Thanks to Lamar Jackson’s astounding level of production as the starting QB in Mobtown, the upcoming Kansas City Chiefs vs Baltimore Ravens contest on Sunday afternoon is being hyped as a battle of 2 elite offenses in addition to 2 unbeaten teams.
It’s an understandable narrative. Joe Flacco had some fantastic years as a pocket passer in Baltimore, but the Ravens’ dynamic has changed with the development of Jackson, a dual-threat wunderkind who threatens to surpass names like Vick, Tebow, Kaepernick, Watson, and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks with his ability to run and throw on the move.
Jackson is off to a blazing start, passing for 596 yards on 57 attempts with 7 TDs and 0 INTs, and adding 126 yards on the ground. Baltimore got a lay-up over Miami in Week 1, but the full arsenal of the Raven offense was on display last weekend as newly-acquired Mark Ingram rushed for 154 yards on 27 carries.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs maintain a dynamic and dangerous attack under head coach Andy Reid and superstar signal-caller Patrick Mahomes.
But is QB hype-mania causing handicappers to mistake the overall angle?
Baltimore at Kansas City is not a meeting of 2 finesse teams. The Ravens still have a mean, punishing, fast defense, and the speedy Chiefs must prevail as the less-physical squad in a clash of styles.
Ravens at Chiefs: Cats, Mice, Vegas and a Touch of Hollywood
Baltimore spent a 1st-round pick on WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown out of Oklahoma, and appear to have found a gem after years of flailing with draft picks on receivers. But conservative HC John Harbaugh wasn’t going to emulate the Cardinals, who gave former Baltimore wideout Anquan Bolden about 75 touches in his rookie debut against Detroit. Instead, Brown received only 14 snaps against the Dolphins. Didn’t matter – Hollywood still shined with 4 catches for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns before seeing a ton more action the following Sunday.
Why the Sin City point total opened at (48) is beyond me, since Kansas City playing at home can be about as high-scoring an NFL scenario has you’re going to get. The current O/U total of (53) points may represent a logical “correction” made by the gambling public.
On the other hand, Harbaugh may have good reasons to go with a conservative, ball-control game plan, using Jackson’s feet to help convert 3rd downs and keep drives humming along. Kansas City’s run defense was highly suspect last season – so much so that WagerBop advised Andy Reid to use the 4-down Pulaski Academy system and simply out-score his opponents. The Chiefs have shown little to indicate that the problem has been solved despite a 2-0 record so far.
Baltimore wants to keep the pass rush at bay, limit turnovers, and limit Mahomes chances to work from good field position. The 2nd-year KC starter has picked up right where he left off last season, but target Tyreek Hill has gone down with a shoulder injury, pressing Demarcus Robinson into a larger role in the passing game.
It will be a cat-and-mouse game for 4 quarters. The Arrowhead crowd can help produce edge-rush with sheer decibel level, and the Chiefs will be able to communicate verbally on 3rd and 4th downs while the Ravens will not. That’s another good reason for the guests to be methodical.
But speaking of clear-cut advantages, Kansas City is banged-up at RB as well as at the WR position, and Baltimore has a battle-tested run defense while the hosts have an average-at-best run defense. That also leads me to believe the visitors will try to hog the pigskin and play 20-25 minutes of inspired defense against Mahomes.
With a rainy Sunday potentially on the way in Missouri, the Chiefs are a (-250) moneyline favorite to prevail at home. That price is way too short, pushed even shorter by offense-obsessed gamblers who forget that there’s more to the game than long bombs and fireworks.
Jackson is the type of QB who will constantly be underrated on the betting board because too many aging NFL handicappers see a quarterback’s running ability as a negative and would be higher on the Louisville product if he was taller, slower, and never moved from the pocket.
Don’t gamble like it’s still 1992. In any toss-up contest the underdog is the proper wager, and Baltimore-over-KC at (+225) is among the best prices in Las Vegas…not just for the NFL but in all of the sports betting odds posted for the weekend.
Now on to a few other recommended plays for this Sunday.
Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings
People say politics are polarized, and maybe that’s true, but opinions on NFL players – QBs especially – can be so polarized that it’s as if a modest middle-road view is simply against the rules of social media in 2019. All quarterbacks are either “great” or they “suck,” and the average fan’s ranking of NFL QBs seems to skip from #1-5 to #s 50-100 with no rungs in between the 2 extremes.
That can open up profitable gambling opportunities. For instance, what did Green Bay beating Chicago in a low-scoring Week 1 contest mean to a majority of Shield ‘cappers on the internet? That the teams were both terrible (since the NFL is presumably like the old SEGA game Great Football where only offenses play and defense is a random cpu-generated abstraction) and Chicago quarterback Mitch Trubisky is the worst passer of all time (since he put his head down and ran for a 1st down once).
So the Pack got no credit even though Aaron Rodgers was tickled pink to have an improved defense bailing him out for a change.
Then came the ripple-effect in Las Vegas. Green Bay went on to beat the Minnesota Vikings, who are now more likely to be downgraded on the gambling board having lost to the “bad” Packers. The Vikings opened at (-475) to beat the Raiders this Sunday, but action has been heavily slanted toward Oakland, bringing the Minnesota line up to (-425).
Point-spread bettors are going the other way, though, moving the spread from a touchdown + XP to a full (-9) for host Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium.
That’s probably because Raider QB Derek Carr matches Trubisky as the “suck” of the NFL, which means he’s not headed for the Hall of Fame. All NFL quarterbacks either reach the Hall of Fame, you see, or else they absolutely suck and never complete a single pass.
Except Carr was 23-for-38 against Kansas City last weekend. Not the worst accuracy ever. In the real world, where there’s room between “GOAT” and “suck,” Carr remains a talented passer who will come around as Jon Gruden’s team improves around him.
Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer has recently discovered the concept of a “hand-off” and learned that it’s not illegal for the Vikings to use it. The exciting new alternative to passing on every down is paying dividends as Dalvin Cook leads the league in rushing through 2 games. However, I’m not convinced a less-wide open Minnesota game plan will produce a 10+ point victory this time against an undervalued QB and a better supporting cast in Oakland.
As for Antonio Brown, Gruden is probably dancing a jig that he sent a possible sociopath and his gigantic mouth away to a spot 3 time-zones away in Boston. The Raiders got rid of a cancerous growth just in the nick of time.
Even if Carr is the 25th-best passer in the NFL, that still rates him higher than trash-talking pundits would have us believe. Oakland is a solid pick to cover (9) points.
Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills
From complex handicapping to a simple principle. Cincinnati is struggling even worse than it did under Marvin Lewis, giving up 200+ yards rushing in a blow-out loss to San Francisco last weekend. Meanwhile, the host Buffalo Bills are 2-0, and yet only a 6-point favorite due to what has been perceived as a weak schedule so far.
Every year is a new deal in the NFL. We won’t know exactly who’s strong or weak for a while yet. Plus, if the Buffalo schedule has been weak, it’s about to get a lot weaker on Sunday.
Take Bills-to-cover with bells on.
Denver Broncos at Green Bay Packers
The struggling Broncos head to Lambeau Field to take on a Packer team that has played terrific defense through 2 weeks. Led by young cornerbacks Kevin King and Jaire Alexander, the Green Bay defense has allowed just 19 points in 120 minutes of game clock.
That’s bad news for Denver, for which Joe Flacco has been flaccid so far. Line-movement toward the Pack is drastic, moving the team from a 1-to-3 favorite to nearly 1-to-4 on Bovada Sportsbook’s moneyline. The gamblers are guessing right…but an ATS wager on the Green Bay Packers (-7.5) makes more sense thanks to the nearly 1-to-1 payoff odds.
L.A. Rams at Cleveland Browns
The Browns are a highly-overrated club right now and gamblers have noticed, shrinking the L.A. Rams’ line-to-win Sunday Night Football to (-160) in short order.
That’s still not a bad market at all…but I’d move on it before it slides any further.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.