Money Line NFL Weekend – Sunday Early January 15th Early Edition
In part one of Money Line Weekend I advocated that the spreads this weekend we’re pretty good but that I was certain that the favorites were the right choice and you might be better off avoiding the spread and grabbing the money line on a lot of these games. New England did their part of the job, but they also easily covered the spread. The New Orleans – San Fran game was ultra close, I think everyone knew it would be, the Saints lost but I stand behind my prediction. Sunday is when we are really going to make some dough anyways.
Houston @ Baltimore -7.5 Sunday 1:00 pm
Some games don’t require too much analysis. This is one of them. Baltimore is going to win, and the Baltimore money line is the pick of the weekend (Saints to cover was last weeks pick). The Texans have one massive problem going into this game – they can’t block the Ravens. Before their week 6 match-up we were pretty certain that Houston couldn’t block them. It made sense. Baltimore presents a unique challenge with their defensive line, massive players with the ability to move and massive tackling machines lurking right behind them at linebacker. Houston has a very specific scheme they run with their offensive line. Their linemen are not the biggest, their goal is to get their line, and the other teams Dline moving in one direction. Hopefully they find a seem, if not then they are looking to cut it back the opposite way of the action. This is a very successful scheme but it just doesn’t match up against some teams. Baltimore is certainly one of those teams. When the Texans ran for 3.7 yards per rush in their first match-up it was not a surprise. It was suspected they would struggle to block the Ravens and they did.
An illustration of how their scheme just did not work was the disparity between their two running backs. Ben Tate is a good back, Arian Foster is a great back. I love watching Foster more than any back in the league right now, I don’t know if any back’s talents lines up with his teams scheme quite like Foster does right now. He is a big back who has great patience waiting for a hole to develop, when he picks a hole he has a unique ability to explode through it for his size. But he is also a long strider and needs some time to get to his top speed. He fits the Houston blocking scheme perfectly. Tate on the other hand is a less developed runner, he has great physical ability so he uses it to hit the line hard and try to beat tackler’s to the spot. He doesn’t make defenders miss a the line of scrimmage but he does hit the line hard. In the Ravens game it is notable that Tate was the more effective runner. He carried 9 times for 41 yards, Foster got 15 carries but only 49 yards. Watching the game however you can see how hopeless the Foster runs were, waiting for holes to open up that never were going to, and how Tate was maximizing every run by hitting the line at full speed. It was a great example of how their entire blocking scheme did not succeed.
I don’t see why this would change now. In fact, it will get worse. In the week 6 game the Texans had a full power Matt Schaub at QB. When I re-watched this game I was shocked at how effective Schaub was. If you think the Texans struggle to block the Ravens in the run game the drop-back passing game is a whole other story. If this game begins and the Texans clearly cannot run the ball the Ravens will absolutely tee off on TJ Yates in the backfield. Schaub was effective because he was making ultra quick decisions to neutralize the pass rush, he also, typically, was extremely accurate, especially when throwing short. Yates is just not the QB that Schaub is. If the Texans are unable to cook up a way to get themselves the lead and they fall behind then this game could be over at half-time.
Look at this from Baltimore’s point of view. Baltimore is the happiest team in the league right now. The Steelers have been eliminated, this makes them happy because the Steelers are the team that has ended their season two of the last three years. The remaining teams in the AFC are the Ravens, Texans and Patriots. They are licking their chops for this game but they aren’t afraid of the Patriots next week either. They knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs two years ago on the Patriots home field. They will have confidence entering that game if they get there. The Ravens have to believe this is their shot at finally getting to another Super Bowl. Is this team going to let an inferior team with a rookie QB come into their stadium and steal this away from them. No way, their isn’t a scenario I can think of that doesn’t involve a Saints like 5 turnovers that has the Texans coming out on top.
So what case can we make for the Texans? Their D has been top of the league all season. They have very good, very quick pass rushers on the Dline and at Linebacker, this allows them to really attack the pocket. This rush was able to really limit the Ravens in the first match-up and after an opening drive TD they were able to force a bunch of turnovers. But I think the rush will really be limited by the fact the Ravens will know they don’t have to score a ton of points to win this game. It is more important for them to not turn the ball over early, keep running and eventually let that wear on the defense. Baltimore is much too physical for the Texans – who at heart I believe are still a soft team. This physicality will wear on them all game even if they are able to limit Flacco early.
Flacco may be enough for some to stay away from the spread here that see the Ravens needing to win by more than a TD. I get that. But in my mind Baltimore wins this game a solid 90-95% of the time and they are currently sitting as a 3.5-to-1 favorite. I like it.
Baltimore 27 Houston 7