Defense should carry Ravens

For what seems like forever, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have helped the Baltimore Ravens win with defense. It’s a formula that never gets old.

Eventually, the Ravens’ veterans will show their age, but it’s not apparent yet. Baltimore ranks No. 3 in the NFL in total defense, and that unit has made three quarterbacks — Ben Roethlisberger, Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez — look foolish.

The next victim could be Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans.

With a shot to beat the Oakland Raiders in the final seconds last week, Schaub threw an interception in the end zone. That’s a familiar theme for the Texans, who struggle to turn the corner.

"Schaub seems to make bad decisions," Las Vegas handicapper Mike Scalleat said. "He just doesn’t make the plays when it really counts."

Scalleat’s top play today is Baltimore as an 8-point home favorite over Houston, which will be without two injured standouts in wide receiver Andre Johnson and linebacker Mario Williams.

"The Texans are too banged up to hang with the Ravens," said Scalleat, who finished fourth in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest in 2007. "I’ll lay the points with Baltimore off a bye week. The old guys on defense got an extra week’s rest. Look for Lewis to really assert himself as the Ravens get a pretty easy win."

Houston hopes to establish the run with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, but Baltimore’s defense has allowed only 3.2 yards per carry.

While quarterback Joe Flacco has been sort of a flop through four games, the Ravens (3-1 straight up and against the spread) can rely on running back Ray Rice.

Scalleat scouts the rest of today’s Week 6 schedule:

■ St. Louis at Green Bay (-14): I know the Rams are off a bye week, but I think the Packers are going to keep their foot down on the pedal and win by about three touchdowns. I would lay the points. Green Bay looks like the strongest team in the NFC. Aaron Rodgers has passed for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns in five games. Where are the points going to come from for the Rams? I can’t see them hanging around in this game.

■ Jacksonville at Pittsburgh (-12): The Steelers go from 3-point favorites over Tennessee last week to 12-point favorites this week. It seems like a high number, and I don’t know if Pittsburgh can cover double digits. Maurice Jones-Drew is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and he can get some yardage on the ground for the Jaguars. This could be a teaser play with the Steelers. But I think you have to lean a little to Jacksonville getting the points.

■ Philadelphia (-3) at Washington: I’m going with the Eagles with their backs against the wall. They brought in a lot of new players, and maybe they will jell by the sixth week of the season. The offense has been great, except for turnovers and penalties. I look for Michael Vick to put points on the board. Philadelphia has a lot of playmakers with running back LeSean McCoy and receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. I’m not a big fan of coach Andy Reid, partly because of his play-calling in the red zone. But the Eagles are facing an elimination game at 1-4.

■ San Francisco at Detroit (-4): This is going to be a close, physical game. The 49ers’ defense is strong, especially against the run. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh has quarterback Alex Smith playing much better. Smith has thrown only one interception in 126 pass attempts. The Lions are on a roll against the spread at 12-0-1. I’m leaning to the 49ers.

■ Carolina at Atlanta (-4½): I’m going with another ‘dog here. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton is playing beyond the expectations a lot of us had, and I look for Carolina to cover this number. The Panthers have good running backs to help a young quarterback. They hang around and find ways to score. The Falcons jumped up 14-0 on the Packers last week but didn’t score again, and they should have made a better showing at home. Atlanta’s defense is a problem, and it seems quarterback Matt Ryan is regressing this season.

■ Indianapolis at Cincinnati (-7): The Colts are going 0-6 and entering the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. If I were owner Jim Irsay, I would pass the word down and say, "Keep losing." The Bengals were not expected to do much, but I like rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and the way they are playing. I can’t see taking the Colts with Curtis Painter on the road. I’m going to lay the 6½ or 7 points.

■ Buffalo at New York Giants (-3½): I’ll take the Bills and the points against the erratic Giants and Eli Manning. I don’t believe defense is Buffalo’s strong point. The Bills give up a lot of yards, but they are getting turnovers. Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing well at quarterback, and Fred Jackson is second in the AFC with 480 yards rushing. Buffalo ranks No. 1 in the league in red-zone offense. Chan Gailey is no bargain as a coach, but the Bills are an inspired team.

■ Cleveland at Oakland (-6½): None of us thought the Raiders would match their 8-8 record from last season, but they are impressive. Darren McFadden is the league’s leading rusher with 519 yards. The Browns are off the bye, and I do like quarterback Colt McCoy. It will be emotional in Oakland after the death of owner Al Davis. Six is not too high a number. I’m going with the favorite.

■ Dallas at New England (-6½): The Cowboys are coming off the bye, and receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are coming back, but I don’t like Tony Romo on the road. I don’t like Jason Garrett too much, either, and I think he will get outcoached in this game. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are too tough. I’ll play the Patriots.

■ New Orleans (-5) at Tampa Bay: The Saints don’t seem to cover when they are favored on the road. The Buccaneers will play with more emotion after getting blown out 48-3 by the 49ers. I think quarterback Josh Freeman will come back with a strong game, even though running back LeGarrette Blount is injured. We’ll see a better performance from Tampa Bay. This is a tough call, but I wouldn’t lay the points with the Saints.

■ Minnesota at Chicago (-3): After a tough Monday night loss at Detroit, the Bears need to come up big in a division game. The Vikings finally got a win last week against a terrible Arizona team. But I’m not crazy about Minnesota with Donovan McNabb as the leader. Matt Forte could have a productive game running the ball, and Chicago needs to put Jay Cutler in the shotgun to give him more time to throw. I’m going with the Bears at home.

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