It’s been tough sledding for Adam Chernoff in recent weeks but he’s confident in two totals and a side for the weekend ahead
A terrible season for the column continues with the Patriots letting readers down for the second week in a row. Heading into the third last weekend of the year, the record for this column moves to 10-15 (-5.44x). Let’s see if the Divisional Round shows better results.
Handicap The Pass – Not The Rush
Derrick Henry, Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram (maybe)…
The majority of bettors looking at this game are dialling in on the prospect of both teams running the football and trying to find an edge within the matchup.
In my opinion, this is a game that will see both quarterbacks feature through the pass, not on the ground.
There is not really anything that you can point to on the Baltimore Ravens body of work as a whole this season as a negative. Led by the MVP, this team has smashed records, put up video game like point totals and mowed down every opponent since Week 4.
There is however a common element in games which the Ravens struggled. Against non top ten secondaries, the Baltimore Ravens have averaged 37 points per game. A stark difference from the 27 the team averaged in their six games against top ten opponents defending the pass.
The key to all of this is the performance of their opponent on 1st and 2nd down. If we look at the games where Baltimore struggled offensively (Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Buffalo) with their three lowest outputs, all three of those opponents ranked Top 5 in pass success rate defense.
The Ravens have an absurdly high success rate on 3rd and 4th down which goes a long way to building these enormous leads we have grown accustomed to this season.
It was for this season I believed that Buffalo would have been a much more difficult opponent than the Tennessee Titans.
Baltimore can name their number this week against this secondary.
The Titans are the 28th ranked team in defending passes on 1st and 2nd down allowing teams to throw for a successful play on 53% of passes. They are also extremely vulnerable to the explosive pass on 1st or 2nd down allowing 11% of passes to go for 20 yards or more.
In comparison, the Titans are the 6th best team at stopping the run on early downs ranked 6th and for overall defense the Titans are ranked 7th on the season down to down defending the run. If the Ravens are not forced into high leverage third and fourth down situations, the Titans are not going to have any luck stopping Baltimore.
As great as the Derrick Henry performance against New England was from a numbers standpoint, he had two things working in his favour.
The first is that Belichick clearly conceded the run game to Tennessee. The Patriots were often playing two safety looked in the first half and letting the Titans on on them. Quite frankly, it worked. New England only conceded 14 points.
The second is that the Patriots are significantly undersized in the front seven. Henry had a ton of success breaking tackles and bowling over guys at the line to pick up extra yardage. The same matchup advantage is not there against the Ravens. This Baltimore defensive front is significantly more physical and has a lot more size up front.
Titans vs Ravens Preview:
For some reason, the Ravens schedule during the regular season rarely gets talked about.
Baltimore played the easiest schedule of opposing passers in 2019. Kansas City, Seattle and San Francisco were the only teams inside the top ten for pass efficiency offense. The 49ers game was played in a monsoon, the Seahawks game was played in pouring rain all game and KC hung 33 on the board in ideal conditions.
Obviously there are personnel changes that have improved this defensive unit and I am not neglecting those. However, the likes of Peters, Smith and Thomas all healthy on the field outside of Watson and Jimmy G have faced the likes of Ryan Finley, Josh Allen, Jared Goff, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. The Titans (6th) are just the second opponent to rank better than 14th for pass efficiency offense since October 20th for the Ravens.
This is a spot where the Titans can have some success moving the football too, and I believe this plays well into an over bet in addition to taking the Ravens on the spread.
What A Mess
To think that either Seattle or Green Bay will be playing in the NFC Championship is difficult to get my head around.
Both of the teams enter the divisional round off of regular seasons where each had a negative net yards per play differential.
The Packers look back on a season where they were outgained by opponents overall and lost the yards per play battle in half of their victories. Seattle won eleven games by single digits which is one of the most incredible stats that will ever be seen in a database.
Regardless, both teams are here and there is the potential to end the Divisional Weekend with the most entertaining game on the slate.
My initial reaction to the number was that it would attract under attention and continue to be pushed down.
Unfortunately, the market was a bit wise to the proposition and this turned back towards 47 in a hurry – rightfully so. The way this game plays out is pretty sensitive in relation to the total, but I believe there is a pretty clear cut handicap which will keep this game in an ideal spot to continue producing points.
Seahawks vs Packers Preview:
The game script is extremely important to Matt LaFluer and the Packers offense.
