The National Football League kicks off the tenth week of regular season action tonight with a contest that looks like a mismatch.
The home team, the Miami Dolphins, won only their second game of the season last week, their first since an opening week upset road win over the New England Patriots. The visitors tonight, the Baltimore Ravens, lead the competitive AFC North Division with six wins in eight decisions.
The books opened this game with the Dolphins a 7 point home underdog, a line that has grown to 8½ points while nearly 80% of the wagers on this game are backing the favored Ravens. There are a lot of factors in play tonight, some that point to the home team and more that point to the visitors.
First, home teams on Thursday night consistently get the point spread shaded their way. This is because their opponents are on a short week and have one less day to practice based on their travel schedule. But, the opening line of seven, a spread that quickly moved up a half point before today’s additional one-point move, indicates that the public just doesn’t think the books are giving the Dolphins enough points.
This is November, and bookmakers fear this month more than any other. That is because by this time in a season the public knows who the better teams are and bet them like they are the only choice when a mismatch like tonight’s occurs. Given the overmatched underdogs do usually lose the games, the point spread has to shift the advantage away from the public action or the books get crushed.
Sometimes the spread shifts the straight-up winner against the line and often it does not.
Okay, so take the Ravens tonight?
Well, there is a problem with that choice. John Harbaugh’s Baltimore squad was first hurt by a series of injuries during the preseason, including losses of their top three runningbacks. That puts more pressure on quarterback Lamar Jackson to carry the offensive load with both his arm and legs.
Second, the Ravens defense and overall team strength is good enough for Baltimore to take the field in most weeks expecting a win. The problem when they match up against an opponent they seemingly should dominate is that they don’t have the motivational edge to run up the score. Often, a dominant team simply keeps the action in front of them and while confident of a straight-up win go on to lose the point spread decision in the process.
That formula has worked 75% of the time this year for the Ravens to win their games straight-up. But in those six of eight victories the Ravens have been clipped on the point spread three more times for an overall record against the line of three wins and five losses.
One of those wins but point spread losses was a third week matchup against the still winless Detroit Lions. In that game, the Ravens were favored in Detroit by a point spread that mirrors tonight’s line and required a 66-yard last second field goal to eke out a two point win, 19-17.
Last week, at home against the Minnesota Vikings, the Ravens again needed a come-from-behind effort on their home field before downing Minnesota by a field goal while giving a touchdown on the spread.
Still, I agree with the 80% that the Ravens are going to win tonight.
I just wouldn't bet on it.