Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans (1/11/19): NFL Betting Picks, Lines

Last Week: 2-5
All Time Results: 110-99-2, +17.1 Units

Baltimore Ravens -9 vs. Tennessee Titans -.1 Unit

The Playoffs have been very friendly to large favorites over the years, especially recently.  9-point favorites or greater since 1989 in the playoffs are 16-11 ATS, including 8-1 since 2011, with a +4.6 ATS margin.

What might explain this trend?  Several factors unique to postseason football I think add value on a big favorite, especially when the favorite has enjoyed a Bye Week.

For one, teams do not generally let up at the end of games in the playoffs.  In the regular season, one of the big baltimore ravensworries about laying the lumber is that if the team you bet on is up by 14 late in the game, they will often stop scoring and simply attempt to run out the clock.  While there is value in the regular season of scoring late and taking your 95% Winning Probability closer to 100%, the risk/reward algebra changes drastically in the playoffs.

In the playoffs, the finish line is in sight.  Winning at all costs is the credo – the possibility of injuries is not a concern.  Coaches know that a 14-point lead can be tenuous.  Look no further than the 2015 NFC Championship between Green Bay & Seattle.  In that game the Packers lead 19-7 with 2 minutes to go, only to fall in overtime.

If the Ravens have a slight lead late in this game, I expect Harbaugh to push his advantage.  Especially since the Ravens defense is more of the bend-but-don’t-break variety, I expect them to pull out all the stops on offense – including going for it on 4th down – to create a 10+ point cushion.

Another reason is the rest advantage.  The Titans are riding high after the win of their lifetimes, signaling possibly the end of the greatest franchise in the history of North American sports.  Asking them to reset their intensity meter back to 10 just 6 days later is a tall order.  The rested Ravens meanwhile will be chomping at the bit to showcase their world-class brand of football once again on the national stage.

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2-Team 6-Point Teaser (-110): Baltimore Ravens -3 vs. Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers -1 vs. Minnesota Vikings -.5 Units

SB Matchup: Ravens vs. 49ers (+230) – .5 Units

2018 Packers vs. 2019 Packers: A Case Study in the Benefits of a Run Game

What is the biggest difference between the Packers last year and the Packers this year?

The defense has definitely been a large part of the improvement.  The Packers went from 29th in Defensive Efficiency last year, to a respectable 15th this year.  Moreover, they have gone from 30th in the league in Takeaways in 2018 to 7th in 2019.

What about their offense? Has anything significantly changed?

Passing efficiency- Nope, about the same.  6.6 YPA last year, 6.5 YPA this year.

Running efficiency – Not really.  The Packers actually had much better results on per play basis last year in their run game, averaging 5.0 Yards Per Carry, 2nd in the NFL.  However, accounting for situational factors the Packers run game is bout the same.  The Packers ranked 3rd in rush efficiency last year according to DVOA, and they rank 4th this year.

Overall, the Packers haven’t moved much in Football Outsiders DVOA offensive ratings despite switching Head Coaches and philosophies: Green Bay went from the 7th most efficient team last year to 8th this year according to DVOA’s Offensive Rating. Green Bay scored 23.5 points per game last year under Mike McCarthy – and have averaged exactly 23.5 points per game this year under Matt LaFleur.

So the two coaches philosophies render Green Bay’s offensive prowess about the same right?

I would argue a deeper examination illuminates a key distinction between McCarthy and Lafleur, one which speaks volumes to the difficulty of calling plays in the NFL. It’s more of an art than a science.  The goal is always more wins, never more points.

The one stark difference between the 2018 and 2019 Packers is the frequency with which they pass and run.  In 2018 the Packers called a passing play on 68% of their downs, most in the NFL.  Aaron Rodgers often faced defenses selling out against the pass, leading him to lead the league in throwaways when he either didn’t have time or couldn’t find anyone open.

This year Matt LaFleur has revitalized a running philosophy in Green Bay that Vince Lombardi would be proud of.  The Packers now are right in the middle of the NFL (16th) in Pass Play percentage, and RB Aaron Jones became the first Packer to rush for 1000 yards since Eddie Lacy did in 2014 (a year that the Packers made the Conference Championship round of the playoffs).

The Packers increased rushing attack has helped them go from the 22nd in Time of Possession last year to 5th this year.  A small blip on their statistical profile – but one incredibly telling about why this team has more than doubled its wins, from 6 to 13.

Lost on many analytical minded football enthusiasts is that yards per play alone doesn’t win ball games.  Keeping the defense honest, and the clock running has a profound influence on a team’s ability to limit turnovers and ultimately wins the only statistical battle that matters: the scoreboard.  By asking Aaron Rodgers to do less, Matt Lafleur and the Packers have achieved more.

Implementation

What does this have to with the Baltimore Ravens & the San Francisco 49ers? Simple: everything. 1st and 2nd in Rushing Yards Per Game, respectively, these teams are redefining what premier football likes in 2020.  What’s old is new again.   The Ravens and Niners are building upon the foundation of the sport.  While utilizing the latest technology and information, these teams still honor the fundamental principles of football’s past.  It will take time for the league to catch up.  Their competition might want to tune in on February 2nd for a sneak peek back to the Future.

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Born in Chicago, born for Las Vegas, Mackenzie is a graduate of Yale University with a BA in English & Creative Writting. Mackenzie runs AlternativeStats.blog, which seeks to by-pass the minutiae of commonly cited sports statistics and expose the heart of what drives athletic success. After several successful years investing in Las Vegas real estate, Mackenzie is excited to transition in 2019 into betting on sports full time, as well as documenting his thought process as he further learns the craft.

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