills in total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, first downs, total plays and time of possession while having the chance to tie or win the game down the stretch. This Bills defense ranks 12th in DVOA and 18th in defensive EPA/play, but they’ve played the 20th-ranked schedule of opposing offenses and particularly struggle against the run, ranking only 17th in defensive run efficiency and 27th in rushing success rate. They give up a whopping 163 rushing yards per game (third most) and 4.6 yards per carry.
More concerning is that, despite Phillip Rivers’ lack of mobility, the Bills couldn’t come close to putting any pressure on him — they finished the wild-card matchup with zero sacks. We’ve also seen Murray complete 22-of-35 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 61 yards and two scores against this defense, and the Ravens are a big step up offensively compared to Kliff Kingsbury’s team.
Did you know that the Colts were the first team in NFL playoff history to gain more than 450 total yards, have zero turnovers and still lose?
While many people may see the Colts’ ability to play a great and still lose as a reason to back the Bills, I consider last week’s game an indictment of them. The Colts did everything possible in order to lose that game, but they did roll out a game plan that I believe the Ravens can duplicate: Run the ball and keep Allen and this Bills offense off the field.
As a whole, the Bills should struggle defensively. They’ve lost to two of the three teams they’ve faced that rank in the top 10 of offensive efficiency — the Chiefs, Titans and Seahawks — and the Ravens rank 11th. And the one team that the Bills did beat recently fired their offensive coordinator, and there’s a clear gap between what we’re seeing from Greg Roman’s offense in Baltimore and what we saw from Brian Schottenheimer on Seattle.
For me, this 2.5-point spread simply isn’t indicative of reality.
For the second week in a row, the Bills are overvalued after closing out the regular season winning nine of their last 10 games, including six straight wins. My projections made the Bills a 4.7-point favorite in the Wild Card Round while the market had them at -6.5 to -7. This week my projections make the Ravens 2.5-point favorites, and given the lack of home-field advantage, I see no reason to adjust downward and give an additional edge to the Bills.
Even if I’m giving the Bills a slight edge for home field, it still works out to about a pick’em.
On the flip side, the Ravens are being undervalued for the second week in a row — my projections made them 5.8-point favorites last week. In many ways, the final score of their 20-13 win over the Titans didn’t tell the whole story of the Ravens’ dominance: Baltimore out-gained Tennessee in first downs, total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, yards per play, total plays and time of possession.
If that score board actually showed what we saw in the box score, we would see this line a pick’em — not the Ravens getting points.
The Bills have made a living on third down this season, ranking fourth in third-down conversion percentage (48.47%). Well, the Ravens rank second in opponent third-down conversion percentage.
With the Ravens having the better defense and the ability to run the ball and keep this Bills offense off the field, I like the Ravens in this matchup. I’ll be betting them to cover +2.5, to win outright and adding them to 6.5-point teasers. And, if you have some gamble in you, I would recommend selling points and betting them at -2.5 (+132).
Pick: Ravens +2.5