The Baltimore Ravens (10-6) will host the Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) in the opener of Sunday’s Wild Card double-header. Kickoff is set for 1:05 EST at M&T Bank Stadium and will be televised nationally on CBS.
Oddsmakers opened up this game with the Ravens at -3, but it’s been trending towards Los Angeles. Several books have moved this off the key number to Baltimore -2.5. Total is down to 41.5 after it opened up at 42.
Vegas Game Odds & Betting Preview: Ravens vs Chargers
The Chargers tied the Kansas City Chiefs for the best record in the AFC at 12-4, but because they are in the same division and went 9-3 in conference play and the Chiefs went 10-2, they are the No. 5 seed and have to win 3 straight on the road, while Kansas City is the No. 1 seed and needs just two wins at home to make the Super Bowl. Being on the road might not be a bad thing. Los Angeles was 7-1 away from home compared to just 5-3 at home. Their only road loss was way back in Week 3 at the Los Angeles Rams.
Baltimore earned the No. 4 seed thanks to an improbable AFC North title. The turning point for the Ravens came after their bye, when an injury to starting quarterback Joe Flacco prompted the debut of rookie Lamar Jackson. Ravens went 6-1 over the final 7 games to from 4-5 to 10-6. The other thing that was happening, was the Steelers collapse. After starting 7-2-1, Pittsburgh lost 4 of 5 and would finish 1/2-game back at 9-6-1.
A big reason that both teams are sitting where they are, is a Week 16 matchup between these two in Los Angeles. Baltimore won that game 22-10. Had the Chargers won they would have been the No. 1 seed and had a first round bye. The Ravens would have lost the division title to Pittsburgh and finished as the No. 6 seed. For those wondering, the Ravens were a 4.5-point dog at LA in Week 16 and the game went well under the total of 42.5. That was the first meeting between these two teams since a Week 8 matchup in 2015.
NFL Betting Free Pick & Vegas Predictions: Ravens -2.5
I was on the Ravens in that Week 16 win and cover at Los Angeles and would have to lean towards taking Baltimore at less than a field goal at home. Given what we saw just a few weeks ago, I’m not sure how the Ravens aren’t a bigger favorite here. I think a lot of people are jumping on the Chargers in this one, mainly because the perception is that even though Baltimore beat them, they are the better team. I also think there’s a lack of trust for Baltimore’s rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and a lot of trust for Philip Rivers.
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I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical of Jackson being able to succeed at the NFL level, especially this early on his career. I thought he would need at least one season on the bench to kind of learn the NFL game and develop as a pro passer. Turns out that while he still has a long way to go as thrower, he’s more than ready to impact the NFL game with his legs. Jackson has rushed for 695 yards and accounted for 45 first downs with his legs (best on the team by 8). Since they went with him as the starter, Baltimore has transformed into an elite rushing team. In the 7 games with him as the starter, they are averaging 229.9 ypg. That would be unheard of if they did that for an entire season.
What this incredible rushing attack has allowed the Ravens to do with Jackson, is control the clock and keep one of the league’s best defenses fresh. It’s a recipe that can work. Baltimore not only beat the Chargers in LA, but they were a couple 4th down conversions by the Chiefs away from a win at Arrowhead.
The big downside is that this style of play will often lead to a lot of close games. I just think that Jackson and the Ravens offense will be able to generate enough points and more than anything, play keep away from Rivers and that Chargers offense. Rivers is known to press the issue when he’s frustrated and he threw 2 picks against this Baltimore defense in Week 15. No team is better at disguising their defense than the Ravens. I’m banking on Rivers making a mistake or two here. Give me the Ravens -2.5!