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AFC Championship Game Pick

Ravens vs. Patriots

1/22/12

The New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game on Sunday, a 3:00 pm est. start. The Patriots are favored by -7.5 as of this writing at Betonline, but a quick glance at the board shows us the line appears to be dropping and headed towards -7. The total on the game is 50.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco says he doesn't get the respect he deserves. Well, here's his chance. Beat Tom Brady, in his own building in a playoff game (again), and propel your team into the Super Bowl, and you may just start to get a little more of that respect you crave.

The Ravens came into Foxborough two years ago to play the Patriots in a Wild Card Game. Before the Patriots knew what hit them, they were down 24-0 in the 1st quarter. The damage was done. They were unable to come back, losing 33-14, ending their season. We think that game will play a huge role this time around. Not that either team needs any additional motivation, after all, the winner gets to play in the biggest game in the world. But, added motivation is just what the Patriots have, particularly their super star QB, Mr. Tom Brady.

The knock on the Patriots all year, and coming into this game, is that they have no defense. They can't stop anyone. Their secondary is pathetic. They simply win by outscoring opponents. But is that actually true?

Well, it is true that the Pats secondary gives up some big plays. Flacco ought to have more success this week than he did last week against the Texans. But I wouldn't get too caught up in the whole "Patriots have no defense" idea. Let's beat a dead horse once again and look at the yards per point numbers. Yeah, we refer to this stat all the time. But simply because we know of no better stat to get a quick snapshot of a teams strength or weakness on both sides of the ball.

Football is about converting yards gained into points on the scoreboard. The better you do that, and the better you prevent your opponents from doing that, the better your chances for success. I again refer to an article we wrote back on December 8th which listed the yards per point numbers of playoff contenders. The top four were the 49ers, Packers, Patriots and Ravens. Of those four, the Patriots had the 2nd best defensive yards per point number at 20. The Ravens were 18. Both very good. What that number tells you is that teams scored 1 point for every 18 yards gained against the Ravens, and 1 point for every 20 yards gained against the Patriots. Yes, when looking at the defenses using this stat, the Pats were better than the Ravens.

Nothing has changed since mid December. The Pats numbers are still better. Overall, the Ravens ypp numbers are 14.2 on offense and 17.7 on defense for a +3.5. The Pats overall numbers are 13.2 and 19.4 for a +6.2. Making a line using these numbers, and giving the Pats 3 points for home field would make the Pats almost a 6 point favorite here.

If we look at road numbers for the Ravens and home numbers for the Pats, they mostly stay the same with the exception of the Ravens offense which is a very poor 16.9 on the road, where they were just 4-4 and outscored their opponents by a slim 20-18 margin. The Pats outscored opponents at home 32-18 and went 7-1 in the process.

A model we use to predict NFL scores has the Patriots winning 26-20. So, yards per point, our model, and a few other methods we use to make a line all put this game at right around 6 or 7. So no clear cut advantage for the Pats. If anything, everything points to a Ravens cover, but it's close.

So, it's the intangibles that will decide the winner both straight up and against the number here. Such as the QB matchup. We have a "great" QB going up against a QB that wants to be great. Edge, Pats. Hey, I've watched Tom Brady live at Pre season games that he didn't even take a snap in. You'd think the guy was playing in the Super Bowl. I don't think I've ever seen a professional QB so animated and pumped up for a pre season game. Again, one where he didn't even take a snap. Head butting teammates, etc. The guy wants to win no matter what.

Give the guy a little added motivation and things could get ugly. Yeah, he's that good. Sure, he's lost home playoff games before, as recently as last year with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. But personally, I just can't come up with a scenario that sees this guy denied another trip to the Super Bowl. Love him or hate him, the guy is an all time great and a win here with another Super Bowl trip just hammers that point home even more. That 2010 loss to the Ravens will be that added motivation that puts this one over the top (as if that's even needed).

This Ravens defense is good, but it's no where near past editions of the Ravens "D" and is far from the best defense in the NFL. Last week they allowed a rookie QB to make some big throws and big plays to keep his team in the game and that was in their own building. A great, dominating defense would have made that kid look silly. If T.J. Yates can have the success he had on the road, what do you think Brady will do with his weapons, at home?

Flacco will likely have an easier time moving the ball this week against the Pats. They'll put some points on the board. But again, let's not talk about the Pats defense as if they are a Pop Warner team. We already proved their defense is not as bad as some traditional stats suggest. Also note the Pats are +16 in turnover margin, 2nd best of the 4 remaining playoff teams.

Despite the fact that just about all of our methods of determining an actual point difference between two teams points towards a Ravens cover, barely, we're going to side with the Pats here. We just don't see Brady going down here. What often happens in Title games, is the winner extends the margin late. There has been 41 AFC Championship games since 1970. 30 of those games were decided by a touchdown or more. More often than not it doesn't come down to a last minute exciting drive. More common is the winner putting an exclamation point on their season and on the game. The team trailing often takes chances late with their season on the line. Maybe a 4th down try in their own end of the field fails, etc. You get the idea. Leads to more points.

AFC Championship Game Selection - Patriots -7

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