Carolina Panthers +3 vs the Baltimore Ravens? Damn straight that’s NFLbets’ Pick of the Week!
NFLbets knows we should stay away from Baltimore Ravens games (statistics to back this up below), but this week’s line on the Ravens at Carolina game is simply irresistible. In fact, this is such an inexplicable point spread that we’re going to have to simply place bets so as to srop grinding mental wheels over exactly why this line looks like this:
Baltimore Ravens -3 at Carolina Panthers, over/under 44 points
Even more ineffably, this line was -2 on Monday and by the Saturday before kickoff, the enterprising NFL bettor can even find Ravens -3 at some sportsbooks. Why, folks, why? Why is a prospective playoff team entering this game a home underdog against a side that’s a whopping 1-2 SU/ATS against quality opponents in 2018? (The answer is probably the same as that to the more-than-reasonable question of last week, “How was this team giving 2½ points to the Saints?”, but damned if we know it.)
Consider that going back to 2014, Ravens are 14-22 SU in away games; if they’d spotted all opponents 3, as they are this week, that mark drops to 12-23-1 SU. With a winning percentage right at 33.3%, the first of NFLbets’ best bets for Sunday is to take the Carolina Panthers ML at +120 or so.
Why not take the Panthers plus the points as well? Again, NFLbets is baffled by this line, with the sole rational explanation based simply in regression to the mean: the Panthers are 2-0 ATS at home thus far into the 2018 season. But that’s it. What do the bookmakers know that we don’t…?
Sure, Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense looked decent against the New Orleans Saints in last week’s losing effort, but have we been blinded to the fact that the Saints D has the capacity to look like a shabby bottom-5 unit on any given Sunday? New Orleans brought next to no pass rush against a mediocre offensive line and thus sacked Flacco zero times. This week, not only will the Panthers play more aggressively than the Saints (how could they not?), the Panthers OL is minus starters LG Alex Lewis and RT James Hurst.
Indeed, typically the Baltimore offense has had to play near perfectly to even have a shot at a win: In games when the Ravens accumulated just *two* or more turnovers, they’re 12-20 SU since 2014 regardless of TO differential. The Carolina defense has produced 10 turnovers per game in ’18 for a 1.66 average.
Speaking (writing?) of defense, the Ravens D has been one serious Jekyll-and-Hyde unit this season. Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric has Baltimore at no. 3 in the NFL in defensive efficiency, but paradoxically lists the Ravens at no. 26 in the FO variance metric measuring consistency of performance week to week – this is a nice stat that neatly mathematically quantifies how a defense can, likesay, hold the Buffalo Bills or Tennessee Titans to single digits but allow the Cincinnati Bengals to run up 34.
This defense did perform fairly well against stud RB Alvin Kamara last week, limiting him to 3.7 yards per carry, but still allowed over 100 yards rushing for the fourth time in six games. Kamara and the Saints represent the first opponent with a true running game (no, we’re not including the LeVeon Bell-less Pittsburgh Steelers, who managed a pitiful 19 yards in week 4), but the combination of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey is certain to present unique challenges to a side which hasn’t faced Newton since 2014 and has never played McCaffrey.
In terms of running, Newton’s production is down from past fireworks-inducing seasons but remains respectable at 42.8 yards per game and an impressive 4.9 yards per carry, only bolstered by his nifty 21-yard scurry last week. McCaffrey, meanwhile, has been putting together some fantastic stats with a smidge under 20 touches per game, 4.8 yards per carry, 7.2 yards per reception, 111.1 total yards per game. Oddly, McCaffrey can claim just one TD in 2018, thus far but we wouldn’t be surprised if he finally broke through to the end zone on a nice run this week.
Also of note: Ravens starting CB Marlon Humphrey will not play in this ball game, an advantage neutralized by the absence of Torrey Smith, who’s also out. In this situation, Devin Funchess will be getting the downfield opportunities, but we’re looking for the Panthers to grind it out on the ground in this one.
Again, we simply cannot find any reason not to take the Carolina Panthers +3 vs Baltimore; we’ll now officially call this the NFLbets Pick of the Week for week 8. The over/under of 44 points is a bit too low to cover, but the must-choose choice would be on the under. The sportsbooks are projecting a final score of 24-20 or 24-21 and this certainly seems reasonable as a max score in a showdown of top-10 defenses.