After narrowly escaping disaster in Week 17, the Baltimore Ravens find themselves in the playoffs.
They’re set to take on the Los Angeles Chargers in what will be a rematch of their Week 16 game that ended with a score of 22-10 in favor of the Ravens.
The Chargers enter the first round of the playoffs with the best regular-season record (12-4 SU) among all wild-card teams. Despite being tied with the Chiefs for the best record in the AFC, they sit at the fifth seed after losing out on the division title via tiebreaker.
The Ravens opened as 2.5-point favorites and the total is set at 41.5.
My Pick: Chargers to cover
Even with the 22-10 Week 16 loss fresh in my memory, I’m still on the Chargers to cover in this wild-card matchup against the Ravens. Los Angeles has been much more consistent throughout the season, while the Ravens have been shaky at times and they just squeaked into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.
When these teams met two weeks ago, the game took place in Los Angeles. This time, they’ll meet in Baltimore. Believe it or not, this may prove to be advantageous for the Chargers. They’re an impressive 7-1 SU and ATS on the road this season. The one “away” game that they lost was still in Los Angeles when they took on the Rams.
Despite having nearly identical numbers through the air at home and on the road, the Chargers are significantly better running the football when they are on the road. They only average 4.1 yards per carry at home, compared to 5.3 yards per carry in away games.
Finally, LA is second in the league in net yards per play at 0.9, and first in the league in that statistic when playing on the road at 1.2.
I have to admit, there is one trend that has me nervous taking the Chargers. Since 2002, teams from the Pacific and Mountain time zone have been outscored 202-56 in the first half of all 1 p.m. playoff contests. Stephen Campbell gave this trend a closer look here.
Note: The first half spread is Ravens -1.5 at Sportsbook
Rivers is the superior Quarterback
Philip Rivers is one of the greatest quarterbacks to never play in the big game, but this year may change that. His 2018 regular season was one of the best of his career, tying his career-high QB rating (105.5) while coming just under career highs in completion percentage, TDs and yards per attempt. If it wasn’t for the monumental seasons by Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees, Rivers would have his name in serious MVP considerations.
While you can’t argue against the fact that rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has led the Ravens to a 6-1 SU record in his seven starts, his statistics look less than impressive. He has an 84.5 QB rating, which is lower than the likes of Matt Stafford, Nick Mullens, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill and Derek Carr.
The most concerning stat about Jackson is that he finished tied for the most fumbles in the NFL with 12, while only starting in seven games. That’s inexcusable. Those are the kind of statistics that will catch up to a player, and the added playoff pressure usually increases those types of mistakes.
Since 2012, rookie quarterbacks are 1-5 SU and 2-4 ATS in playoff games.
My take on the total
I don’t want to overthink the total on this one. I would take the OVER.
Thirty-two points were scored when these teams met in Week 16, but that was with the Chargers offense only managing 10 points, the fewest they scored all season. I expect a much better outing by their offense this time around.
The average combined score in Ravens games this season is 42.2 while the Chargers average combined score is 47.4. Both numbers are higher than the set total.
Even if Lamar Jackson takes a step back in this game, he can still do damage running the football. The Chargers will win, but the Ravens will score enough points to help hit the OVER.