Gambling Outlook: 2018 Ravens Season Preview

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Hello Ravens fans!

 

My goal as a contributor is to bring you insight and analysis on what to expect from the Ravens from a gambling perspective in 2018.

 

To give you some background on what I do, and why you should listen is probably the first thing you are wondering. “Why in the world do I care what this guy from Boston has to say about the Ravens?”  would probably be a common first question.  First off, I’m not your prototypical arrogant Patriots fan.  I take pride in being an objective 3rd party observer who is looking for a value-based way to predict winners against the spread.  

 

With all that said, I have developed a statistical formula in 2015 that calculates what the spread should be on a weekly basis and I use that to make selections.  My calculation has been profitable every year so far:

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Will the Defense Build On It’s Dominant 2017 Campaign?

The first statistic I always look at is Passer Rating Differential (Average team QB rating minus Average Team Defensive QB rating). This statistic has proven to have the highest correlation with NFL success over the past 50 years.  In 2017, the Ravens ranked 13th in this metric.  Generally, you won’t find many playoff teams that rank outside the top 15.  The Ravens defense carried the load by yielding the league’s best passer rating defense at 72.4.  This means that on average, the Ravens defense made the opposing quarterback equivalent to the likes of Trevor Simian (73.3 Rating). What’s even more encouraging about that elite level of play was that Baltimore was able to do it both at home and on the road.  This was something that they struggled with in 2016 which is outlined in the chart below:

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The 2017 Ravens defense was elite in virtually every important category and showed much more consistency than in 2016.  Again, the graphic below shows how much they improved year over year:

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With a defense that was one of the best in 2017, it’s a shock to see that they missed the playoffs…. Until you look at the offense.

 

Good Joe vs. Bad Joe:

There’s no other way to say it.  In 2017, Joe Flacco was pathetic.  Earlier this week, the NFL Network was replaying the 2013 Super Bowl vs. the 49ers and the QB that played in that game was unrecognizable.  I watched Flacco escape under pressure, step up in the pocket, and throw into tight windows all night. He made confident, accurate throws against one of the best defenses I’ve seen in a long time.  The player during that playoff run has disappeared.

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While it’s unrealistic to expect Flacco to maintain the play that he established in that historical playoff run, the 4 years since then are simply unacceptable.  He had some of his worst games of his career in 2017, and you simply can’t win games in the NFL when you deliver the following:

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2 of the 3 games above were home games against inferior opponents (Bengals and Bears).

The chart above will not surprise anyone from Baltimore, and you can see why they took a chance on drafting Lamar Jackson.

 

Will the Offense Bounce Back in 2018?

There is certainly a track record of veteran QB’s that have bounced back after their organizations have drafted “The Next Franchise QB”.  Look at two of the more recent situations of veteran quarterbacks that were propelled after their organizations began to doubt them. Most notably, Tom Brady after the Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo, but look at how Alex Smith bounced back last season after the Chiefs drafted Mahomes.

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Flacco should have some extra motivation to deliver in 2018 to help bring the Ravens back in contention in the AFC.  But he needs help. Anquan Boldin in 2012 played some of the best football at receiver that I have ever seen. He snatched balls over defenders that were draped all over him.  He also made some of the most impressive 3rd down catches in traffic during clutch times.  

The offseason additions of Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead don’t excite me very much.  I think Crabtree has lost a step, and I don’t think his skill set matches up well with Flacco’s strength in the downfield passing game.  Flacco needs Breshad Perriman to get on the field and make a meaningful contribution. He is looking like a bust right now. I’m also interested to see if Snead can be dynamic outdoors.  Receivers often have a difficult time transitioning out of domes. I think one of these receivers will have to step up to get Flacco back on track.

In the running game, I liked what I saw from Alex Collins.  He showed some explosiveness both as a runner and in the passing game.  He averaged 4.6 yards per carry and he really didn’t see significant playing time until about week 5.  If Collins and the offensive line can build on what they started last season, this should also help Flacco regain his composure.

Finally, you have to love Justin Tucker.  Once the Ravens get over midfield, it feels like an automatic three points…. As long as Flacco doesn’t screw it up!  Tucker is a weapon on special teams.

Gambling Outlook:

Five Dimes has the Ravens Season win total set at 8.5.  The defense has proven to be elite over the past 2 seasons, and I think the offense can’t possibly be as bad as it was in 2017.  The Ravens pass defense has improved for 3 straight seasons, and they are bringing back virtually all of their important players.

I like the toughness that this team always shows against Pittsburgh.  However, to truly be an elite team you can’t have meltdowns against poor competition that you see time and again from the quarterback and the coach.  I think Harbaugh is a solid coach, but he will almost certainly be fired if they fail to reach the playoffs this year. If the Ravens can just be an average offensive team, they shouldn’t have any problems getting to 10 wins.  I think the Ravens have great value when they are underdogs. Last year they were 3-1 against the spread in these situations. They’ve also had great success within the division for the past 2 years going 9-3 ATS.

 

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