On the season, Green Bay ranks as the most efficient team in the NFL for the first 15 plays of each game. Because of this, the Packers are in turn averaging a touchdown per opening quarter. If we look at their biggest offensive outputs this season (Dallas, Oakland, Kansas City and New York) we see this game script in action. In the first 15 offensive plays, the Packers scored 14 vs Dallas, 14 vs Oakland, 14 vs Kansas City and 17 vs New York.
There are other instances of this occurring too.
The Packers put up 21 in the first 15 plays against Minnesota, 10 on Denver, 14 on Carolina. Everything for Green Bay is predicated on this script. In terms of defending the game script, the Seattle Seahawks rank 5th worst in the NFL and are notoriously one of the slowest starting teams in the NFL.
But the advantage for Green Bay moving the football goes beyond just the opening game script they are so good at executing. The Seahawks are 22nd in passing success rate defense and 19th in rushing success rate defense.
What stands out to me within this matchup is the Seahawks ranking 30th in allowing explosive rushes against with 15% of opponent carries going for 10 yards or more. This falls in line what with Green Bay wants to do offensively post-game script. The Packers finished the season 6th in rushing success rate and in the games with their biggest outputs, Aaron Jones and backs have been a focal point both on the ground and through the air where the Seahawks struggle the most ranking as one of the worst five teams defending opposing running backs.
As well as Green Bay matches up against a porous Seahawks defensive unit, the same can be said for Seattle.
The handicap on the Seahawks is a little more intricate. I think that the video which surfaced online this week is quite telling. Russell Wilson was in Schottenheimer’s face exclaiming how they need to look at play-action because the Eagles are letting receivers run wide open. Eventually, the Seahawks did and they hit a number of big plays.
This is not something new for Seattle. Despite all of their issues this season, they remain wildly efficient throwing the football, especially with play action with Wilson ranks tops in the league from a rating perspective. Overall the Seahawks at 9th in passing success rate and 6th in explosive pass rate have had no trouble putting up points in games where the opposing secondary has been toughest.
Green Bay at 11th defending the pass is considerably better than what they do against the run (more on that in a second), but they have shown a vulnerability to play action. Mike Pettine has dropped his blitz rate down this season with the front four generating pressure, but his aggression to overall defensive scheme has led to the Packers secondary biting and overplaying play fakes.
The element of the play fake has gone a long way to stopping the pressure they generate.
If you look at the course of the season, teams that run hard play fakes have had a lot of success throwing on the Packers and I believe the Seahawks can do just that in this game to keep pace on the scoreboard.
Of course with Seattle in the handicap there is always the question of what happens to the other 50% of plays that are runs? The Seahawks are trending as one of the ten worst running teams in the league due to injuries upfront on the offensive line and in the backfield. Last week against a top three run stopping unit in Philadelphia, the Seahawks were nearly shut out picking up less than 20 yards on 17 carries.
Here is the thing in this spot though. The Packers are worse at defending the run than any other team in the NFL. Green Bay allows 54% of opposing rushes to grade successful. Part of this is scheme, but part of this is Mike Pettine continuously selling out against the pass. He loves to play DIME personnel and have extra defensive backs on the field.
As rough as the running situation is for Seattle, the prospect of 240 pound Marshawn Lynch and Travis Homer against 200 pound defensive backs bodes a lot better for the Seahawks in this spot than it did against the Eagles.
On one hand, I hope that the Wilson video making its round online prompts the Seahawks OC to trust him with the football more in this game, but on the other, the Seahawks plays they burn running the ball should end in positive yardage more often than not. What I think ultimately accelerates the Seahawks abandoning the run earlier than usual is the fact that Green Bay is such a quick starting team.
If Green Bay can stay true to their performance this season and score 7-14 points on the first three drives, then we will get the scoreboard forcing the optimal version of the Seahawks offensively, and the Packers in their most explosive offense for the better part of three quarters.
I think this turns into an extremely competitive game down the stretch that is settled by 3-4 points, but I will gladly look over the total here at the high range of the key numbers with 47.
- Tennessee Titans Baltimore Ravens Over 46.5 (1.91). Risking 1.50x
- Baltimore Ravens -10 (2.09). Risking 1.50x
- Seattle Seahawks Green Bay Packers Over 47 (1.98). Risking 1.50x