The 8-0 Patriots are the No. 1 power-rated team in the AFC. However, they take a big step up in class Sunday night when they meet the 5-2 Ravens in Baltimore.
Clearly, the defensive numbers are impressive. The Patriots lead the NFL in points allowed (7.6 ppg) and rank second in both yards allowed (234 ypg) and passing yards allowed (148.8 ypg). They also lead the league with 27 takeaways, including 19 interceptions. New England’s defense has scored the same amount of touchdowns it has allowed (four) in the first eight games.
That’s astounding, but the level of competition has to be considered as well. The Patriots have faced these quarterbacks in the past seven weeks: Josh Rosen/Ryan Fitzpatrick, Luke Falk, Josh Allen, Colt McCoy, Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. That’s three second-year quarterbacks (one of whom subbed in for a veteran journeyman), one rookie, one backup, one third-stringer and one who is already out of the league. They’ll get to face another second-year quarterback this week in Lamar Jackson, but he represents the Patriots’ largest challenge to date.
Jackson is averaging 82.3 rushing yards per game and leads the league in yards per carry at 6.94. Perhaps the one flaw in the Patriots’ defensive armor is stopping the run, and they showed cracks last week against Cleveland. The Browns rushed for 7.2 yards per carry and actually played New England close in the stats, but three turnovers got them in an early 17-0 hole in Foxborough, Mass.
Jackson also has shown improvement as a passer. He has improved his completion percentage from 58.2 to 63.3 and has taken much better care of the football. Rookie speedster Marquise “Hollywood” Brown also returns from an ankle injury that caused him to miss the past two games.
The Patriots’ defense has been able to cover up the fact the offense has been relatively pedestrian this season. This week, they face a Ravens defense that is getting healthy. Baltimore added Marcus Peters two weeks ago in a trade with the Rams, and he responded with a pick-six against Russell Wilson in his first game as a Raven. Corner Jimmy Smith also makes his season debut. Adding Peters and regaining Smith’s services will allow Baltimore to show different looks — including press man coverage, zone and a comprehensive blitz package.
Tom Brady is 6-1 lifetime against the Ravens in the regular season, but Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 11-2 SU and 9-4 ATS after a bye week. The early money has come on the Ravens, as they have dropped from +4 to +3 underdogs. With the Patriots on such a roll, there is a distinct possibility the bets will pour in on the undefeated defending Super Bowl champions. Baltimore looks like a good take, especially if the line shifts back up to +3 ¹/₂ . The total of 44¹/₂ also should be worth a look, as the Unders in prime-time games are now 19-7 (73 percent) on the season.
The play: Ravens, +3 on a predicted final score of New England 20, Baltimore 19.
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