AFC Championship Game: Pats vs. Ravens
Published on Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.
By Brian Edwards
Two years after going to Foxboro and eliminating New England from the postseason in a 33-14 beatdown, Baltimore (13-4 straight up, 8-8-1 against the spread) returns to Gillette Stadium to take on the Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.
As of Saturday afternoon, most betting shops were listing New England (14-3 SU, 10-7 ATS) as a seven-point favorite with a total of 50. Gamblers can take the Ravens on the money line for a plus-250 return (risk $100 to win $250).
Baltimore has only been an underdog once in 17 games this year. The Ravens went to Heinz Field and beat Pittsburgh by a 23-20 score as 3 ½-point underdogs on Nov. 6.
John Harbaugh’s team advanced to the NFL’s version of the Final Four by capturing a 20-13 win over Houston as a 7 ½-point home favorite last Sunday afternoon. The 33 combined points stayed ‘under’ the 36-point total.
If you had the Ravens and the ‘over’ like me, you were not a happy camper. Baltimore led by a 17-13 count at intermission, so gamblers only needed one touchdown in the final 30 minutes to cash ‘over’ tickets.
Things were looking good in the third quarter when the Ravens had the ball inside Houston’s two yard line on third and goal. However, Ray Rice was stuffed on back-to-back plays during a gusty goal-line stand by the Texans.
Baltimore added a field goal in the fourth quarter and then held off two potential tying drives by Houston late in the final stanza. Ed Reed’s eighth career postseason interception, which tied him for second in NFL history, was key in the final minutes. When the Texans got one last chance, Reed batted down a Hail Mary pass to seal the victory.
He did, however, turn his ankle on the play and limped off of the field. But Reed has practiced this week and has been declared ‘100 percent.’
The same can be said for New England tight end Aaron Hernandez, who reportedly suffered a slight concussion in last Saturday night’s 45-10 demolition of Denver in the AFC semifinals. Hernandez and his fellow TE, Rob Gronkowski, were the catalysts in the blowout win.
Tom Brady, who sliced up the Broncos secondary for an NFL-record five touchdown passes in the first half alone, finished with 363 passing yards and six TDs compared to only one interception.
Hernandez was a factor rushing and receiving, tallying 63 rushing yards on five carries. The University of Florida product, who was an unfathomable fourth-round steal (grand theft!) in the 2010 NFL Draft, had four receptions for 55 yards and one TD. Gronkowski had 10 catches for 145 yards and three TDs.
New England has won eight of its nine home games, going 5-4 ATS. The Patriots have been single-digit home favorites five times, posting a 2-3 spread mark.
The ‘over’ is 12-5 overall for New England, 6-3 in its nine home games. Meanwhile, the Ravens have watched the ‘over’ cash at a 10-7 overall clip. Even better, they have seen the ‘over’ go 6-2 in their eight road assignments.
We should note, however, that this is the highest total the Ravens have had all season. In fact, the previous high was only 44 ½ in a 34-14 loss at San Diego.
Sportsbook.com has a slew of proposition wagers available. For instance, gamblers can bet on the player who will score the first touchdown. Gronkowski is the favorite with 4/1 odds, while Rice, Wes Welker and New England RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis share 6/1 odds. I think Hernandez is worth a shot for a 10/1 payout (risk $100 to win $1,000).
Joe Flacco’s totals for ‘over/under’ bets are 19 ½ (completions), 33 ½ (pass attempts) and 250 ½ (passing yards), while Brady’s are 25 ½ (completions), 36 ½ (attempts) and 320 ½ (passing yards)
Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
–Joe Flacco threw for 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns without being intercepted against Houston. Nevertheless, Reed was critical of his fourth-year QB during a radio interview this week despite the fact that Flacco now has five career postseason victories.
–For the season, Brady has a 45/13 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Flacco has a 22/12 TD-INT ratio.
–Rice is the key to the Ravens’ offense with his big-play capability running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. Rice has rushed for 1,364 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He’s also made a team-high 76 catches for 704 yards and three scores.
–Rice’s totals for props are 21 ½ (carries) and 80 ½ (rushing yards).
–Harbaugh has to be hoping for an unexpected contribution from Lee Evans in Foxboro. The veteran WR was expected to play a key role this year, but Evans never got really got into a groove after missing several games early in the season with injuries. However, he made a big play against the Texans and has the speed to stretch the field.
–The exact same can be said for the Pats’ Chad Ochocinco, who only played one snap last week against Denver.
–Updated NFL futures per Sportsbook.com:
–My numbers for the four potential Super Bowl matchups are…
New England -7 vs. San Francisco (48 ½)
New England -4.5 vs. New York (50 ½)
New York -2 vs. Baltimore (46 ½
Baltimore -4 vs. San Francisco (42)
–The Giants are 6-2 ATS as underdogs this year, going 5-2 both SU and ATS as road ‘dogs with outright wins at Dallas, at Green Bay, at New England, at Philadelphia and “at” the Jets.