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Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday in the first Divisional Round playoff game of the weekend. The Ravens, in off eliminating Andrew Luck and the Colts, are +9 point underdogs in Denver with a total of 46 at 5 Dimes Sportsbook. The betting trends at the world largest sportsbook, Sportsbook.ag, show us that 63% of the early betting action has been on Peyton Manning and the Broncos. No surprise there.
These two met a few weeks back, in Baltimore in a game the Broncos won easily. The score after 3 quarters of play was 31-3 Denver, in route to a 34-17 final. The Broncos won the first down battle 21-12 and rushed for 163 yards while holding the Ravens to just 56 on the ground. If the Broncos are able to run the ball like that again it's going to be a long day for the Ravens. It's a double edged sword. Concentrate on stopping Peyton Manning and the running game opens up. Concentrate on the run, and Manning will burn you through the air.
If we look at season to date numbers, the teams aren't very far off. Actually, their yards per point numbers are almost identical, with the Ravens being a point better on defense the the Broncos a point better on offense. If we break it down using home and away stats, the Ravens struggled offensively on the road but their defense held up. The edge goes to the Broncos on the offensive side of the ball only, 4 points better than the Ravens. Lastly, when we look at only the last 6 games for each team and we look at their ypp numbers, we see the Ravens with a 16 on offense and a 13 on defense for a -3 differential. The Broncos are a very good 13.4 on offense and 19.7 on defense for a +6.3 differential. The difference between the two is 9.3. There's your 9 point pointspread.
The numbers that really jump out at you in this game are the defensive numbers when compared to the rest of the NFL. The Ravens rank 21st in rushing yards allowed and the Broncos rank 3rd. The Ravens rank 19th in passing yards allowed and the Broncos rank 4th. In fact, with the exception of turnover margin, where the Ravens have the edge, as you go across the board in all the major stat categories, the edge goes to the Broncos in most. They're simply the better team. Throw in Peyton Manning and a Mile High home field advantage as the cherry on top and it becomes very difficult to make a case for the Ravens winning this game, let alone covering.
Sure, we could make a case for the Ravens if we had to. In fact our model spits out 3 different score predictions using different parameters as far as timeframe and all of the score predictions have the Ravens covering this hefty number and one has the Ravens pulling the upset. But we don't see it that way. Finding an edge in a playoff game is just about impossible. The numbers are simply too tight. Often times handicapping an NFL playoff game comes down to your gut and the feel for the teams that you have developed over a season of watching and handicapping them.
Often times, once you reach this round of the playoffs, games can get away from one team. They fall behind, they get desperate, they take chances they normally wouldn't take in an effort to stay alive and save their season. The team that would likely have that happen here is the Ravens. The Broncos are the better team here as they proved on the road a few weeks ago. Why should we expect the outcome to be any different this time around in Denver? As long as this number stays under -10, we'll back the Broncos here and wouldn't be surprised to see them win by a wide margin. Broncos -9
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