Divisional Round Spotlight: BUF -2.5 v. BAL
Color me surprised that this line settled under 3. I fully expected to have to wrestle with myself regarding how many units I could comfortably put on BUF -3.5. Instead, I’m confidently putting 5 units on BUF -2.5 for my Play of the Week. The Bills are the superior team, with a better quarterback and coaching, and they are playing at home with some fans while on an absolute tear. Yes, the Ravens are on a roll of their own, but their streak has come against the Bengals, Giants, Jaguars, Browns, Cowboys, and (the overrated) Titans. The Bills’ run has come against the Colts, Dolphins, Patriots, Broncos, Steelers, 49ers, and Chargers. Much more impressive.
Bills Offense: The love for Josh Allen right now is borderline annoying but he honestly deserves it. He has pocket awareness, a cannon arm, mobility, patience, and toughness. He never gives up on a play. These are some of the same tools that Patrick Mahomes has, and it will be interesting to see if Allen can compete with Mahomes (hopefully next week, but also for years to come). One thing we know about Mahomes is that if you blitz him you are digging your own grave. The Ravens have learned this every time they’ve faced Mahomes in the last few years. Can Josh Allen handle the blitz? Last year I would have said no. But this year he has shown that he can hit his hot reads and he’s getting better at reading the defensive schemes. Combine this improvement with the fact that the Bills have a deep roster of guys Allen can throw to (Diggs, Brown, Davis, Beasley, McKenzie, Knox, Singletary), and the Ravens’ defensive strength (cornerback) is essentially nullified. The Ravens do well defensively against teams with a highly concentrated and predictable offense, and struggle against teams that have too many weapons. Sean McDermott has been a step ahead of defenses for weeks as the Bills have put up 26+ points for 9 straight weeks against a really respectable run of defenses. I expect that to continue, and the Bills should top that once again.
Ravens Offense: The run-first Baltimore offense thrives against teams that match up poorly on defense, particularly when the Ravens have the lead. When a pass-heavy team (like the Chiefs) turns to the run to protect a big lead, they slow down the scoring and let teams hang around or put up meaningless points. But when a run-heavy team like the Ravens builds a lead, they do what they do best, which leads to blowouts and impressive box scores in games where they aren’t challenged. But if you can stop the run, you can stop the Ravens. And despite their reputation, the Bills can do that. One under-appreciated headline of the Bills season is that they are 11–0 when star linebacker Matt Milano has played. He plays athletic and fast, and I think he will be the key to stopping the Ravens’ run game, much like he was last year when they held the Ravens to 118 rushing yards on 33 carries (Lamar had 11 rushes for 40 yards). The Ravens only had 257 total yards on 4.4 yards per play. That won’t cut it this time around if Josh Allen plays better than he did last year. The Ravens’ offensive line has been performing well lately, but failed to win consistently against a really bad Titans’ defensive line last week. They will need to play much better to give the Ravens a chance in this one. And if the Bills build a lead, I don’t think this offense is built to play catch-up.
Prediction: I’m a little worried about the weather. I feel like I have a strong read on this game, but snow could make it a little weird, particularly given that the Ravens are a run-heavy team and the Bills lost Zach Moss. My working theory is that snow games favor the better quarterback though, and that’s Josh Allen. So I’m willing to lock this in despite weather concerns before the line moves up to 3. I think that the Ravens may rattle Josh Allen a few times early, but that the Bills are playing with too much confidence and will have a few drives where they just slice and dice up the field. In the end, I think Lamar is too limited as a passer to mount a comeback. Bills win, 30–17.
BUF -2.5 (5 Units).