The first NFL playoff game today (1.05pm ET Sunday) is an AFC showdown as the AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens host the Los Angeles Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium.
With home field advantage and their overall body of work this season, not to mention vast postseason experience among both players and the coaching staff, the Ravens enter as 2.5 to 3 point favorites with the United States’ odds setters. That’s the case, even though it is the Chargers that have the better regular season record.
Can the Chargers Continue their Road Success?
It’s rare for the home team to have a worse record than their opponent but such is the case with the Ravens and Chargers. LA actually finished tied atop the AFC West standings but due to losing the tiebreaker with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers entered the postseason as the fifth seed and not the first. It means having to go on the road, which ordinarily could be seen as a disadvantage. However, for LA, the road has been friendlier to them than Dignity Health Sports Park, so traveling away from home could end up being a blessing.
The Chargers went 12-4 this year, their best season in years. This included a 5-3 mark at home and a 7-1 mark on the road. LA had the AFC’s best road record and was tied with the New Orleans Saints for the top road record in all of the NFL. The Chargers didn’t exactly play an easy road schedule either. Their one loss came against the LA Rams, but they also played and beat the (10-6) Seattle Seahawks, (12-4) Chiefs and (9-6-1) Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure there were also a fair share of sub-.500 teams on that schedule as well but LA won those in dominant fashion. Against sub-.500 teams, the Chargers outscored their opponents by a combined 63 points across four games.
Part of the reason for the Chargers’ success away from Los Angeles is due to the way the running game has been better on the road than at home this season. The Chargers rank 15th in the NFL in rushing yards per game with their lead back Melvin Gordon ranked just 17th among all NFL rushers. As far as yards per carry, Gordon has an average of 5.1. That’s a pretty good average, one that ranks Gordon as having the eighth best mark in that category.
However, on the road, Gordon’s average is even better. If just his road numbers were ranked, Gordon’s 5.7 average would be the best of all running backs. It’s hard to know why exactly Gordon averages 1.2 more yards per carry on the road. Logically, there’s no real explanation. For the Chargers though, whether it makes sense or not, it’s certainly something that should help their case against the Ravens.
Can Lamar Jackson Change the Narrative of Rookie Quarterbacks in the Playoffs?
Joe Flacco, who will be backing up Lamar Jackson in this Sunday game, was just a rookie the first time he led the Baltimore Ravens to the postseason. In his first year with the team in 2008, Flacco actually won two postseason games, becoming the first rookie QB to win more than one. He still stands as just one of two rookies to win multiple postseason games in their first year, the other being Mark Sanchez who accomplished the feat one year after Flacco.
Today, the Ravens won’t be starting Flacco as the longtime QB was replaced as a starter earlier this year. Lamar Jackson, the only rookie QB in this year’s postseason, will be the guy Baltimore looks to. But as good as Jackson has been in getting the Ravens from a poor start to winning their division, it’s an uphill battle for rookie quarterbacks in the postseason across the board. Fortunately for Jackson, he is being backed up by a guy who is one of very few who can give his young teammate the perfect advice of how to win a playoff game as a rookie.
Historically, fewer than 25 rookie quarterbacks have started in the playoffs with slightly less than half of those guys leading their teams to victories. Those numbers are much worse though in recent years as since 2012, rookie quarterbacks are just 1-5 in playoff games with none of those guys winning more than once. Against veteran quarterbacks, such as the matchup Jackson faces today against 15-year NFL stalwart Philip Rivers, since 2010, rookies are 0-5.
It is certainly not an easy road for the Ravens as they look to become the first NFL team ever to record playoff victories by two different rookie quarterbacks. Jackson will certainly be tested but he’s got something that most other rookie quarterbacks haven’t had over the years. That of course, is the NFL’s best defense. Baltimore finished the year allowing the fewest total yards and yards per game to opponents. They finished second in opponent scoring, allowing just 287 points, an average of just 17.9 points per game. This was the top mark in the AFC as the only team with better numbers was the Chicago Bears.
So, yes the odds are stacked against Jackson as far as past success or lack thereof of rookie quarterbacks, but trends only tell part of the story. If Baltimore continues to play defense the way they have for the majority of these season, Jackson may not need to be great in order to pick up the win.
Our Preview’s LA Chargers at Baltimore Ravens Betting Picks & Predictions Verdict
The last time these two teams met was only two weeks ago as the Ravens handed the Chargers their fourth and final loss of the season. Baltimore held LA to just 10 points, their lowest scoring output of the season, and Rivers to just 181 yards, his second lowest season total. They did this at home, where the Ravens are 6-2 on the year and where they are playing again today.
That was two weeks ago. This is the postseason, where everything resets. A lot of people seem to be sleeping on the Chargers but that’s a mistake. Rivers is having one of the best years of his career and the Chargers have the 10th best passing offense in the NFL. Plus, there is no doubt they learned from the most recent matchup and being a veteran team, won’t let it happen again. So here are our Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens predictions:
- Take LA Chargers -2.5 points on the spread @ -115 with Bovada. It is -3pts with Intertops, BetOnline and Bookmaker.
- The second of the picks is to go over 41.5 point total @ -113 with Bookmaker. Most others are over 42pts.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.