Defense has been the Baltimore Ravens’ calling card for most of the decade. Second-year quarterback Joe Flacco is starting to change the team’s one-sided image.
Flacco is one of the NFL’s brightest young players at his position, and coach John Harbaugh is setting him loose.
The Ravens rank eighth in the league in defense, which is expected. Their offense ranks No. 3 and has rolled up an average of 31 points per game, an added dimension that makes Baltimore a good bet most weeks.
In a meeting of AFC North teams with 3-1 records, the Ravens are 81/2-point home favorites over the Cincinnati Bengals today.
“Baltimore’s defense is strong. Flacco will come out throwing the ball, and they will run on this Cincinnati defense,” said handicapper Mike Scalleat, who is siding with the Ravens. “They need this win against a division opponent.
“I think the line is a little low. If the Bengals were 2-2, you would see double digits here.”
Cincinnati was fortunate to beat the winless Cleveland Browns in overtime last week. The Bengals also pulled out a last-minute victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous week.
With quarterback Carson Palmer healthy, the Bengals are gaining confidence. But Flacco, who has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,103 yards and eight touchdowns, is playing at a higher level.
He is getting ground support, too, as Ray Rice has rushed for 295 yards and Willis McGahee 201.
Harbaugh is 17-6 against the spread in his second year as coach, and he’s 2-0 as a double-digit home favorite this season with covers against Cleveland and Kansas City.
“The Ravens are coming off a loss to New England. But they played very well, and if they had any luck they would have won that game,” said Scalleat, who placed fourth in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest in 2007 and 40th in 2008.
Scalleat (Ecappermall.com) analyzes the rest of today’s Week 5 schedule:
• Minnesota (-101/2) at St. Louis: The Rams rank 30th in the league in offense and 19th in defense. The Vikings are coming off an emotional win Monday. It’s tough to lay any points on the road, especially double digits, but this looks like a mismatch. Adrian Peterson will run for a lot more than the 55 yards he had on 25 carries against Green Bay. The Vikings should cover the spread, unless Brett Favre has an off game.
• Dallas (-8) at Kansas City: This is a big number, and the Chiefs can play the Cowboys tough and cover at home. Marion Barber is a tough runner for Dallas, but Tony Romo is an inconsistent quarterback. Good teams rebound after a loss, but I don’t think Dallas is a good team, and I don’t think Wade Phillips is a sharp coach. You have to look for some underdogs this week, and this is one of them.
• Washington at Carolina (-4): This is going to be a game the Panthers win by at least 10. Carolina’s defense is not that bad, and John Fox is a good coach. Jake Delhomme knows he has to have a good game, or I don’t know how much longer Fox can stick with him at quarterback. The Redskins struggled to beat a bad Tampa Bay team last week, and Jim Zorn is not a good coach. The Panthers can be a pretty good team, but they haven’t shown it yet.
• Tampa Bay at Philadelphia (-15): Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is coming back from a rib injury, and running back Brian Westbrook probably will play. Philadelphia definitely can score points, and its defense can take advantage of young Bucs quarterback Josh Johnson, who passed for only 106 yards against the Redskins. The Eagles are 12-3 ATS after a bye week, including the playoffs, under coach Andy Reid. It’s a big number, but I’m going to bet Philadelphia.
• Oakland at New York Giants (-151/2): Running back Darren McFadden is out for the Raiders, and JaMarcus Russell has completed 39.8 percent of his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions. Giants quarterback Eli Manning is injured, but it looks as if he’s going to play. The Giants have a strong defense, and they’re too strong all around. I played the Giants on a 6-point teaser laying 81/2. West Coast teams don’t do well with early kickoff times on the East Coast. This looks like a 24-3 game.
• Cleveland at Buffalo (-6): If the Bills can’t beat this team, they’re in a lot of trouble. Buffalo has been outscored 65-17 in its past two losses, to Miami and New Orleans. The Browns traded receiver Braylon Edwards to the Jets, which should be a good move for the Browns and Jets. With two poor offenses, I’m looking under the total of 41.
• Pittsburgh (-101/2) at Detroit: There is a troubling trend with the Steelers, who get a lead and slowly that lead disappears. Daunte Culpepper didn’t do anything at quarterback for the Lions last week, and he’s likely to start with rookie Matthew Stafford injured. I doubt Pittsburgh will cover the spread. I have a feeling this is when the Lions will play them tight. But it could be a crazy play.
• Atlanta at San Francisco (-21/2): The Falcons are off a bye week, but I don’t think that’s going to help them. The 49ers are 4-0 ATS, and they are getting more in tune with coach Mike Singletary. Even without Frank Gore, the 49ers can run the ball, and their defense will keep it tight. I think you have to take San Francisco at home.
• New England (-3) at Denver: Patriots coach Bill Belichick will have a plan to do something against the Broncos’ Kyle Orton, who has not thrown an interception and has a surprisingly high 97.7 passer rating. Orton is doing some things, but it’s more Denver’s defense. Tom Brady won’t make the mistakes Dallas’ Romo did last week against the Broncos. New England is one of the top five teams in the league, and Denver is not. This is a game the Patriots can’t afford to lose and drop to 3-2. I’m going to lean toward the Patriots, who should outclass this opponent.
• Houston at Arizona (-51/2): Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner has explosive receivers, but Warner is unpredictable. The Texans can run, and Matt Schaub has been good. Schaub has passed for eight touchdowns and 1,047 yards, ranking him seventh in the league. This line is telling me Arizona is not that strong. It’s not the same team that went to the Super Bowl. I watched the Cardinals self-destruct in the loss to the Colts.
• Jacksonville at Seattle (-11/2): Is Matt Hasselbeck starting for the Seahawks? It looks as if he is playing, but to me it doesn’t matter if he plays or not. I’m not a big fan. The Jaguars’ David Garrard is a quarterback I like better. Maurice Jones-Drew has 296 yards rushing and five touchdowns, so Jacksonville has a good running game, and its defense played well last week. The Jaguars won a game convincingly when everyone was betting on Tennessee. I’m going with Jacksonville as an underdog.
• Indianapolis (-4) at Tennessee: Peyton Manning has been playing great, leading the league in passing yards (1,336) and rating (114.5). This is desperation time for Titans quarterback Kerry Collins, because I don’t think coach Jeff Fisher can stay with him if he doesn’t have a good game. Tennessee can run the ball. I’ve seen Manning struggle on the road, and it won’t hurt the Colts if they lose here. It’s a letdown spot for them. This is a case where they either win by a field goal or get beat. The Titans are way overdue, and they are a strong home ‘dog.
Compiled by Las Vegas Review-Journal sports writer Matt Youmans.